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How do Spurs look ahead of the 2023/24 Women's Super League campaign?

After a disappointing 2022/23 WSL season, the arrival of Robert Vilahamn to Tottenham Hotspur has brought new ambitions to a struggling side.

Experienced summer arrivals have re-inspired the team set-up, and positive pre-season fixtures look to develop the team.

Tottenham Hotspur Women faced a tight relegation battle in their disappointing 2022/23 Barclays Women’s Super League campaign. Finishing 9th, the team struggled in many areas across the pitch, from being unable to perform in front of goal to conceding late and struggling to hold a lead, falling off from their highest ever WSL finish of 5th, just the season before.

Despite beginning their season playing some impressive football, notably in their 8-0 victory away to Brighton and Hove Albion, the Lilywhites painfully struggled as they lost their following 9 fixtures. Their losing streak pushed them into the relegation zone going into the back end of the season and manager Rehanne Skinner was sacked.

A 1-0 win over Leicester City proved to be a memorable fixture for Spurs fans, as Bethany England made the difference over relegation rivals to put the Lilywhites 5 points clear and end their 9-game loss streak. The North London side signed England in the January transfer window for a within-WSL record fee of £250,000. The striker had a hugely significant influence since her arrival and answered their goalscoring problems by scoring 12 goals in 12 games, being widely considered the reason they stayed up.

The challenging 22/23 season called for a lot of work to be implemented over the summer window and pre-season, and the departure of Rehanne Skinner back in March left an opening for a permanent manager, as interim head coach Vicky Jepson saw the season out. The club announced the arrival of Robert Vilahamn in early July, an experienced coach who has competed in domestic cup finals, in the Champions League and has a track record of developing players to international level. A representation of Tottenham’s ambitions. He has stated his ambitions for the team to “entertain, develop and win", wanting to be an offensive team that the “supporters can be proud of”.

His style of play looks to be possessional, high-pressing football, with his team dominating and in-control of the game. A team which is quick on ball recovery, attacking transitions and being clinical in front of goal. Spurs have had a busy transfer window since his arrival, supporting his ambitions.

Spurs have the addition of two attacking midfielders to their set-up, as over the summer they welcomed 21-year-old Grace Clinton on loan from Manchester United and Finnish International Olga Antinen; bringing a mixture of experience and young talent to the squad. Clinton spent the past year on loan to Bristol City, being part of their Championship winning squad and winning Young Player of the Year. She has also been capped at England youth level. Antinen has experience winning domestically in the Danish and Swedish leagues and has over 50 caps for Finland. The duo adding an attacking, forward thinking flair to the North London side.

Strengthening the squad defensively has been a significant focus area for the club, as the team had difficulty in holding onto a lead. With experienced defender Kerys Harrop hanging up her boots as WSL all-time highest appearance maker, Spurs had an additional hole to fill in the backline. Bringing in Swiss international Luana Buhler from 1899 Hoffenheim, the 27-year-old will bring her maturity and experience to the side. Having captained the German club and played in the Champions League, she will bring a level of leadership to the club and has the composure which Vilahamn looks for in a defender.

The club also has brought in goalkeeper Barbora Votikova from Paris Saint-German, following the departure of Tinja-Riikka Korpela at the conclusion of her contract. Votikova will be a significant asset to the Lilywhites defensive block, as the Czech international has masses of experience to bring to the side. Starting off her career at Slavia Prague, she helped them to 4 league titles and to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on three occasions. Moving to French side PSG in 2019, she helped them to the Champions League semifinal in 2022. Having considerable experience against Europe’s top talent, the keeper is an exciting prospect to have on the team.

Bringing in players who have vast experience playing, competing, and winning really helps to establish Vilahamn’s philosophy and will undoubtedly spark the development in the team he is looking for.

“I think you will see enormous things happening with this team because we’re going to make sure we play attractive football, where we’ve developed the team and the players, so you can be proud of us. Of course, it doesn’t take two or three weeks to do this, so the process will be that we always should aim to get better and I think, with that mindset, we will develop. In the long run you will see a great result, because I think Tottenham should and shall be a team up at the top in a few years.”

It has been confirmed that Bethany England had a minor surgical procedure on her hip, following her performances in the Women’s World Cup this summer. England made a significant difference for Spurs when she arrived in January, as the team was suffering a goal drought, having scored 11 goals in 9 gamed before her arrival, 8 of which came from their 8-0 thrashing of Brighton. England being sidelined for the opening of the season is a substantial miss for this Tottenham side, in which they may struggle without her.

Pre-season for the Lilywhites has consisted of two goalless draws against WSL opponents Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion. These fixtures featured competitive football, high-work rate and end to end football. Celin Bizet looked threatening in attack, with Votikova looking comfortable in goal. Defensively Spurs had no huge struggles and held any threats well. A 9-0 win in a 60-minute training game against London Bees gave Spurs the opportunity to put together their transitional attacking movements and implement Vilahamn’s style of play. The fixture saw 7 different goal scorers and gave the side opportunity to explore their attacking options whilst dominating possession.

Going into the season, the team will need to improve their performance infront of goal to make the most of the chances they are creating in order to compete with the top teams in the league. However, from pre-season it appears the team are working well with their new manager, and they should have a significantly more positive season than the last campaign.

Realistically, Spurs are likely to finish as a mid-table team. Their realistic ambitions will most likely consist of challenging top teams in their fixtures, playing attractive transitional football

and developing as a team.

Tottenham face 4x consecutive WSL champions and London rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on October 1st, 2023. A tough first fixture for the Lilywhites.

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