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Will There Be Another Blockbuster WSL Title Race?

Finally, the WSL is on the verge of returning. All 12 clubs begin their league seasons this Sunday, including two of last season's top five facing off before a London Derby. Last season was arguably the best in WSL history, with four teams battling for the title all the way from September to May. But what are the chances of two blockbuster title races in a row?


In short, the chances are good. Really good.


The women's game is growing globally, especially as a result of the success of the 2023 World Cup. But in England especially the women's game is reaching unprecedented heights. Arsenal and Chelsea both drew record crowds in their Champions League runs last season, whilst several clubs broke their WSL attendance records. This all feeds into the attraction of new players to the league, which makes it even more competitive.

All four of last season's title contenders have signed players who have Champions League experience, and another club have built themselves a squad that might just be able to compete with the established top four. So who are the favourites?


Chelsea


It's almost impossible for any team who have won any league four years on the bounce not to be favourites to make it five titles in a row.

Chelsea have never really run away with the title. Arsenal still hold the record for the biggest winning margin (seven points) but it's the consistency and the ability to show up for big games that sets Emma Hayes' side apart.


The Blues finished with 58 points out of a possible 66 last season, the most in WSL history. They won every single home game and were only beaten twice. To top it all off, they won the FA Cup as well.


They have however lost two very important players over the Summer.

Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder will both leave Chelsea after winning three straight league and cup doubles. The pair are headed to Germany where they will join German champions Bayern Munich. Even for a club as successful as Chelsea, this is a huge blow.


Of course, Chelsea have been active in the transfer market to bring in replacements. Forwards Catarina Macario & Mia Fishel have both moved to West London, as has German midfielder Sjoeke Nusken. Goalkeeper Hannah Hampton also joined from WSL rivals Aston Villa.


Whilst these are promising young players, Chelsea have arguably failed to fill the void of experience left by Harder and Eriksson. What cannot be argued is that the champions haven't recruited a defender of Eriksson's calibre. This could well cause them big problems this coming season, because all three of last season's title rivals have signed serious attacking talent.



Arsenal


Chelsea have to be favourites because of their four-year title-winning streak. But even the champions haven't recruited as well as Arsenal this Summer.


The Gunners were plagued by injuries throughout 2022/2023, and will still be without Vivianne Miedema, Leah Williamson and Laura Weinroither for the start of this season. At times last season, Jonas Eidevall felt as if they were five players short. To solve this problem, Arsenal have signed five world-class players.

Jonas Eidevall and Director of Football Edu have brought in Alessia Russo, Amanda Ilestedt, Laia Codina, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Cloe Lacasse in one monumental transfer window. All five players featured for their countries in the World Cup, four of them featuring in the semi-finals.


It takes a lot to sign one star player in a transfer window; it's a long process negotiating with another big club and convincing the player to make the move. So to make five such signings in a window is nothing short of spectacular.


The Gunners had a bumpy start to their season, losing on penalties to Paris FC in Champions League qualifying. But Lacasse, Russo and Ilestedt were all outstanding in Sweden for Jonas Eidevall, and without European football to focus on, Arsenal can throw absolutely everything they have at ending Chelsea's dominance of the WSL.

The depth Arsenal now have throughout their team is impressive, but their collection of attacking talent is somewhat ridiculous. As well as adding Russo, Lacasse and Cooney-Cross, the Gunners have held onto the likes of Beth Mead, Caitlin Foord and Vivianne Miedema.


No team will want to face the immense attacking threat Arsenal pose, especially at the Emirates given the incredible crowds they attract to North London.




Manchester United


The final two weeks of last season were tough for Manchester United fans to say the least. The Red Devils lost 1 - 0 to Chelsea in their first FA Cup final before losing the league title to the same opponents by two points at the end of May.


To compound their misery, an unbelievable 23 players have left either on loan or permanently since the start of last season, including Alessia Russo, who joined fierce rivals Arsenal on a free transfer.


Ona Battle, Martha Thomas, Kirsty Hanson, Maria Thorisdottir and Emily Ramsey are just a few of the other players who have left Manchester in the last three months.

That's not to say that United haven't signed top-quality players themselves. Japanese forward Hinata Miyazawa, the Golden Boot winner at this Summer's World Cup, joined from MyNavi Sendai in a statement signing for the Red Devils.


Irene Guerrero and Geyse Da Silva bring Champions League experience from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona respectively, whilst WSL veteran and leader Gemma Evans was signed from Reading.

However good these signings are though, Manchester United have lost more players than they've recruited. In fact they've lost more than double the number of players they've recruited.


Their Champions League tie against Paris Saint Germain will test their depth, as they have to balance those matches with tough opening WSL fixtures against Aston Villa and Arsenal.


But perhaps the biggest blow to United was a psychological one. Two of their best players in Alessia Russo and Ona Battle have left their developing project for bigger clubs. It's a punch in the gut for Marc Skinner, especially with Mary Earps looking unlikely to sign a new deal and potentially on her way out next year.


Make no mistake, there is enough talent at Manchester United to win the WSL. But it remains to be seen if they have the depth and resilience to match Arsenal and Chelsea again this season.



Manchester City


City were the unlucky fourth last season. They pushed the other three clubs all the way into May in the title race and yet fell short of even a Champions League spot.


A poor defeat away to Liverpool and losing (having led) away to Aston Villa cost Gareth Taylor's team a chance to secure European football, with fans calling for at least a partial overhaul of the squad.


Yet City have been by far the least active of all 12 WSL teams in the transfer market. The only first team player City lost in the window was Hayley Raso; the Australian has joined Real Madrid on a permanent transfer. City decided that one replacement would be enough, and they got a very, very good one.

Jill Roord returns to the WSL two years after leaving Arsenal for Wolfsburg. Whilst with the German club, Roord won the Bundesliga and scored against her former club Arsenal to take Wolfsburg to last season's Champions League final.


The Dutchwoman is exactly the kind of player who can lead Manchester City back into the Champions League. She scored 11 goals in 33 WSL games for the Gunners and 16 in 40 Bundesliga games for Wolfsburg.


That being said, Roord can't do it alone.


City's lack of signings may well cost them, especially at the back. Arsenal pipped City to third on goal difference last season, largely because Manchester City conceded 25 goals, 9 more than any of the top three. Given the wealth of attacking talent joining the WSL this season, the Citizens may be in trouble.


Another title charge is going to take something special from Gareth Taylor's team, who simply don't seem to be as well-equipped as their rivals.




And maybe... Aston Villa?


Think about it for a minute. They might not jump out as obvious contenders, but Aston Villa were FA Cup semi-finalists last season. Villa also beat Manchester City 4 - 3 in a thriller in the WSL and were the only team aside from European Champions Lyon to win away to Arsenal in any competition.


They finished ten points behind City, but with the growing confidence and experience of the squad, the Villains might be just that; the villains of the title race.

Whilst quite a few of the younger and depth players have left the club, Villa have held onto the bulk of their first team. Their biggest job over the Summer was keeping WSL Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly and they've done that.


Carla Ward has added new talent to her squad as well, with Ebony Salmon, Kirsty Hanson, Adriana Leon, Anna Patten, Lucy Parker and Daphne van Domselaar all joining Aston Villa in the transfer window. Only Arsenal and Manchester United have recruited that well.


Even with these signings Villa may still be one or two steps away from challenging for the title, but they are certainly clear of the other seven teams in the WSL. Even if they don't fight for the league title themselves, expect Villa to give the contenders some headaches.


The WSL returns on Sunday 1st October, with all twelve teams in action on Opening Day!






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