Ahead of the new Women’s Super League season, Alex Scott takes a look at the contenders and key players.
Manchester United start life in the top flight of English women’s football against rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday at 3pm.
United Women, formed just 15 months ago, won promotion to the WSL after a superb campaign with manager Casey Stoney, but 15-time title winners Arsenal are again favourites to defend their crown.
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Emma Hayes’ Chelsea and City themselves are also among the four big contenders for the WSL title, and here, Arsenal legend Scott gave her analysis after a stunning summer for the women’s game…
0:51 Manchester City Women manager Nick Cushing believes the club's recruitment strategy during the summer has made them a more balanced side
A four-horse race? Perhaps. The element of unknown about Manchester United is intriguing, but Scott cannot see past her former side.
“I do really see Arsenal as the favourites,” Scott said. “They’ve added to the squad, and Jordan Nobbs is coming back in.
“Chelsea have had an interesting pre-season, not actually winning many games. They’ve signed a few players, but I think they are in a transition period. After a World Cup where she didn’t have her usual impact, Fran Kirby will be raring to go to prove herself, especially after having periods of last season playing second fiddle to Erin Cuthbert.
“Manchester City are an interesting one, too. They’ve lost some senior players, have signed Ellen White, but their ethos is about bringing young players through. It’s interesting to see how they will adapt, particular with other teams signing more senior, experienced players. It could be a transitional period for them, but you have to applaud them for coming away with silverware each year.
“Of course, Manchester United coming into the league is big, particularly with the derby on the opening day of the season at the Etihad. Manchester City players are used to the crowd, the pressure, so it will be interesting to see how United players cope.
0:56 Chelsea boss Emma Hayes feels rivals Tottenham will be well prepared to face her side in their first Women’s Super League game
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“It has been a long time coming – and those derbies will be exciting. And with Tottenham coming in to play Arsenal and Chelsea. It means that straight away we’re not just talking about women’s football and its fans, we’re referring to them as football in general. When you see these team names going head to head in any form of the game, you know it’s going to be juicy.”
“I think it’s going to be a four-horse race. I think the surprise package could be Manchester United within that and I will, among many others, have a keen eye on what they do. And with Casey Stoney, the manager, it will be intriguing to see how she gets the best out of older and younger players.”
After the most popular Women’s World Cup to date, it’s back to the domestic game. Scott believes Scotland midfielder Cuthbert is one to watch this season, as well as a trio from Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal.
0:44 Steph Houghton says Man City's Women's Super League opener against Man Utd will be the biggest game of her club career
“Erin Cuthbert is a name you have to throw into the mix, particularly after the end she had to last season, and announcing herself with Scotland at the World Cup. I think she can really cement a place in that Chelsea squad, and move on from merely being a breakout young name coming through. She has to be consistent on a regular basis.
“When I look at the Arsenal team, Lia Walti started the season so well but injury got in the way, so I’m hoping she comes back and fires. Elsewhere in the Arsenal team, it’s the same old names. They’re very consistent. Top scorer Vivianne Miedema of course, and Danielle van de Donk, the provider who had a great season and World Cup with Netherlands.
World Cup hangover?
Though the tournament in France, won by USA, will have taken its mental and physical toll, Scott believes the anticipation is higher than ever for the start of a WSL season, and what a perfect way to kick it off…
“It’s always a big challenge coming off the back of a World Cup. Players are tired, haven’t had enough rest, and mentally it is tough to get going again after the height of a World Cup. Strength in depth will be telling early in the season. We’ve already seen some injuries.