The Barclays Women's Super League was back in action this weekend, with just 10 league games being played before the holiday break. As we start the second half of the season, let's take a look at some of the biggest surprises, disappointments, and transfers.
The summer transfer window is always busy as a lot of teams evaluate the prior season. Contracts run out and clubs will tend to bring in reinforcements and build more depth ahead of another season. However, January isn't quite as busy and some of the most impactful transfers are loan deals. Some clubs may also be in more need of players due to injury or other obstacles that are impossible to foreshadow.
Everton has been unlucky with a number of injuries disrupting their flow and consistency. Danish duo Rikke Madsen and Kathrine Kühl joined the Merseyside club as their first signings. Madsen is a free transfer from the North Carolina Courage where she was mostly utilized as a substitute player. She signed an 18-month deal lasting through June 2025. Kühl joins on loan from Arsenal for the reminder of the 2023-24 season.
Emily Fox had her international breakthrough this summer when she started all of the United States' World Cup games. Arsenal had her in their sight for a while and recently announced she would join the club on a free transfer just ahead of their FA Cup clash against Watford. Fox is replacing Noelle Maritz who departed for Aston Villa.
Scouting the Damallsvenskan
Damallsvenskan has proved to be an ideal league for young players to develop and get consistent and significant minutes. The Tottenham Hotspurs have thoroughly scouted the Swedish league and have possibly won the January transfer window after announcing the signing of Charli Grant from Vittsjö GIK and Matilda Vinberg from Hammarby FK, both on a free transfer. Vinberg is a young winger predicted to become one of the greats, and Grant is a very versatile player that can contribute from anywhere on the field.
Many people had questions for West Ham ahead of this season after the club had a significant number of players leave. The club's biggest issue has proven to be their lack of a coherent and strong midfield. To fill that gap, U.S. international Kristie Mewis and Australian international Katrina Gorry were brought in for the remainder of the season to strengthen the midfield, and Canadian international Shelina Zadorsky joined from Tottenham to add routine to the defense. Mewis made an immediate impact with an assist on an Amber Tysiak goal in today's match against Tottenham.
Other Notable Transfers So Far
Shae Yanez From: San Diego Wave To: Bristol City
Nathalie Björn From: Everton To: Chelsea
Yuka Momiki From: Linköping FC To: Leicester
Saori Takarada From: Linköping FC To: Leicester
Wang Shuang From: Racing Louisville To: Tottenham Hotspurs
Liverpool Back on the Rise
Liverpool got promoted in 2022 and after defeating Chelsea in the season opener and then flew under the radar most of the year. They had a solid first season back in the top league and ended in seventh place. Head Coach Matt Beard was able to focus on the team and orient their style to fit the play of the WSL, also bringing in new players that made an immediate impact.
Just like the 2022-23 season, Liverpool began their run by winning their first game against an opponent predicted to end in the top three, defeating Arsenal at the Emirates in front of record-breaking crowd. Ahead of the season, Beard brought in Sophie Roman Haug, Grace Fisk, Teagan Micah and Marie Höbinger among others as reinforcements and has successfully worked them into the mix. Swiss international Höbinger is the team's leading goal scorer and assist leader.
After a first-time WSL win over Manchester United at Leigh Sports Village and winning the Merseyside derby against Everton, the Reds checked in for Christmas break at fifth place, behind Manchester United on goal difference, and remain there after their 5-1 loss to Manchester City in their first game back this weekend.
With an unexpected strong start to the season, the Reds will want to build on the momentum they had before going into the break. But to have a truly surprising ending to the season, they need to be more consistent. Liverpool has shown glimpses of how great they can be, but these flashes of greatness aren't happening often enough for them to be a candidate for a top three finish.
What now, Carla Ward?
Aston Villa was last season's biggest surprise and ended in fifth place. Rachel Daly scored 22 goals in her first season with the team, winning the golden boot and WSL player of the year. Head Coach Carla Ward was finally able to get Kirsty Hanson's permanent signature, setting this season's expectations just as high, if not higher.
Before the start of the season, many pundits had Aston Villa finishing in the top four, usually at the expense of Manchester United. And although it was a narrow defeat in stoppage time to Manchester United in the first game of the season, Ward had all the necessary players to exceed those expectations.
However, we have witnessed a struggling team unable to win a single league game, the biggest defeat during that losing streak being a 6-0 loss to Chelsea. Their first win in the league came against the newly promoted Bristol City just days after they beat Sheffield United in the League Cup.
Fans have shown their support and faith in Ward despite the rough start to the season, and it seems like the club is willing to let Ward take her time with this project. However, after an abysmal performance against Everton in the FA Cup left them dropping out of tournament, Aston Villa will need to get some momentum going forward.
Luckily for Ward and her squad, they do not have toughest of schedules. But it is even more important that Villa gains some points and starts climbing the table. Ward has assembled a squad full of quality and potential, but the questions remains whether or not she will be able to coach them safely through the season.
Can Chelsea go the distance, once again?
Reigning WSL champion Chelsea sits on top of the table, three points ahead of Manchester City. However, leading the table ahead of the Christmas break might bring a false sense of security to the team. The Blues have had some defensive struggles with Millie Bright missing out due to a knee injury, but form boosts for Niamh Charles and Eve Perisset have kept them strong.
The news of Emma Hayes' departure after the 6-0 demolition of Aston Villa could have been a reason for their rocky first half of the season, and the news of Sam Kerr's season-ending injury might rock the second half of the season, too. The club confirmed that the Australian forward tore her ACL during winter training camp. Kerr scored four goals in eight games and is always an attacking threat to defenders. Ever since touching down in London she has been a pivotal player for Chelsea, and the team will need to adapt to another player occupying her role. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Aggie Beever-Jones, and Lauren James will all be important offensive players going forward.
Teams Who We Haven't Seen the Best of Yet
Two teams we have yet to see the best of are Brighton Hove & Albion and the Tottenham Hotspurs. The two teams are eighth and sixth on the table respectively, with Tottenham getting off to the better start.
Brighton's squad is very strong on paper with lots of internationals with routine and experience. Brighton has only scored 10 goals so far, and Elisabeth Terland is carrying the goal-scoring responsibilities with seven goals in the league. To unleash their full potential, Brighton needs to create more offensively. Sophie Baggaley, who came from Manchester United, has been stellar in goal. The defense isn't necessarily leaky, but there is a disconnect between both the midfield and defense and the midfield and offense. Veatriki Sarri and Vicky Losada have all yet to score a goal in league play and need to step up.
Tottenham has figured things out to a better degree than the South Coast club, sitting at sixth on the table. Robert Vilahamn has assembled a squad full of quality in all positions and with Grant and Viberg coming in as reinforcements, the expectations are high.
Several key players are set to be the club's guiding light for the rest of the season. Finally returning from an ACL injury, Ellie Brazil is back in form. Martha Thomas has revitalized her game after signing for the North London club, and is the current leading goal scorer. Loanee Grace Clinton has also developed even more under the Swedish manager, scoring two goal's in Tottenham's win over West Ham today. Celine Bizet is finally playing in her preferred position, providing creativity and keeping opponents on their toes. The next step for the club is to stay consistent and have linear upward progress.
You can catch the WSL back in action bright and early next weekend. Manchester United and Aston Villa will lead the way with a 6 a.m. EST kickoff followed shortly after by Everton and Leceister City at 6:30 a.m. EST.