After an outstanding season last year that saw them crowned champions of FA WSL2, Reading FC Women’s inaugural season in the FA WSL1 is about to commence. The Royals secured the title in 2015 on goal difference, with Doncaster Rovers Belles also joining them in the highest division.
When Fran Kirby left to join Chelsea Ladies in July 2015, many unknowing commentators believed that Reading would fall apart. The ladies proved their worth, however, remaining unbeaten in the league for the remainder of the season and narrowly missed out on a place in the Semi-Finals of the FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup after a late 3-2 defeat to Notts County Ladies.
While Reading were impressive in the second division, life in the FA WSL1 is bound to be a whole different kettle of fish. This being said, I’m sure that the Royals will no doubt be up for the challenge of not only remaining in the division but also making an immediate impact. Reading are already off to a good start, reaching the Quarter-Finals of the SSE Women’s FA Cup after a 2-0 victory against Millwall, and will look to continue this form into the new season.
Ahead of their opening fixture of the new season against Arsenal Ladies, here is what the Royals will have to contend with and how they are shaping up.
Birmingham City Ladies
Doncaster Rovers Belles
Manchester City Ladies
Notts County Ladies
Reading FC Women
Sunderland AFC Ladies
Arsenal Ladies (3rd in FA WSL1)
Ground: Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Manager: Pedro Martinez Losa
Arsenal Ladies know a thing or two when it comes to winning at the highest level. The Gunners are the most successful club in English women’s football, having won 40 major trophies to date: 2 FA WSL1 titles, 12 FA Women’s Premier League titles, 13 FA Women’s Cups, 10 Women’s Premier League Cups, 4 FA WSL Continental Cups and 1 UEFA Women’s Champions League.
With such a high level of success, Arsenal will always attract a number of talented players and this season is no different. The standout signing was Fara Williams, England’s most capped player, who enjoyed a particularly successful spell as part of the Lionesses squad in the World Cup. She is not the only player to sign for the Gunners, however, with Josephine Henning, Danielle van de Donk, Katie McCabe and Asisat Oshoala also signing on the dotted line. Add to this players like Alex Scott, Jordan Nobbs, Kelly Smith and Danielle Carter and Arsenal have a pretty impressive squad.
One thing going against Arsenal is that they have not won a FA WSL title since 2012. Since then, Liverpool have won twice and Chelsea took the crown last year. They did, however, only lose three games in the league and went on to win the Continental Cup last year. With their new additions, you feel that Arsenal will be up near the top of the league once again this season.
Birmingham City Ladies (6th in FA WSL1)
Ground: Damson Park, Solihull
Manager: David Parker
Finishing 6th last season, Birmingham City are a team that could struggle this year. The side won only three games, drew four, lost seven and only finished above Liverpool in seventh based on a slightly better negative goal difference.
The main concern going into this season is that they have sold their top goal scorer, and England international, Karen Carney. If the likes of Jo Potter, Remi Allen, Kirsty Linnett, Freda Ayisi and co cannot make more of an impact this season then they are going to struggle.
If the FA Cup is anything to go by, however, it may be too early to rule them out. Taking on Arsenal, the Blues initially took the lead through Ayisi. A Danielle Carter equaliser took it to extra time and Arsenal then went to win on penalties. It will be interesting to see if Birmingham can put up as much of a fight throughout the season.
Chelsea Ladies (FA WSL1 Champions)
Ground: Wheatsheaf Park, Staines
Manager: Emma Hayes
As last year’s Champions in both FA WSL1 and the FA Cup, Chelsea will be the team to beat once again. The side lost only two games and scored thirty goals on their way to the title. There is hope for the likes of Reading, however, as Sunderland recorded a 4-0 victory against them.
Chelsea have strengthened an already strong squad going into the 2016 season. Karen Carney and Rebecca Spencer both signed from Birmingham, together with Jade Bailey from Arsenal and Bethany England from Doncaster. As one of the top scorers for the Belles last season, it will be particularly interesting to see if England gets much game time with so much quality now in the ranks at Chelsea.
Early signs are once again positive for the Champions, having beaten Doncaster Rovers Belles 4-1 in their recent FA Cup tie. Carney got herself on the score sheet, alongside So-Yun and Aluko, so it would seem that she has settled into life at her new club pretty well already. While there will be tougher tests ahead, it would seem that Chelsea are in a position to be able to handle them. Plus with an impressive female manager at the helm, you can’t help but will them on.
Doncaster Rovers Belles (2nd in FA WSL2)
Ground: Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Manager: Glen Harris
As one of the most famous and successful clubs in the history of English women’s football, it is good to see Doncaster Rovers Belles back in the top division. The Belles only narrowly missed out on the FA WSL2 title, falling short by only a matter of goals.
Considering that they have sold one of their best attacking players of last season, the Belles needed to strengthen in that area and that is exactly what they have done. The Belles have now got former FA WSL1 champions Natasha Dowie, Katrin Omarsdottir and Becky Easton in their ranks as well as Jess Sigsworth, Anna Moorhouse, Alexandra Gummer and Carla Humphrey.
It is clear that the Belles have strengthened for this season but only time will tell to see if it is enough to keep them at the top level. The side were well and truly thrown into the deep end in their 4-1 defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup but, as Sunderland showed last season, anything can happen with hard work and commitment to the cause.
Liverpool Ladies (7th in FA WSL1)
Ground: Select Security Stadium, Widnes
Manager: Scott Rogers
Liverpool ladies won the FA WSL1 titles in 2013 and 2014, an achievement you would have never known based on last season’s results. The Reds lost nine of their league games and, had it not been for Bristol City, would have found themselves in the WSL2 this year.
Having fallen from grace so spectacularly last season, reinforcements would be necessary ahead of this season especially considering the transfers out of recent years- Gemma Davison, Lucy Bronze, Fara Williams, Natasha Dowie and Asisat Oshoala in particular.
Liverpool have, however, made additions to the squad for this season in the hope of pushing back up the table. Siobhan Chamberlain and Alex Greenwood have joined the ranks, alongside Sophie Ingle, Laura Coombs, Caroline Weir, Emma Lundh, Dutch captain Mandy Van Den Berg, Natasha Harding and Shanice Van de Sanden.
Having scored just fifteen goals last season, the pressure is now on the new arrivals to make an impact. The immediate signs in their 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup are not the most promising however.
Manchester City Ladies (2nd in FA WSL1)
Ground: Academy Stadium, Manchester
Manager: Nick Cushing
Along with Chelsea and Arsenal, you feel that Manchester City will be one of the teams to beat once again this season. The Citizens missed out on the title last year by two points and will be looking to improve.
When you look at the calibre of players in the ranks at City, it will be difficult for any team up against them. Karen Bardsley, Demi Stokes, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Isobel Christiansen, Jill Scott and Toni Duggan are all on the books and they have also now signed Nikita Parris on a permanent deal following her impressive loan spell last season. They have also brought in Kosovare Asllani from PSG, Megan Campbell, Jane Ross and Marie Hourihan.
Man City also have talented teenagers at their disposal, as shown in their 2-0 victory against Liverpool in the FA Cup. England U-17 international Georgia Stanway came off the bench to score one of the goals, with Parris scoring the other. The team definitely has strength in depth and is a threat to all that come up against them.
Notts County Ladies (5th in FA WSL1)
Ground: Meadow Lane, Nottingham
Manager: Rick Passmoor
Previously known as Lincoln Ladies, Notts County Ladies are at least consistent when it comes to their mid-table placing in the top division. There is perhaps intent to push on a little higher, however, if their signings for this season are anything to go by.
Despite the departure of a number of players like Chamberlain and Greenwood, the signing of Rachel Yankey on loan from Arsenal is one that will surely excite the fans. Yankey is only one of the new faces to be brought in, however, with Chelsea Weston, Aivi Luik, Angharad James, Maja Krantz and Megan Walsh all also joining for this season.
With Carly Telford, Laura Bassett, Ellen White, Jess Clarke and Rachel Williams all on the books already, the team is shaping up nicely. Notts County are also through to the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup having beaten Durham Women 3-1 courtesy of goals from Williams and White. Their first game of the season up against Manchester City, however, may be a little more difficult.
Sunderland AFC Ladies (4th in FA WSL1)
Ground: The Hetton Centre, Hetton-le-Hole
Manager: Carlton Fairweather
After promotion to the WSL1 for the 2015 season, I’m not sure many will have seen Sunderland finishing in the top four. That is exactly what they were able to achieve, however, and they will now be striving to at least equal their achievement this season.
Sunderland have made a small handful of transfers for the 2016 season with Lucy Staniforth, Kylla Sjoman, Rachel Pitman and Krystle Johnston all joining the side. The biggest signing, however, is 2015 top goalscorer Beth Mead who they now have until 2019.
While there are no immediate standout names other than Mead, if she can lead from the front in a similar fashion to last season then Sunderland could do well again this year. If the other sides have now cottoned onto the threat that Sunderland possess, however, then they may find themselves closer to the bottom of the table than the top.
Reading FC Women (FA WSL2 Champions)
Ground: Adams Park, High Wycombe
Manager: Kelly Chambers
Reading rightfully earned their place in the WSL1 this season with a series of impressive displays making them champions of in the 2015 WSL2 season. This year, the Royals will be hoping to emulate Sunderland’s form of last year and retain their place in the top division for another season.
In terms of the squad, Reading will have been pleased to have kept the vast majority of players on with many signing professional contracts. The club have also added a few new faces including Amber Keegan-Stobbs, Kayleigh Hines, Jade Boho-Sayo and Mary Earps.
Along with the new squad additions, Reading will also now be playing at Adams Park, home of Wycombe Wanderers. This means that the Royals will have left Rushmoor Community Stadium after just two seasons, but the move is one that will only benefit the club in the long run as it continues to grow.
When it comes to predicting how Reading will do this season it is somewhat difficult. The Royals faced the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Notts County in the Cup last season and lost on all occasions. That is not the whole story, however, as Reading scored in each and lost 3-2, 2-1 and 3-2. Considering that was when the team was not full-time, the squad is clearly talented enough to achieve their aims this season.
Reading have already started their season off well, winning 2-0 against Millwall Lionesses courtesy of goals from Jade Boho-Sayo on her debut and Emma Follis. It is good to see both on the scoresheet already this season, but particularly in the case of Follis who ended last season as Reading’s top scorer and who will be an important player once again.
With Kelly Chambers once again at the helm, I’m sure that many neutrals will also be willing Reading on to do well. While there will be few instantly recognisable names amongst the Reading ranks to anyone not in the know, they possess a squad of hard-working, impressive players who will be keen to make an impact and a name for themselves at the highest level. The squad possessed some of the best fitness levels in the WSL2 and it is only set to improve. Reading have a tough start to life in the top division against Arsenal, but the side will no doubt put their all into each and every game as they strive to push up the WSL1 table.
FA WSL1 Starts Wednesday 23 March 2016
- Manchester City Women v Notts County Ladies
- Liverpool Ladies v Birmingham City Ladies
- Arsenal Ladies v Reading FC Women