Two games into the Women’s Super League season and we’re starting to see some patterns emerging, with high-quality teams across the division but a few that look a cut above. The standard of overseas players coming into the league this summer demonstrates the way it’s seen now around the world, and will increase the quality still further, though I do have reservations about some of the signings.

I know of at least five clubs who have brought in players on short-term deals. For example Alex Morgan, the USA player and World Cup winner who has joined Tottenham, is a fantastic addition to English football but has joined initially for only four months. The season lasts the best part of a year, and includes the FA Cup and Continental Cup, and personally I’m not a big fan of this kind of arrangement.

Morgan might decide to extend her deal until the end of the season but the uncertainty is disruptive for the players who have worked hard in pre-season and committed longer term, and for those left on the bench, wondering what the future may hold for them. I do understand there are contractual limitations for US national team players in terms of how long they can play outside of their home country, but I think at a minimum a commitment of a season should be the standard across the league and I think clubs have to make a stand on this.

Overall, though, Morgan’s arrival is a great coup for the league and for Spurs, not just because of the impact she will make on the pitch but because of the boost she will give the Spurs brand, at a time when they are already on everyone’s lips thanks to Amazon’s All or Nothing documentary. There are a lot of plus sides to it, but you want the impact to be sustainable. I don’t want to see the WSL become a holiday league, where the big-name players come for a few months without really investing in their clubs and communities. Attracting big-name players is great, but if we keep them in England long term it would be even better.

Across a busy summer for everyone I think Everton invested well, bringing in players who could easily have gone to one of the established top clubs. Valérie Gauvin, for example, has been a top striker for France and is a different kind of forward. Some of our top English players have returned to the league, with Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood moving from Lyon to Manchester City. It feels like there is a whole range of players in the league now, with a lot of Australian representation, which is exciting and means every single week is going to be a difficult game, at least for most of us.

England’s Lucy Bronze is back in the WSL with Manchester City after a highly successful spell at Lyon.



England’s Lucy Bronze is back in the WSL with Manchester City after a highly successful spell at Lyon. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/ AMA/Getty Images

The talk before the season started was that this was becoming the most competitive league in the world, because quality players were signing for a range of clubs. I do think the top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, who have dominated recent seasons, could become a top five with Everton and Manchester United best-placed to break into the group. But I think the gap between the best and the rest has been extended, and there have already been some very one-sided matches. Reading, who came fifth last season, lost 6-1 at Arsenal on the opening weekend; the Gunners won 9-1 at West Ham on Saturday, and Bristol City lost 9-0 against Chelsea a day later.

These results illustrate how much the top clubs have pulled away, because I think the teams at the bottom have actually improved, and I’d like to think that we at Aston Villa have been a part of that process. It’s a big jump from the Championship, and it feels bigger because of that gap at the top, but we have strength in our second division now, well-coached teams such as Leicester, Sheffield United and Durham who could be competitive in the WSL. The gap is not unbridgeable, but it is noticeable. For the teams coming up the key thing is to have a good defensive base, be tough to beat and to build from there.

The biggest difference with the Championship is the attacking threat of the teams you will be facing, the quality of their strikers, and you’ve got to push hard against that. If you look at the men’s game and the way Sheffield United exceeded expectations last year, they had a very strong defensive base. Football is a low-scoring game and it is not always the best team that wins – a stubborn, well-organised side can keep it tight and nick points. We’ve lost our first couple of matches, to Manchester City and Reading, but we haven’t been outplayed. We have created chances, and eventually they will become goals. If we tighten up defensively and can be more clinical in our counterattacking play we will become a real threat. There are positives that we can be encouraged by despite the opening defeats.

As for the best of the best, I think Chelsea will edge it. It is just frightening how much depth they have now, with players coming off the bench who are among the best in Europe in their positions. They won the league last season, and since then Fran Kirby has returned from injury, but it’s the arrival of Pernille Harder to play up front with Sam Kerr that has added a whole new dimension. It is a squad built not just to win the WSL but to win in Europe, and I think they could push the likes of Lyon and Wolfsburg now. The best international players have started to come to England – I guess now it is time for international trophies for our WSL clubs.

source: theguardian.com

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