Toppling Chelsea from their WSL perch will be the toughest of tasks Women’s Super League

Nothing is inevitable in football. No matter how long the odds, there is always the chance of an upset. That said, there is an unmistakable air of invincibility around the Chelsea side crafted for a decade by Emma Hayes.

They were pushed to the wire by Arsenal last season before winning a third consecutive Women’s Super League title, by a point. In the 2020-21 campaign they pipped Manchester City by two points. In the preceding season, Hayes’ side were awarded the title on points per game after the campaign was halted by the pandemic with Chelsea a point behind City but having played a game less.

Each of those titles – three of their five under Hayes – have, on paper, been tight. The numbers, though, do not tell the full story. Chelsea have only got stronger. The team’s unwillingness to relinquish their crown was demonstrated by the manner in which they leapt on Arsenal’s January wobble, when the Gunners lost to Birmingham, before going on a run to the end of the season where each twist and turn only ever looked like a cat toying with a mouse before it feasted.

Scarily, Hayes’ side are now mature and well-oiled, at the peak of a team life cycle rather than the start or end of one. Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder are settled, Jessie Fleming has stepped up and Lauren James has been reconditioned to meet the demands of a team eyeing success in Europe. This summer, Hayes has dipped into the transfer window to strengthen the full-back area she tried not to build upon last year. “It’s not that we didn’t target players, we just didn’t get the ones that we wanted,” she said a year ago, when asked why Chelsea had not recruited any players in that position.

Going to games

Live WSL football represents excellent value. Take season tickets: the champions Chelsea – based at Kingsmeadow in Kingston-upon-Thames – offer league-only deals for £49 to adults and £5 to juniors and seniors. nnTottenham’s adult prices are £70 and promoted Liverpool’s are £60 – with juniors and seniors paying £35. Meanwhile, Manchester City sell adult season tickets at £58-£68 – or £40-£45 for seniors and £27 for under-16s. For a flavour of the cost of a one-off ticket, Chelsea charge adults £10 to sit and £9 to stand, with concessions £2 and £1, respectively.

Games are staged across the weekend from 7.30pm some Fridays to 6.45pm-7pm every Sunday evening, with at least one match on Saturday lunchtime and the remainder kicking off between 12pm and 3pm on Sunday afternoons. 

An increasing number will take place at Premier League stadiums at various points. City use the 7,000-capacity Academy Stadium on the Etihad campus for most of their 11 home WSL fixtures,  but will hold December’s Manchester derby with United (based at Leigh Sports Village) at the Etihad Stadium. nnnnSimilarly, Arsenal play most games at Meadow Park in Borehamwood but the north London derby on 24 September is being held at the Emirates. Aston Villa usually run out at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium but they will face City at Villa Park on Sunday 18 September. A week later Liverpool swap their customary match-day base at Tranmere’s Prenton Park to meet Everton at Anfield. 

Television and social media

The Football Association has signed a record broadcast deal, of which Sky Sports will transmit 35 WSL games exclusively live this season. Meanwhile 22 matches will be free-to-air on the BBC and those not broadcast on television can be watched live on the FA Player. Highlights will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday night. The WSL’s accounts offer regular updates as the action unfolds. 

With the Guardian 

Led by our award-winning women’s football correspondent Suzanne Wrack, theguardian.com offers unrivalled WSL coverage. It includes a minimum of one match report per weekend, multiple minute-by-minute commentaries, weekly talking points on Monday, together with interviews, features, the latest news and the return of our Women’s Football Weekly podcast, which you can listen to every Tuesday. Louise Taylor

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Going to games

Live WSL football represents excellent value. Take season tickets: the champions Chelsea – based at Kingsmeadow in Kingston-upon-Thames – offer league-only deals for £49 to adults and £5 to juniors and seniors. Tottenham’s adult prices are £70 and promoted Liverpool’s are £60 – with juniors and seniors paying £35. Meanwhile, Manchester City sell adult season tickets at £58-£68 – or £40-£45 for seniors and £27 for under-16s. For a flavor of the cost of a one-off ticket, Chelsea charge adults £10 to sit and £9 to stand, with concessions £2 and £1, respectively.

Games are staged across the weekend from 7.30pm some Fridays to 6.45pm-7pm every Sunday evening, with at least one match on Saturday lunchtime and the remainder kicking off between 12pm and 3pm on Sunday afternoons.

An increasing number will take place at Premier League stadiums at various points. City use the 7,000-capacity Academy Stadium on the Etihad campus for most of their 11 home WSL fixtures, but will hold December’s Manchester derby with United (based at Leigh Sports Village) at the Etihad Stadium. Similarly, Arsenal play most games at Meadow Park in Borehamwood but the north London derby on September 24 is being held at the Emirates. Aston Villa usually run out at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium but they will face City at Villa Park on Sunday 18 September. A week later Liverpool swap their customary match-day base at Tranmere’s Prenton Park to meet Everton at Anfield.

Television and social media

The Football Association has signed a record broadcast deal, of which Sky Sports will transmit 35 WSL games exclusively live this season. Meanwhile 22 matches will be free-to-air on the BBC and those not broadcast on television can be watched live on the FA Player. Highlights will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday night. The WSL’s accounts offer regular updates as the action unfolds.

With the Guardian

Led by our award-winning women’s football correspondent Suzanne Wrack, theguardian.com offers unrivaled WSL coverage. It includes a minimum of one match report per weekend, multiple minute-by-minute commentaries, weekly talking points on Monday, together with interviews, features, the latest news and the return of our Women’s Football Weekly podcast, which you can listen to every Tuesday. Louise Taylor

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Now, France’s Ève Périsset, recruited from Bordeaux, and West Ham’s Katerina Svitkova have been added to strengthen those wide areas. Meanwhile, Kadeisha Buchanan has come from Lyon to provide serious competition for Magda Eriksson and Millie Bright.

Toppling Chelsea is not easy. Leading the pack to do so are, arguably, Arsenal. Their manager, Jonas Eidevall, is stepping into his second season in England with expectations raised. The Swedish forward Lina Hurtig is the only addition who could break into the first team, with Gio Queiroz immediately loaned to Everton after signing from Barcelona and Kaylen Marckese in line behind the No 1 goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger. Eidevall’s biggest boost is the retention of the Netherlands’ record goalscorer Vivianne Miedema, who was courted by a number of clubs.

Lina Hurtig (right), training on Wednesday with and Frida Maanum at Arsenal
Lina Hurtig (right), training on Wednesday with and Frida Maanum, is the one Arsenal summer signing who could break into the first team. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

The key to Arsenal’s title challenge will be consistency. Last season, a defeat by Chelsea in the FA Cup final in December and heavy losses to Barcelona in the Champions League seemingly ruptured the confidence of a side that had burst out of the blocks. The slide was arrested in January, with Stina Blackstenius, Laura Wienroither and Rafaelle recruited to shore things up. Now, Eidevall has a squad capable of competing, boosted by the England captain Leah Williamson and the golden ball and golden boot winner Beth Mead returning fresh from their Euros heroics, and he seems far more settled.

Traditionally, the next in line to the WSL throne would be Manchester City, but with a huge overhaul of the squad there is significant pressure on their manager, Gareth Taylor, to get the side gelled quickly. Last season their campaign was over before it had begun, with a spate of injuries hampering their start. Taylor’s recruitment will be put to the test after the departures of Keira Walsh, Lucy Bronze and Caroline Weir to La Liga clubs, Georgia Stanway to Bayern Munich, Janine Beckie to Portland Thorns and the retirement of Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott and Ellen White. Questions are being asked about why so many big hitters have wanted to leave, with a number citing Taylor’s predecessor, Nick Cushing, as key to their time at City in their exit statements, but pressure on Taylor could be held at bay if the team gets a solid start.

The number of changes could open the door to a series of challengers hoping to break apart the stranglehold of the traditional top three. Chief among those are Manchester United who, aside from having made some astute signings, have England’s supersubs Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. Tottenham also look good, with Drew Spence, Amy Turner and Angharad James adding top-level experience to the squad.

Will anyone usurp Chelsea though? It’s unlikely, but not impossible.