WSL: New signings and old rivalries as women’s top flight returns after winter break

Spurs v Everton
Tottenham faced Everton on 14 December in the final WSL match of 2022

When Aston Villa and Tottenham walk out at the Bescot Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, it will be exactly one month since the last action in the Women’s Super League.

The winter break has now come to an end, and all 12 teams will be in action this weekend.

Among the games this weekend is a colossal clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, the league’s top two, while the race for Europe and the battle to avoid the drop are also heating up.

Thanks to the Lionesses’ Euros triumph, 2022 was a historic, game-changing year for women’s football in England. The question now is where the game goes in 2023.

After this weekend, every team in the WSL will have played at least half their fixtures – so where do we stand?

The biggest game in Europe?

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall and Chelsea boss Emma Hayes
Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall and Chelsea boss Emma Hayes will face off on Sunday

Sunday, high noon. Arsenal and Chelsea meet at Emirates Stadium in a match which is arguably the biggest domestic clash in European women’s football.

While Lyon in France and Barcelona in Spain could claim to be bigger and better teams – the recent roll of honor in the Women’s Champions League suggests so – none of them have a domestic rivalry to match that between these London clubs.

Both were impressive in qualifying from their Champions League groups, both have lost only one league game this season, and they are the two top scorers in the WSL.

“It’s the next game so it’s the most important one,” said Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall. “We have played some thrilling games against Chelsea, we have the privilege to play at the Emirates, it will be a great occasion.”

Is Man Utd v Liverpool in rivalry?

For the first time since September 2019, Manchester United will play Liverpool in the WSL this weekend.

The women’s game does not have the same history as the men’s match, with Liverpool only returning to the WSL this season following relegation in 2020 – but is a rivalry growing between these teams?

Their two managers have opposing viewpoints.

United’s Marc Skinner said on Wednesday: “I hope that it rivals the men’s fixture going forward. This could be a huge fixture, the more experience you have against each other builds history.

“Liverpool are a really good team, and going forward I think it will be like the men’s rivalry. Our job is to put in the performances to maintain the standards of this game.

He added: “It will take time to build the history the men’s game has, but Liverpool will be playing with the same intensity as us.”

Liverpool boss Matt Beard, however, looked to play down the significance of the game.

“I saw Mark’s comments which surprised me a bit, it’s just another game,” he said on Friday. “We just want to concentrate on ourselves, not on a rivalry.”

New signings galore

Bethany England
Bethany England became the most expensive transfer between two WSL sides in December

Can Remy Siemsen fire Leicester City – with two goals and zero points this season – to a remarkable escape from relegation?

What will the experience of Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth add to the Aston Villa midfield?

Is Gemma Bonner’s return the catalyst Liverpool need to push up the league, or will the creativity of young Sofie Lundgaard in midfield be the factor?

Most notably, will Bethany England – signed by Tottenham from Chelsea for £250,000, a record transfer fee between two WSL clubs – live up to the hefty price tag?

One game this weekend will not answer all those questions – but it could give us an early indicator, and fans will be waiting with baited breath to see their new heroes in action.

Spurs aiming to end slump

While some clubs were left kicking their heels by a month off, Tottenham would have been glad to put the end of 2022 behind them after slumping to four successive WSL defeats.

They were beaten 3-0 at home by Everton on December 14, the final WSL game before Christmas, in what was a worrying coda to the calendar year for Rehanne Skinner’s side.

To add to Skinner’s problems, they will be without key player Ashleigh Neville against Villa, after she was sent off against Everton.

“We were ready for the break, a lot of players played football over the summer,” said Skinner. “They’ve come back refreshed and ready to go.

“Things haven’t gone how we wanted, but I’m pleased with how we’ve trained, building momentum for second half of the season.

“You don’t get to the top of the league overnight, we are realistic that it takes clubs time to get to that point. We have added quality to the team, it hasn’t gelled as we’d like but we have to put in time and effort.With time you get quality and consistent performances.

“We let ourselves down in the first part of several games, we have got to be more resilient when the game starts, keep ourselves in games for longer. Some of our possession football was outstanding and we couldn’t reap the rewards.”

Is the winter break frustrating or much needed?

Going a month without competitive action over Christmas drew differing reactions from coaches in the past week, with some saying they were kicking their heels waiting for a return.

Others felt a break after a long year, which included many players in huge tournaments such as the Euros over the summer, was sorely needed.

West Ham manager Paul Konchesky, speaking before their meeting with Manchester City on Sunday evening, said: “It feels like a long time off, it has been itchy feet, I’ve never had so long off.

“To be honest, the break has been too long, I would have liked to have played in the week just gone to get us in earlier. But sometimes rest is best, giving the girls family time, now we have a lot of games. The players are regenerated.”

In contrast, Eidevall said: “I honestly think we were knackered, everyone was looking forward to the break so much.

“We last played 22 December, we’re back 15 January, that’s three weeks off. That’s sensible, you need a week totally off football then two weeks coming back to prepare for this game.

“If we kept pushing we would have paid the price eventually.”

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