How's the 2022/23 WSL shaping up at the halfway point?
Right then, the WSL is back from it's winter break tomorrow, so let's have a browse at how the it's looking at this stage.
As much as everyone is striving for a more egalitarian WSL, we're not quite there yet, the table at the halfway point all but splits itself into 3 chunks: the high flyers, the chasing pack and the strugglers.
For some context, here's how the table is looking:
The high flyers (the big 4):
Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City have been the top 3 for every season since 2016. They are all there and thereabouts again this year but so main talking point in this portion of the table is Manchester United who have gone from being the 4th best team in the WSL to being right on par with the other. They suffered a 3-1 loss to Chelsea but have beaten Arsenal and drew with Manchester City so far this season. They have singlehandedly turned the ‘big 3’ into the ‘big 4’ and have it well within their remit to get a Champions League place this season.
To summarise the other 3. Chelsea lost to Liverpool on opening day but haven’t really faltered since (bit of a close call against reading the other week). They adjusted very well when Emma Hayes took temporary leave for around 6 weeks when recovering from a hysterectomy. Their returning game against Arsenal is an important one however, for both teams, with Arsenal only 3 points behind with a game in hand.
Arsenal themselves were flawless until the end of November when they lost late on to Man Utd at the Emirates, which will have been a bit of a killer. Since, they've been hit badly by injuries to Williamson, Rafaelle and Little, and even more badly with Mead and Miedema doing their ACL’s within 3 weeks of each other just before Christmas. They've done some business and will probably do more in attempt to fill the hole left by two of their main goal-scorers, with United (and City although they are still 5 points behind) baring down on them.
Speaking of Manchester City, they didn't exactly fly out the blocks, losing 4-3 to Aston Villa on the opening day, then a slightly unfortunately timed fixture away to Chelsea the week after which ended in a 2-0 defeat. It's no secret they have a very new look team, essentially losing their whole starting midfield amongst others. But they have recruited well and are certainly much better off than they were at this point last season.
A Champions League place is very much still a possibility although they are relying on those above them to drop points. But, there's still a long way to go.
The *desperately* chasing pack:
West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa are the next best
After a bit of a rough 2020-2021 season they were much improved last season and haven’t let a managerial change – and quite a bit of transfer action – disrupt this. They have won all but two of their games which haven't been against one of 'the big 4'. New captain Dagny Brynarsdóttir has been immense for them with 5 goals from central midfield and Paul Konchesky has established a stable team, still with some attacking threat.
Speaking of rough seasons, no team was more underwhelming last season than Everton.
After going through 3 managers in one season, this season they’ve settled on Brian Sorensen who (along with Chris Roberts and Claire Ditchburn at the end of last season) looks to have steadied the ship. They’ve done some good business with the ‘big 4’ clearly like what they’ve got going on as they’ve got a very promising young player on loan from each of them - (or at least they did until Gio Queiroz was recently recalled to Arsenal).
They haven’t been perfect and are still a way off pushing to the top of the table, but thankfully last season looks to have been a blip and they are back on the upward trajectory that they should be on.
Aston Villa, were only a point better off than Everton last season and are also on the up so far this season, level on points with Toffees. This isn't to make a gross simplification of their improvement, but Rachel Daly is at the epicentre of their ascendency. Daly looked like a marquee signing for Aston Villa in the summer and its possible that she's even exceeded expectation. she's scored 62% of Aston Villa's goals this season.
They have strengthened all around to back this, and have continued so far in January notably signing Jordan Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth, making them Central Midfield FC when all of them are fit.
In 8th and 9th Spurs and Liverpool are a bit in-between those above them and the struggles at the bottom of the table.
Tottenham aren't that far behind but really Spurs should be much better off than they are, it just hasn't really worked for them thus far. The recent signing of Beth England is potentially a bit of a do or die for Rehanne Skinner, England could be the missing piece, however signing a proven WSL striker isn't going to solve all of their, quite extensive, creativity problems.
Liverpool came back up to the WSL with some vigour and stability, after a pear shaped couple of years. They beat Chelsea on the opening day but then got beaten 3-0 at home in the Merseyside Derby at Anfield, which understandably burst the bubble quite abruptly and they haven’t really hit the heights since. Nevertheless they are doing ok for their first season back in the WSL after relegation 3 seasons ago.
There were big red flags for Reading at the very beginning of the season but thankfully for them Brighton and Leicester were equally as bad and Reading have looked to have picked themselves up quite a bit recently - as they have tended to do in past seasons.
Whether they can improve on their current position remains to be seen.
Since promotion to the WSL, Brighton have never majorly flirted with relegation and certainly in the past two seasons have been solid mid table side. The wheels began to come off a touch at the beginning of this season. They did improve slightly before the winter break and are now level on points with Reading with two games in hand. There is more reason for optimism, new manager Jens Scheuer, the previous manager of Bayern Munich has a good reputation and they have accompanied his arrival with several solid signings. They will surely be hoping to get back to their usual selves in the second half of the season.
It's all very bleak for Leicester City. No points after 9 games. They have only scored 2 league goals. Now manager, and former director of women's and girls football, Willie Kirk is going to have to get a tune out of them soon, or do some miracles in the January transfer window because the writing is practically on the wall for them.
Now let's look ahead to another busy year of WSL action...