The build up to the 2020/21 season saw an influx of world class stars arrive in the WSL.
Countless members of the United States world cup winning side jumped across the Atlantic to try their hand in England. Alex Morgan joined Tottenham, whilst Sam Mewis and Rose Levalle signed for Manchester City.
Reigning champions Chelsea made a high profile signing too. They broke the record transfer fee to sign Pernille Harder from Wolfsberg for around £250,000.
Lionesses Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood returned to the WSL after a stint in France which saw them both win the Champions League with ever dominant Lyon.
This season has been a little bit different. Many of the US stars have returned to the NWSL. But that’s not to say the standard of the league has dropped. In fact quite the opposite.
A major TV rights deal means more eyes than ever will be on the league. As a result many teams have invested their squad appropriately, with the trend this summer being younger talents.
FTF takes a look at some of the excellent signings made ahead of the 2021/22 Women’s Super League season.
Position: Central midfielder
Born: 16th July 1999
With the departures of Jill Roord (Wolfsburg) and Daniëlle van de Donk (Lyon) this summer, reinforcing the midfield was key for Arsenal under new manager Jonas Eidevall.
Gunners fans can be confident that the Swede has done just that in recruiting World Cup winner Mana Iwabuchi and the highly rated Frida Maanum.
The Norwegian joins Arsenal from Linköping of Sweden midway through the 2021 Damallsvenskan season.
Maanum is a box-to-box midfielder who will be key to the way Eidevall wants his Arsenal side to play.
In the games we’ve seen already it’s clear the former Rosengård manager wants his side to win the ball back in the press and attack quickly.
Maanum fits that mould perfectly. During Arsenal’s Champions League qualifier against Slavia Prague she recovered the ball 15 times in the opposition half.
Once Maanum has regained possession of the ball, she can get it forward to Arsenal’s dangerous forwards well.
Her 2.13 smart passes per 90 and 1.68 shot assists per 90 are amongst the highest in the Damallsvenken this season.
Her ability to beat a defender will help Arsenal in the transition too. In Sweden Maanum recorded 2.62 progressive runs per 90 and 6.4 dribbles per 90, both amongst the highest in the league.
Defensively, Maanum is sound, whilst still capable of improving. For Linköping this season she averaged 6.45 defensive actions per 90, 3.19 interceptions per 90 and 5.38 defensive duals per 90.
After Arsenal beat reigning champions Chelsea on the opening week of the WSL they look like legitimate title contenders.
If they are going to make good on their early promise and challenge for the WSL title this season, Maanum will play a major role in doing so.
Position: Attacking midfielder / Winger
Reading often struggled to find the back of the net when on top in games last season. During the summer Kelly Champers has attempted to fix that problem.
Experienced goalscorer Natasha Dowie has joined from AC Milan and Deanne Rose switched the US for England.
Rose played a big role for Canada as they won their first Olympic gold medal.
With Canada locked at 0-0 against the US, 60 minutes deep into an intense semi-final, Bev Pristman turned to Rose to change the game.
She did exactly that. Using her electric pace to beat Tierna Davidson to the ball, the 22-year-old was brought to the ground by the Chicago Red Stars defender.
After a lengthy VAR check the referee awarded the penalty which Jessie Fleming converted to reach the final.
During the final itself Rose showed her nerve to fire her penalty in the shoot-out right into the top corner to keep Canada in contention for gold.
At the age of 22, Rose has already won 57 caps for Canada. Despite that Rose is yet to play her first professional club match.
Rose joins Reading this summer following her departure from NCAA Southeastern conference side Florida Gators.
Her performances for the Gators was enough to tempt the North Carolina Courage to select her as the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft.
But Rose never finalised a move to North Carolina and has instead opted to sign for Reading ahead of the 2021/22 WSL season.
If her college career is anything to go by, Royals fans have a lot to be excited about from Rose. In her 53 appearances for the Gators she scored 38 times.
The 22-year-old has blistering pace. She makes the most of lightning speed to take on her opposition defenders. When playing for Canada Rose averages 6.19 dribbles per 90.
Deanne Rose will offer Reading something completely new in attack this season, as her manager told Sky Sports after Reading’s opening game against Manchester United.
“Deanne is going to give us a completely different dynamic that this team have never had before. I think she will be a very exciting player for this league.”
WSL fans should excited to see what Rose will add to Kelly Chambers side this season.
Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw
Bunny Shaw is a bonafide goal machine. Everywhere the Jamaican has gone in her young career she has scored goals, and lots of them.
Across her two seasons with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, Shaw scored 32 goals in 35 appearances. Last season she netted 22 goals, enough to win her the golden boot with 22 goals as Les Girondins finished third and qualified for the Champions League for the first time.
At international level Shaw’s record is even more staggering. In just 30 games for Jamaica the 24-year-old has found the net 42 times. During a game against Guadeloupe in 2018 Shaw scored six times as Jamaica charged to a 13-0 victory.
It’s clear that Shaw is a clinical finisher. Last season she significantly out performed her xG (16.16) by scoring 22 goals.
With Ellen White unfit to start City’s opener against Everton, Bunny Shaw was given a chance in Gareth Taylor’s starting XI from the off.
She made good on that opportunity, scoring on her debut as Manchester City cruised past Everton 4-0 at Goodison Park.
A key feature of the Manchester City game is how well their attackers link up. Their front three of White, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly got a combined 44 goal contributions last season.
Shaw provided six assists in Ligue 1 last season which suggests she can certinally fill in for White. Combine those numbers with her 0.85 key passes per 90 and 1.1 shot assist per 90 and you can see why Shaw was so highly sought after.
At just shy of six foot, Shaw will also provide the Citizen’s with a physical presence upfront. Last season she engaged in 13.92 offensive duels per90 with a solid success rate of 39.57.
One aspect of Shaw’s game that majorly differs to White’s is her ability to run with the ball.
Last season Saw recorded 2.25 progressive runs per 90 (among the highest for forwards in the league) compared to White’s 0.45 in the WSL.
But it’s in the dribbling metric that really demonstrates this fact. Shaw averaged 5.61 dribbles per 90 compared ti White’s 0.73, which were by far the lowest in the WSL for strikers.
Whilst those numbers likely portray what Gareth Taylor asks from his striker, the ability to create a goalscoring opportunity from an individual moment of brilliance can’t hurt.
Still only 20-years-old Hannah Hampton has already made over 50 senior appearances.
After making her senior debut for Birmingham City in 2017 she become one of the first names on the Blues’ teamsheet in subsequent seasons.
Now, Hampton stepped across the divide to join Aston Villa, where her former Birmingham boss Carla Ward has taken over this season.
Birmingham were the heavy favourites to be relegated last season. Despite that, in large part thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper, they escaped the drop by just two points.
Hampton made the second most saves in the league (84). Amongst those where some key saves, preventing 3.35 goals according to WyScout, the highest of any goalkeeper in the league.
Defending was a major weak spot for Aston Villa last season. Under Gemma Davies and later Marcus Bignot hey conceded 47 goals.
In comparison Aston Villa’s goalkeeper last season, Lisa Weiß has a goals prevented stat of -1.01.
Being one of the league’s weaker side’s Birmingham were often under the cosh.
As a result, Hampton faced the second most shots per 90 (6.14) leading to her conceding the third most goals (44).
That didn’t prevent her from receiving multiple England call ups last season.
It’s clear to see why England want her in their set up. With 4.2 saves per 90 and a save rate percentage of 68.35, Hampton was one of the top regular performers in WSL last campaign.
Hampton’s also has a fantastic record when facing penalties, having saved two out of the three she has faced.
The former England youth international isn’t one venture from her line often, only leaving her line 1.55 times per 90 engaging in 0.48 defensive actions outside her penalty area per 90.
This season Villa will be hoping to be more solid defensively and in Hannah Hampton they have a solid foundation.
Position: Central midfielder
“That is something special”. Those were the words of two time Olympic Gold medalist Aly Wagner. They were said in reference to a fantastic pass made by a 17-year-old Hanna Bennison on her international debut against the USA.
Since then Bennison has been dubbed one of women’s football’s most promising prospects.
At 18-years-old, she already has experience at the highest level of the game.
Bennison was a part of the Swedish side that won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Now, having joined Everton from Rosengård for a rumoured £150,000, Bennison is ready to take her game to the next level.
Willie Kirk’s side have recruited well this summer, signing no fewer than eight senior players.
Amongst those new additions are Toni Duggan and two more Swedish internationals signed from Rosengård in Anna Anvegård and Nathalie Björn, who will help Bennison adjust to life in Merseyside.
Bennison makes things happen in games. Despite her youthful age she is an influence on her teams performance.
The 18-year-old shone in Sweden’s 2-0 victory over New Zealand in the final group game at the Olympics.
She provided the assist for Sweden’s second with a dangerous cross from the right which required the slightest of touches from Madelen Janogy to beat an outrushing Erin Naylor.
Having sat under the learning tree of Caroline Seger at Rosengård, Bennison has developed fine vision.
Bennison entered her fourth Damallsvenskan campaign this season. She continued to impress in her limited time in the league this year.
In just 548 she has scored twice and assisted twice.
She sits fourth in the rankings for key passes per 90 with 1.31, an improvement on her 0.93 in 2020.
Bennison has improved her dribbling too, upping her 4.2 dribbles per 90 in 2020 to 7.06 this term.
Still comfortably in her teenage years one can assume she will only continue to develop during her time at Everton.
Bennison is not only a singing for the present but one destined for greatness in the future.