In this season preview in the form of tactical analysis, we will analyse the Women’s Super League 2019/20 season. We will look at what it takes to finish first, evaluate some squads to watch and tip teams for relegation.

For the first time, in the WSL 2019/20 season, 12 teams will compete to become champion. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs were promoted from the Championship (WSL2), finishing first and second respectively last year and Yeovil were relegated from the WSL last season after finishing last. But what will happen this year?

Winning the league: Past and present

Looking back on all previous years of the WSL, we can look at the performance of league-winning teams and calculate how many points they achieved per match, how many goals they scored per match, and how many goals they conceded per match. Then we use analysis to give us a good indication of what it will take to win the league this year. Here is the data for the winning team since the 2014 season:

Season Points per match Goals per match Goals conceded per match
2014 1.86 1.36 0.71
2015 2.29 2.14 0.71
2016 2.63 2.25 0.25
2017 2.38 4 0.38
2017.18 2.44 2.44 0.72
2018.19 2.7 3.5 0.65
Average (mean) 2.38 2.62 0.57

Looking at the data, we can see that the champions of any WSL season need, on average, 2.38 points per match. Here are the only squads ever to do this:

Teams Season Points per match Position finished
Manchester City 2016 2.63 1st
Chelsea/Manchester City 2017 2.38 1st/2nd
Arsenal 2018/19 2.70 1st

Each team will play 22 games, meaning 66 points are up for grabs. However, on average, a team will only need 53 points to be crowned champions.

Scoring goals

Scoring goals is a vital part of any season. In order to win the league, a team must score 2.62 goals per game, on average. The only teams to have ever done this are as follows:

Teams Season Goals per match Position finished
Chelsea/Arsenal 2017 4.00/2.75 1st/3rd
Manchester City 2017/18 2.83 2nd
Arsenal/Manchester City 2018/19 3.50/2.65 1st /2nd

2018/19 Top Goalscorers

Rank Player Club Goals
1 Vivianne Miedema Arsenal 22
2 Nikita Parris Manchester City 19
3 Bethany England Chelsea 12
Fara Williams Reading
5 Georgia Stanway Manchester City 11
Danielle van de Donk Arsenal
7 Courtney Sweetman-Kirk Liverpool 10
8 Fran Kirby Chelsea 9
Jordan Nobbs Arsenal
10 Erin Cuthbert Chelsea 8

Looking specifically at last season’s top goal scorers, we can see that Arsenal and Manchester City had no problem scoring goals, with players from those teams making up five of the top ten.

Conceding goals

“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Teams will need to concede, on average, no more than 0.57 goals per match this season, in order to challenge for the title this season. The only teams to have ever done this are:

Teams Season Goals conceded per match Position finished
Notts County 2014 0.57 6th
Manchester City 2016 0.25 1st
Chelsea 2017 0.38 1st

It’s not enough to be good at only defending, as Notts County discovered. They conceded 0.57 goals per game in 2014 and finished sixth, due to only scoring 0.86 goals per game.

Last season, only Arsenal (13), Man City (17), Chelsea (14) and Birmingham (17) conceded less than 20 goals, making them likely to be the only teams pushing for Champions League places this season.

In order to win the league, you need to secure the 2.38 points per game and the way you do that is by scoring a lot of goals and conceding few. It sounds easy, but which teams are capable of doing that this season?

WSL Teams to watch

Arsenal

The Arsenal squad from last season are largely unchanged starting this season. They only lost Sari Van Veenendaal who was used as a back-up keeper and Dominique Bloodworth who has joined German champions Wolfsburg.

After achieving a record 2.70 points per match last season, Arsenal will be very difficult to look past as champions again this year. They scored 70 goals last season and didn’t rely on a single player to provide the goals with five of the top seven assisters being from the gunners.

Scoring the most goals and conceding the least, Arsenal won the league by seven points last season. This makes it very difficult to look past them to become champions again this season.

Man City

The Man City team made six signings and lost five players. The biggest loss was Nikita Parris who scored 19 goals and provided seven assists. Her contributions will need to be replaced after her transfer to Champions League winners, Lyon.

Summer signing Ellen White will improve their attack after she signed for Manchester City from Birmingham. The Englishwomen was impressive in the World Cup, equalling the six goals scored by Golden Boot winner Megan Rapinoe.

In defence, Abbie McManus was sold to the red side of Manchester after being used at centre back for only 13 league games last season.

Making up a seven-point gap after losing your top goal scorer will be difficult but with higher quality teams in the league this year, perhaps Arsenal will drop more points.

Chelsea

Chelsea ladies had an exciting season last year with three of their players in the team of the year in Hannah Blundell, Ji So-Yun and Erin Cuthbert. They had Bethany England and Fran Kirby in the top ten goal scorers with 12 and nine respectively as well as Romona Bachmann in the top five assisters with six.

Looking towards the 2019/20 season, Chelsea will not have Champions League football and with fewer games, Chelsea could attempt to get into the top two this year. With a squad that is largely unchanged, Chelsea will have to improve their tactics this year in order to improve.

Manchester United

Manchester United will take place in their first-ever Women’s Super League season this year. Last year they won the championship (WSL2) with a total 55 points losing only once all season.

Adding high-quality talent to the squad means Manchester United could be the surprise team this year. Netherland International Jackie Groenen and Hayley Ladd acquired from Birmingham ladies will be an improvement in quality for the squad.

In terms of losses, Manchester United didn’t lose anyone significant until recently when the club announced that club captain and first-choice left-back Alex Greenwood, was moving to Lyon.

Going into this season, Manchester United will be aiming to come at least fifth, acquiring enough points to slot in between Birmingham City in fourth to Reading in fifth. The season ended with a 13 point gap between the two teams leaving plenty of room for a team like Man United.

Relegation Battle

The teams most likely to be relegated are either Everton or Brighton. Brighton finished last season four points ahead of the toffees. When the two teams played each other, the result was a draw on both occasions meaning winning those games could be the difference in the relegation battle this season.

In the transfer window, Everton has lost seven players and gained five in an attempt to freshen up the squad that, excluding Yeovil, conceded the most goals and scored the least last season. Brighton has potentially weakened by losing players to better teams and gaining little WSL experience.

Conclusion

To win the WSL this season, a team will need to achieve 53 points (>2.38 points per match). To do this, they will need to score 2.62 goals per match and conceded no more than 0.57 goals per game.

Arsenal dominated the league last year and it looks as if they will be difficult to beat this season. The competition this year will be of a higher quality with Spurs and United joining the league and Yeovil being relegated.

Arsenal and Man City will likely be the teams fighting to the championship with Chelsea putting on the pressure for a top-two position.

With the Manchester Derby kicking off the season on Saturday 7 September 2019, perhaps Manchester United could be the surprise team this year if they open the season with a win.


Artwork by @chapulana

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Pete Warwick

Football Analyst & Writer at Football Bloody Hell
Pete Warwick
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