Defending champions Chelsea will be the team to beat when the new FA Women’s Super League (WSL) season gets underway this weekend.
Emma Hayes has strengthened the Chelsea squad with the signing of Danish star Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg.
The 27-year-old has penned a three-year contract with the Blues and the transfer fee of around £300,000 is said to be a world record for a female footballer.
Harder joins a Chelsea squad that already includes Australian striker Sam Kerr, one of the world’s top players, and England international Bethany England, who was named the WSL’s player of the year in July.
“I’m extremely happy and extremely excited to get started, to finally be here and be a Chelsea player,” said Harder. “I couldn’t be more happy. I’m excited to just play for such a big club, to play with so many amazing players and to also be playing in the league [Women’s Super League].
“The English league, it’s so exciting at the moment and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Harder is not the only star who will be playing in the WSL in the 2020-21 season. United States World Cup winners Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have signed for Manchester City while Wales international Jess Fishlock returns to the WSL for the first time since 2012 after signing on loan for Reading from US National Women’s Soccer League side OL Reign.
‘Best in the world’
The high-profile signings have made the WSL the best women’s football league in the world, says former Arsenal and England forward Lianne Sanderson.
Speaking on The Women’s Football Show on Sky Sports, Sanderson said: “The WSL, it is, for me, the best league in the world now. It never used to be, I think the American league was, but the WSL is taking over.
“It’s great there are so many players moving, and I expect more transfers coming through as well. It’s exciting for the league. Mewis and Lavelle are the top two everybody is looking out for, but Fishlock coming back to play in England is also a big plus.”
Five players to watch in the WSL
Sam Kerr, Chelsea
The Australian superstar had a “day to forget” at Wembley last weekend, the BBC reports, despite Chelsea winning the Women’s Community Shield 2-0 against Manchester City. Even though the 26-year-old has only scored once since making her Chelsea debut in January she remains one of the world’s best players. Kerr has scored 149 goals in 227 career club games and has notched 42 goals on the international stage for the Matildas. Write her off at your peril…
Pernille Harder, Chelsea
Denmark captain Harder won a number of league titles and cups during her three-and-a-half years with Wolfsburg and scored 103 times in 113 matches for the German club. The 27-year-old attacker was named Uefa Player of the Year in 2018.
Rose Lavelle, Manchester City
Lavelle, a 25-year-old midfield ace, was awarded the Bronze Ball after scoring three goals, including one in the final, for the United States as they won the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup. After signing a one-year deal, she said: “I’m so excited to join Manchester City and I can’t wait to play alongside some really talented players. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of playing in England and competing in the Champions League.”
Sam Mewis, Manchester City
Lavelle is joined at Man City by fellow US World Cup winner Mewis. The midfielder’s arrival in England was described by The Guardian as “one of the biggest recruitment coups ever made by a Women’s Super League club”. Mewis said: “I hope I can bring my attacking mindset. I’m known for being aggressive and going forward. I think it’s a mentality piece that I’ve learned from my club team and the US team.”
Jess Fishlock, Reading
Midfielder Fishlock returns to the WSL for the first time since 2012 having signed on loan for Reading from US side OL Reign. The 33-year-old, Wales’s most-capped player, also won the Champions League during a spell on loan at Lyon. Fishlock told BBC Sport Wales: “With the NWSL not playing right now, I think all eyes will be on the WSL. With the worldwide climate as it is, all eyes are on us. Can they grab this opportunity with two hands and run with it? I think so, I think it’s the opportunity we’ve all been waiting for.”
Opening fixtures and TV coverage
BT Sport has also confirmed that the season opener on Saturday between Aston Villa and Manchester City will be free-to-air.
Saturday 5 September
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City (2.30pm, BT Sport 2)
Sunday 6 September
Arsenal vs. Reading (12.30pm, BBC Red Button)
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Birmingham City (2pm)
Bristol City vs. Everton (2pm)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United (2pm)
Manchester United vs. Chelsea (2.30pm, BT Sport 1)
Saturday 12 September
West Ham United vs. Arsenal (5.20pm, BT Sport 1)
Sunday 13 September
Chelsea vs. Bristol City (12.30pm, BBC Red Button)
Birmingham City vs. Manchester United (2pm)
Everton vs. Tottenham (1pm)
Manchester City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (2pm)
Reading vs. Aston Villa (2pm)