All you need to know about the 2023-24 Women’s Super League season
2023-24 Women’s Super League season, Emma Hayes trophies at Chelsea, football

All you need to know about the 2023-24 Women’s Super League season

The 2023-24 Women’s Super League season gets under way at the start of October, following a thrilling World Cup that set new records for attendances and TV viewing figures.

Interest in the WSL is set to continue to rise on the back of another successful summer for the national team, with England having reached the final for the first time in their history, just one year on from winning Euro 2022.

Ahead of the new domestic campaign, we have looked back at the World Cup, studied each team’s results and analysed early fixture schedules.

Whose stars shone at the World Cup?

WSL players accumulated 27,873 minutes of playing time at the 2023 World Cup, equivalent to 19 per cent of the total and by far the most of any domestic league.

A total of 95 WSL players were selected by 18 different countries. This includes all but three of Sarina Wiegman’s England squad – only Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh (Barcelona) currently ply their trade overseas – as well as 10 Australia players, and eight of Ireland, Sweden and Canada’s contingents.

Arsenal led the way among English clubs for playing time, with 6,048 minutes shared between 16 players, ahead of Chelsea (5,228), Manchester City (4,858), Everton (2,653) and Manchester United (2,078).

Only Barcelona players combined for more minutes than the Gunners, whose travelling contingent included England’s Alessia Russo, Australia’s Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley, and Sweden’s high-scoring defender Amanda Ilestedt.

Who are the best teams?

There is a clear ‘big four’ in the English domestic game.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have finished in the WSL top four in each of the last four seasons, with United’s women’s team only having existed since 2018-19.

The Blues have won five of the last six titles – including all of the last four – and have averaged a staggering 2.49 points per game in that period.

Arsenal have the second-best record since 2017-18 (2.33), just ahead of Manchester City (2.28). Despite finishing as runners-up last season, Manchester United (2.10) have generally been the weakest member of the big four, but they have still won a full point extra per game – on average – than any of their other rivals.

Leicester have finished in the bottom three in each of the last two seasons and will be among the favourites to go down this year. Their points-per-game average (0.66) is the worst in the league, behind Bristol City (0.84) who have returned to the top flight after a two-year absence.

How do the title contenders fare against their rivals?

While the top four is all but decided before a ball is kicked, the order in which they finish is determined by their results against each other.

Over the course of the last six seasons, the top three have generally had an edge over United, and within that triumvirate Chelsea have maintained a hold over Arsenal and City.

Emma Hayes’ side have won 17 and lost only three of their 31 matches against City, Arsenal and United since 2017-18. They rose to the occasion in big games on their way to last season’s title, collecting 13 points in six matches against the other clubs in the big four, which was the most of any team.

Runners-up United were the most improved side in 2022-23, with three wins in six games against their rivals compared with a record of one in 15 before that.

Who has the easiest start?

The WSL table is likely to have a familiar look in the early weeks of the new season.

Both Manchester clubs and Chelsea have been handed the easiest starts in the league, based on finishing positions in 2022-23.

City in particular have an opportunity to steal a march on their rivals, with games against three of last season’s bottom five and the promoted Bristol City scheduled in their first six fixtures. That said, the visit of four-time reigning champions Chelsea looms large in matchweek two, as does a trip to Arsenal in week five.

On the other hand, Brighton will have to navigate a nightmare run if they are to avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation battle. The Seagulls face Everton, West Ham and Tottenham before things get really tough, with Chelsea, United and City lying in wait in weeks four, five and six.

Which are the standout fixtures?

The dominance of the big four in the WSL makes for some lopsided scorelines.

For example, Arsenal have scored 34 goals and conceded three in seven matches against newly-promoted Bristol City since 2017-18, including a remarkable 11-1 victory in December 2019 in which striker Vivienne Miedema scored six and assisted four goals.

The luckless Bristol side account for two more of the five highest-scoring fixtures, with their head-to-heads against Chelsea and Manchester City making for similarly grim reading. The Blues have scored 38 goals and conceded only once in their last eight meetings with Bristol City, while the Citizens have netted 30 and shipped five in the same number of matches.

Low-scoring encounters are relatively rare in the WSL, with the women’s top flight having averaged 3.33 goals per game last season, as opposed to the Premier League’s 2.85.

However, certain match-ups tend to produce cagey affairs, such as Aston Villa vs West Ham, which has seen just 11 goals in six games, including two goalless draws.

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