The WSL Watchlist: Twelve star players billed to set the league alight

Sunday 1 October will see the start of the 2023/24 Barclays Women’s Super League – and with attendances set to grow further this term after an enjoyable FIFA Women’s World Cup, this looks sure to be the best WSL campaign to date.

But plenty has changed since Manchester United fell short of their debut title by two points and their cross-city rivals missed out on European Football on goal difference – so with the commencement of the season just around the corner, we’ve picked one player from each WSL club that could shape their side’s fortunes over the course of the next 22 games.


Last Season: 3rd

Player to Watch: Alessia Russo

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Elimination from the UEFA Women’s Champions League probably isn’t how Jonas Eidevall would have wanted to kickstart his side’s season – but a penalty shootout loss to Paris FC leaves the Gunners contending solely for domestic silverware.

But with much of Arsenal’s business completed before that fateful defeat in Sweden, Eidevall has recruited well to bolster an incredible side. Alessia Russo is the big-name move that has been anticipated for over a year now, and despite the Gunners offering a world-record fee to draw her away from Manchester United, they’ve managed to pick her up for free after her contract expired.

And naturally, by saving around £500k, Arsenal have made this move virtually risk-free. The Gunners have strengthened their side, weakened the opposition and secured the signature of one of the nation’s finest players – all without spending a penny on transfer fees.

But Russo has never featured in a squad of this calibre, and that could be the very problem – as she will have to deal with competition for places. Now, the forward must navigate her way into a bustling attack that boast Stina Blackstenius, Caitlin Foord, Cloé Lacasse, Beth Mead and the soon-to-return Vivianne Miedema.

Aston Villa

Last Season: 5th

Player to Watch: Daphne van Domselaar

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Admittedly, highlighting a goalkeeper as the Player to Watch in this talented Aston Villa side feels slightly strange. But when the likes of Rachel Daly, Kirsty Hanson, Adriana Leon and Alisha Lehmann are fighting for a starting berth in a chaotic attacking lineup, Daphne van Domselaar will provide stability at the back.

van Domselaar arrives from FC Twente, in her native Netherlands. Having spent six seasons with de Tukkers, a move to the Midlands – and one of England’s most promising sides – seems long overdue when you delve into the shotstopper’s history. Despite being second-fiddle to Nicky Evrard throughout her first two seasons with the club, van Domselaar cemented her spot as Twente’s preferred ‘keeper in 2019/20, and has thrived ever since.

Those club performances have earned recognition on the international stage too, and when Sari van Veenendaal was forced off through injury in the Netherlands’ opening match at EURO2022, the youngster stepped up to the plate – and she’s never looked back.

At just 23 years old, van Domselaar is still a way off her peak. For the opposition, that’s a scary thought – but for Carla Ward and the Aston Villa defence, her presence could well be the reassurance they need to truly challenge the long-standing top four.


Last Season: 11th

Player to Watch: Vicky Losada

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Looking back at the 2022/23 season, Brighton’s slender escape from relegation looks to be disappointing. A squad of that quality should never have found themselves tangled in a dogfight at the bottom of the table – but when you take a closer look, the Seagulls have built the foundations for what promises to be their best campaign yet.

The arrival of Mel Phillips in April 2023 is undoubtedly Brighton’s best acquisition of the year. With a wealth of experience in the United States and a three-year coaching stint at the London City Lionesses, the American has worked wonders and already implemented a convincing playstyle.

In fact, her methods are so convincing that she has managed to attract the likes of Vicky Losada and Pauline Bremer. Losada has enjoyed an incredibly successful career – most notably with Barcelona, although she is no stranger to playing in the WSL, having represented Manchester City and Arsenal too.

The Spaniard has won everything there is to win. Quite frankly, she is a serial winner – and she’ll play a fundamental role in Mel Phillips’ side as they look to return to the top half of the WSL table.

Bristol City

Last Season: Women’s Championship Winners

Player to Watch: Carrie Jones

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Having edged out Birmingham City and London City Lionesses in the closely contested Barclays Women’s Championship, Lauren Smith’s Bristol City find themselves thrust into the big league – and there is just one question lingering above the West Country side. Do they have what it takes to compete in the top flight?

There is no denying that this is a side steeped in history. First funded by Bristol Rovers, the club was rebranded as Bristol Academy following increased involvement from Bristol Academy of Sport (now SGS Sport). It was during that period that the club nurtured the likes of Mary Earps and Lauren Hemp – both of whom have gone on to become crucial players for England’s Lionesses.

But that era has passed, and now they must look to survive in the top flight as Bristol City. The acquisition of Carrie Jones from Manchester United may just help the Robins to do that. Having spent last season on loan at Leicester City, the Welsh international certainly boasts WSL experience – and she’s a star on the international stage too, having made her debut for Wales at just fifteen years old.


Last Season: 1st

Player to Watch: Hannah Hampton

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Chelsea’s side is best described as a well-oiled machine. Each and every player is a vital cog, keeping the engine running – and a few of those cogs have been changed over the summer as Emma Hayes looks to revitalise her squad.

Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson are no more – but Catarina Macario, Sjoeke Nusken, Mia Fishel and Hannah Hampton have stepped through the doors. Hayes has also secured the signatures of Brooke Aspin and Wieke Kaptein, although they’ve been loaned back out to Bristol City and FC Twente respectively for the upcoming season.

If there’s one player that really catches the eye when you look through Chelsea’s list of summer arrivals, it’s Hannah Hampton. A phenomenal goalkeeper in her own right, she’s traded Carla Ward’s Aston Villa for the Royal Blue of West London – but the move poses one very significant question: where does she fit in?

Ann-Katrin Berger and Zećira Mušović are nothing less than incredible shotstoppers, and although Berger may be reaching the tail end of her career, Mušović is only just reaching her prime – as demonstrated by her tremendous performances for Sweden in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Displacing either of those two will be a tough task for Hampton, who will be keen to avoid spending her weekends sat on the bench.


Last Season: 6th

Player to Watch: Martina Piemonte

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A sixth-place finish last term saw the Toffees finish seven points clear of their cross-city rivals, with Brian Sorensen’s side, marking a notable improvement on their prior campaign. It’s fair to say that the Merseyside outfit have strengthened well for the upcoming season, as they look to cement themselves as a mid-table club and avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.

Leonie Maier, Rikke Sevecke and Gabby George have all departed over the summer, while Izzy Christiansen has retired and Jess Park has returned to Manchester City – but the Toffees have still walked out of this window with their strongest side in recent years.

Justine Vanhaevermaet is a shrewd signing from recently relegated Reading, while Alyssa Aherne arrives on loan from Manchester United – though the standout deal for Brian Sorensen’s side is the acquisition of Martina Piemonte from AC Milan.

At just 25 years old, Piemonte has the ability to slot straight into Sorensen’s starting eleven and establish herself as one of the league’s strongest strikers. A respectable goal return throughout her latest stint in Italy shows signs of promise, and she’ll have plenty to prove on Merseyside.

Leicester City

Last Season: 10th

Player to Watch: Janina Leitzig

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Janina Leitzig isn’t a new name at the King Power Stadium. The German goalkeeper joined on loan from Bayern Munich in January, rapidly establishing herself as one of the most influential players for Willie Kirk’s Foxes – and she has now tied herself down to a longer-term deal on the banks of the River Soar. Leicester City had failed to record a single point in the league before her arrival, but went on to avoid relegation after registering sixteen points from their final 13 games.

The Foxes have enjoyed a quietly excellent transfer window, as they look to build upon fine form in the latter half of last term. Lena Petermann, Janice Cayman, Aimee Palmer, Lize Kop, Jutta Rantala, Julie Thibaud and Deanne Rose have all put pen to paper throughout the summer, with Courtney Nevin joining Leitzig in making her loan deal a permanent move.

But despite this flurry of exciting incomings, Leitzig remains the player to watch. The defensive stability she offers cannot be understated, and when things aren’t smooth sailing, she is there to pick up the pieces. A goalkeeper of Leipzig’s quality committing to Leicester City is a huge statement of intent for the Foxes – and also indicates that high-profile players are really buying into Kirk’s project. It’s sure to be an exciting season at Filbert Way.


Last Season: 7th

Player to Watch: Sophie Román Haug

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Liverpool’s squad is teeming to the brim with quality players that could have a significant outcome on how the club fare this season – but there’s one acquisition that stands out: Sophie Román Haug. Having spent the last eighteen months with AS Roma in the Italian Serie A Femminile, the striker was a key player for Norway at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Perhaps her involvement and important was amplified by Ada Hegerberg’s withdrawal before the Switzerland clash, but regardless of the circumstances, Sophie Román Haug rose to the challenge. She netted a hat-trick in a six-goal demolition of the Philippines, and while Norway failed to impress at the tournament, Liverpool’s summer signing was a bright spark in the Grasshoppene side.

The striker made eighteen appearances throughout her first full season in Italy, netting seven goals as Roma won the domestic league and reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. If Sophie Román Haug can find that form in England, she’s bound to be a quality addition to this Liverpool side.

Manchester City

Last Season: 4th

Player to Watch: Jill Roord

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Manchester City’s transfer window has been notably quiet, with just one arrival and one departure. Of course, losing a player of Hayley Raso’s quality to Real Madrid will leave a massive gap in the squad – but Gareth Taylor’s side have seemingly plugged that gap with the acquisition of Jill Roord from VfL Wolfsburg.

It’s set to be an interesting campaign for Manchester City, who look to have opted for stability this season whilst the teams around them have been busy in the transfer market. If the approach pays off, it could well rectify Taylor’s contract scenario – with the gaffer currently under intense scrutiny after failing to impress last season.

Jill Roord is a player of the highest quality, and she has the career highlights to show for it. With the Netherlands, she’s lifted the 2017 EUROs – and with VfL Wolfsburg, she’s won the Frauen-Bundesliga and two DFB-Pokals. But perhaps more importantly, she boasts WSL experience, having spent two seasons with Arsenal.

Manchester United

Last Season: 2nd

Player to Watch: Leah Galton

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Manchester United fans shouldn’t be worrying about the gap left by Alessia Russo’s departure. Smart recruitment this summer has seen the Red Devils secure the likes of Geyse, Melvine Malard and Hinata Miyazawa – all of whom are capable goalscorers that could easily slot into United’s front three.

But Leah Galton is the player to keep an eye on this term. Despite playing predominantly from a wide position, Galton notched ten goals last season – and an average 0.77 goals and assists per ninety minutes.

Fans should be getting excited about their multitude of summer arrivals – but it’s important to remember that there are already players at the club capable of setting the league alight. Come May, Leah Galton may just be lifting the Golden Boot if this United side functions as a well-oiled machine.

Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: 9th

Player to Watch: Grace Clinton

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Grace Clinton’s move to North London may just be a loan spell – but there is no doubting that she’ll add plenty of quality to Robert Vilahamn’s Spurs. After making the move to Manchester United from Everton last summer, Clinton was loaned straight out to Bristol City in the Barclays Women’s Championship.

Six goals in twelve league appearances from midfield certainly isn’t something to ignore, and while it’ll be interesting to see how Clinton fares with the step up to the top tier of women’s football in England, if she can apply the basics that she knows so well, she should have no problems fitting in.

But on a personal level for Clinton, a loan spell in the top flight could decide the outcome of her United career. Impressing with Spurs may see her offered a chance in Marc Skinner’s midfield next season – but she may be moved on if her performances aren’t deemed to be of a high enough level.

West Ham United

Last Season: 8th

Player to Watch: Riko Ueki

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West Ham look set to endure a difficult campaign. With Dagný Brynjarsdóttir taking maternity leave, Mackenzie Arnold has been handed the captaincy – and after an impressive FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’d be easy to highlight her as the Player to Watch in this Irons side.

But Riko Ueki also deserves the plaudits, and she’s earned a move to the WSL after a simply stunning summer. Having spent the last seven seasons in her native Japan, Ueki must adapt to life in England fast and find the back of the net consistently if she is to steer her new club away from the drop zone.