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Grading the Winners and Losers in the Barclays WSL

Robert Pratley
Grading the Winners and Losers in the Barclays WSLJames Fern/PPAUK/IMAGO
It’s time to review the season performances in classic school style, to see who made the grade, and who flunked when it came to the final exams.

With the Women’s Super League season concluding, Emma Hayes signs off her illustrious Chelsea tenure with a stunning fifth consecutive title win. Manchester City were able to push the Blues to the very last day, but ultimately fell short, whilst Bristol City unfortunately exited the WSL after a single season back in the top flight.

Chelsea FC - Grade: B

The defending champions came into the season as red-hot favourites and were expected to retain their vice-like grip on England’s biggest prize. They did achieve this goal, however, they will also wonder what might have been. A slew of injuries, coupled with some interesting officiating in the Continental Cup, FA Cup and Women’s Champions League meant that Emma Hayes did not sign off with a stunning quadruple, but equally, the spirit and grit shown to get over the line must be praised. Most Chelsea fans now have a new favourite non-Chelsea player: Stina Blackstenius.

Player of the Season: Lauren James - The English superstar stepped up for Chelsea in the absence of others to dominate matches and was an integral part of their title win, with multiple hat tricks including against former side Manchester United.

Moment of the Season: Fran Kirby strode into the box to slot home the stunning 6th goal at Old Trafford to sign off her Chelsea career in fairytale fashion as Emma Hayes also ended her WSL chapter with a fifth title in a row.

Manchester City - Grade: A

Gareth Taylor’s team suffered the disappointment of no European football last season. Still, a very credible showing this year means they’ll return to Europe’s top table, at least for the qualifiers. A robust challenge to Chelsea, spearheaded by the outstanding Bunny Shaw sadly ran out of steam at the final hurdle - and again, Citizens will wonder what might have been if their Jamaican powerhouse was not absent from injury during the key final weeks of the season. They’ll also now have a profound dislike for Stina Blackstenius.

Player of the Season: Bunny Shaw - The world-class Jamaican striker once again secured the Golden Boot and if she hadn’t been injured, City would have won the title. Her all-round play also remains severely underrated.

Moment of the Season: Manchester turned blue as City came from a goal down to sweep away Manchester United 3-1 in a dominant display at Old Trafford as Jill Roord, Lauren Hemp and Bunny Shaw all netted.

Arsenal - Grade: C

A pre-season exit in the UWCL against a less-fancied Paris FC set the tone for an underwhelming season for the Gunners. Poor losses against Liverpool, Chelsea and most jarringly, North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur meant their title challenge fizzled out extremely early. Another Continental Cup win offered a little bit of gloss to the season. Still, Jonas Eidevall’s side did end under an acrimonious cloud, with the departure of club legend Vivianne Miedema, apparently due to issues with the Swede.

Player of the Season: Lotte Wubben-Moy - The Lionesses defender stepped up this year in the absence of other key personnel and demonstrated that she is turning into a solid, dependable presence at the back.

Moment of the Season: Returning from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Arsenal’s star striker Vivianne Miedema reminded everyone of how spectacular she can be with a stunning strike to open the scoring against Liverpool in January.

Liverpool - Grade: A+

Although they may not be the most easy-on-the-eye team at points, there is no denying that Matt Beard has fashioned a Liverpool side that are extremely good at taking notable scalps. Victories over Manchester United and Arsenal were one thing, but the stunning 4-3 home win over Chelsea threatened to end their title hopes completely. Rightly, Matt Beard picked up the Manager of the Season accolade and you wouldn’t bet on Liverpool kicking on further next year.

Player of the Season: Marie Höbinger - The classy Austrian midfielder has helped to control the centre of the park for the Reds and her pinpoint dead-ball deliveries have caused absolute havoc this season for multiple seasons.

Moment of the Season: Gemma Bonner rose highest to flash a crucial late header past a hapless Hannah Hampton to secure a shock 4-3 victory against the Champions on 1st May to blow the title race wide open at Prenton Park.

Manchester United - Grade: D

When comparing WSL seasons, it’s harder to make a case for a bigger disappointment than Manchester United. A September UWCL exit, a bizarre Continental Cup exit and extremely erratic league performances mean they will not return to Europe’s top table next year. A good FA Cup win has papered over cracks, but it looks like another summer exodus for the Red Devils. 

Player of the Season: Lucia García - The Spanish international stepped up in her 2nd season in England with some impressive wing displays. Her versatility across the front line was extremely important and she displayed admirable consistency in a very frustrating season. 

Moment of the Season: Ella Toone’s brilliant turn and stunning long-range strike at Wembley opened the scoring against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup Final and set Marc Skinner’s side on the course towards an eventual 4-0 win, securing a first-ever top-flight trophy since the club reformed. 

Tottenham Hotspur - Grade: B+

An impressive year of growth under the Lilywhites saw them grab plenty of plaudits from neutrals as they cemented themselves solidly in the top half of the Women’s Super League. Although an early run for the UWCL fizzled out due to erratic performances after the winter break, the North London side showed great progress under Robert Vilahamn and will be hopeful to keep progressing. 

Player of the Season: Grace Clinton - The young English midfielder joined Spurs on loan and instantly slotted into their gameplan with ease. Gliding across the midfield, Clinton provided plenty of goals and assists, leading to her catching the eye of Sarina Wiegman. 

Moment of the Season: An intricate and brilliant passing move from back-to-front saw Martha Thomas in the right place to slide a strike past Manuela ZInsberger and light the touchpaper in the North London Derby, as Tottenham finally overcame their North London rivals for the first time.

Aston Villa - Grade: C-

Regression on an excellent previous season saw Villa slip away back into the bottom half of the table, despite a strong summer of investment and several promising signings. With Carla Ward leaving for a sabbatical, the Villains now have to work hard to avoid moving into a long-term transition, which could leave them battling relegation.

Player of the Season: Rachel Daly - Despite not quite hitting the heights of the previous season, Daly continued to be a class apart for the Midlands outfit, scoring 8 times in 20 appearances and leading the line with distinction in the year where she also announced the end of her impressive international career. 

Moment of the Season: In one of the most bizarre situations ever, Aston Villa’s decision to sub on Noelle Maritz in a dead-rubber Continental Cup match led to major repercussions resulting in Manchester United getting eliminated from the tournament! Talk about rotten luck.

Everton - Grade: A

A tough year of injuries was navigated brilliantly by Brian Sørensen. The Toffees were able to secure their safety in the WSL with relative ease and were even able to have a solid FA Cup run, which was only ended by Chelsea in a very tight affair. With some astute signings and better luck, expect the Merseysiders to do even better next year. 

Player of the Season: Clare Wheeler - The tough-tacking Australian midfielder stood head and shoulders above the rest for Everton, flying into challenges and sniffing out danger all season long. Her stupendous workrate kept her going all game, every game and she was a rare bright spot of continuity in a disrupted season. 

Moment of the Season: At the tender age of just 16 years and 180 days, Issy Hobson stunned Arsenal by heading home a shock equaliser at Walton Hall Park, becoming the youngest-ever goalscorer in WSL history in the process. 

Brighton & Hove Albion - Grade: C+

A scrappy season for the Seagulls saw them survive in the WSL due to having the benefit of a regular goalscorer, but overall it was a year of discontent for the seaside club. The mid-season change of manager did allay relegation fears, but the longer-term direction of the club is still up for debate. 

Player of the Season: Elisabeth Terland - The Norwegian forward took Brighton on her back for much of the season and her 13 goals in the WSL were integral in ensuring the Seagulls survived comfortably in the end. She’s out of contract this summer and it will be tough to retain her. 

Moment of the Season: Lee Geum-Min returned to haunt her former side at the Joie Stadium in November, as her late strike - hugely against the run of play - secured a priceless win for Brighton.

Leicester City - Grade: B

Off-field issues tarnished a lot of the goodwill towards the Foxes for their impressive FA Cup run, and astute work in the transfer market ensured that the King Power stadium will once again host WSL football in 2024-25. They secured safety with time to spare, a far cry away from the previous year.

Player of the Season: Jutta Rantala - The Finnish forward represents another brilliant bit of transfer business for the usually astute Leicester City. With five assists and six goals, the 24-year-old took to WSL life like a duck to water, and now the challenge will be keeping her away from admiring eyes. 

Moment of the Season: A stunning 2nd-half salvo at home against Bristol City saw the Foxes flash three goals past the Robins to win 5-2 and demonstrate the firepower the Foxes had to ensure they avoided relegation this year.

West Ham United - Grade: B+

The Irons secured safety more due to astute work in the winter transfer window, and grinding out results in the second half of the season, despite a slew of departures and captain Dagný Brynjarsdóttir’s absence due to pregnancy. However, their squad is still extremely weak and a lot of work needs to be done this summer to ensure another relegation dogfight is not on the horizon. 

Player of the Season: Mackenzie Arnold - The Australian goalkeeper has been one of the standout stars outside the ‘Big 4’ in the WSL for some time, and her impressive performances all season long saved the Hammers from conceding countless goals. 

Moment of the Season: The Chigwell Construction Stadium saw one of the greatest shocks in WSL history as Viviane Asseyi’s penalty and a powerful clever strike from Hawa Cissoko produced an amazing 2-1 turnaround against Arsenal, a result which badly hampered the Gunners' title hopes. 

Bristol City - Grade: C

A harsh result for the Robins as they were always expected to find it difficult back in the top flight, especially after losing several important players. Although they’ve impressed with their spirit and fight, ultimately they did go down several weeks before the end of the season and will need to rally to climb back up again after an extremely bruising year. 

Player of the Season: Amalie Thestrup: Despite Bristol City struggling, Thestrup enjoyed a fantastic season on a personal level, grabbing 9 goals after her move from West Ham. Having impressed in a struggling side, she’ll hope that another WSL side are willing to give her a stint in the top flight.  

Moment of the Season: Although feel-good moments were hard to come by this season, Bristol City did enjoy an excellent draw against a very solid Liverpool side in December, with Thestrup’s goal grabbing a precious point for Lauren Smith’s side. 


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