Will Manchester United or Tottenham break into the top three of the WSL?

Will Manchester United or Tottenham break into the top three of the WSL?

Adriana Leon, Gareth Taylor and Drew Spence
Adriana Leon (left) joined Manchester United this summer, while Drew Spence (right) moved from Chelsea to Tottenham.

Breaking into the top three of the Women’s Super League is not easy.

For eight years, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have dominated the top of the table – Birmingham City and Liverpool were the last clubs to break that dominance, in 2014.

But could that change this season?

Manchester United have finished fourth in the last three campaigns, while Tottenham have shown they can challenge in 2021-22 and have ambitions to close the gap even further this year.

Manchester City were the team that took third place – and last place in the Champions League – last season, but after a series of key exits at the club this summer, as well as a seesaw defeat 4-3 in the first weekend of Aston Villa, has the door been opened to their rivals?

Has Manchester United improved?

Maya Le Tissier celebrates scoring on her Man Utd debut
Maya Le Tissier (right) scored twice on her Manchester United debut in a 4-0 win over Reading.

It was a great summer at United, bringing in seven new signings, including four strikers in Adriana León, Lucía García, Rachel Williams and Nikita Parris.

They increased the depth of their squad, and were also joined by exciting youngsters Grace Clinton of Everton and Maya Le Tissier of Brighton.

“We haven’t been lazy in our recruiting, quite the opposite, in fact,” manager Marc Skinner said.

“There have been a lot of changes in other teams as well. What I do know is that we have to have an exceptional season.”

“The preparation is trying to get into the top three, of course. We can’t hide that here. We can’t sit here like Manchester United and say ‘we want to finish fourth again’.”

“No, we have to try to get into that group, but we have to be exceptional.”

Manchester United finished five points behind Manchester City last season despite Gareth Taylor’s side suffering a major injury crisis in the early part of the campaign.

Skinner’s side got off to a perfect start last weekend with a comfortable 4–0 win over Reading with new signing Le Tissier scoring twice on his debut.

“We start every season wanting to be the best we can be. I think this season, if we’re not in the top three, it’s going to be a disappointment,” added midfielder Jade Moore.

The Spurs ‘press’ for the Champions League

Rehanne Skinner and Shelina Zadorski
Tottenham manager Rehanne Skinner and captain Shelina Zadorsky signed new deals at the club this summer.

Tottenham were playing in the second tier three years ago before gaining promotion to the WSL.

A few months after their league debut, they welcomed Arsenal to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in front of 38,262 fans, the largest crowd for a WSL match.

Since then, the club has cemented its position as a top club, with seventh, eighth and fifth place finishes in the last three seasons, while even attracting the services of American icon Alex Morgan in 2020.

The performances in the field have been favored by the setback. The Spurs have new training facilities, they were to open the season in the men’s stadium again before the round of matches was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and they have been ambitious in the transfer market.

The Spurs feel they have added depth to the team, particularly in midfield, and designed a challenging preseason schedule competing in the Women’s Cup, hosted by American club Racing Louisville, to enhance competitive experiences.

“We brought in players that will add value to the team,” winger Jess Naz said. “We’ve done little things like making sure standards are set so we can close the gap between us and the top three.”

Former Manchester United defender Amy Turner was a canny addition to Orlando Pride, along with German midfielder Ramona Petzelberger and former Chelsea striker Drew Spence, who scored on his debut at the beat leicester Last weekend.

Manager Rehanne Skinner said her team was “definitely pushing” to be in a position to qualify for the Champions League but has not set a timetable.

“If you’re not trying to get to the top of the table, what are you really doing? We certainly want to keep improving on the things we did last season,” he added.

‘Let’s not rule out Manchester City’

chloe kelly
England international Chloe Kelly, who scored the winning goal in the Euro 2022 final, is one of several big-name players still at Manchester City.

Injuries marred City’s 2021-22 season. They finished the season strong to claim third place and qualify for Europe, but it was still the first time in eight years that they did not finish as one of the top two in the WSL.

That meant they had to compete in the Champions League qualifying rounds and were unable to advance for a second consecutive season with defeat against Real Madrid in August.

The goal that eliminated them was scored by Scotland’s Caroline Weir, one of several high-profile players to leave City in the summer.

Also leaving the club were England midfielders Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh, who joined Barcelona for a world record feefollowing defender Lucy Bronze to the Spanish side, while forward Ellen White announced his retirement.

They recruited some interesting talent from abroad, including Australian striker Mary Fowler, but with just 22 games in a WSL season it means they have little time to settle down.

Taylor was asked questions before last weekend’s defeat and City’s performance did little to address those concerns.

“They lost their starting midfielders. When you look at the names that came out, they had leadership, maturity and WSL-winning experience. You can’t replace that,” former England defender Laura Bassett said.

“You can replace them with talent from abroad, but do they know the league and the physicality of it? It takes time to evolve and adapt.

“But let’s not rule Manchester City out. They had a tough time last season, then went 13 games unbeaten and finished third. There is a lot of work for City to do, and they will know it.”

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