Women’s Super League preview: Can anyone stop Chelsea? 

Canadian soccer team's Kadeisha Buchanan holds up her gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics at a press conference at BMO Field in Toronto during a media availability on Aug. 10, 2021. (Cole Burston/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

After a one-week delay due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the Women’s Super League will kick off its new campaign on Friday.

Last season went down to the wire, with Chelsea edging Arsenal by a single point to win the league title on the final day of the campaign, so it’ll be interesting to see if we get a repeat of those dramatics this time around.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2022-23 WSL season.

How the WSL season works

Several marquee clubs compete in the English topflight, most notably Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

The 12-team field is rounded out by Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion, Everton, Leicester City, Reading FC and West Ham United.

The WSL season is 22 games long with clubs playing each other home and away between now and May 28. The first-place team is crowned the English league champion and also qualifies for next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.

The second- and third-place clubs also secure Champions League berths. The last-place side is relegated to the Women's Championship, the second division. Liverpool won promotion to the WSL this season, while Birmingham City was relegated to the Women's Championship after finishing last in the WSL in 2021-22.

Chelsea looking to four-peat

Chelsea is a strong favourite to win a fourth consecutive Women’s Super League crown and continue its complete domination of the English game. The Blues were almost unbeatable in 2021-22, winning 18 of 22 matches with only two losses. The London-based club ended the campaign on a nine-match winning streak, with its last loss of the campaign coming on Dec. 12.

The core of that championship squad remains in place, with such notable stars as forward Sam Kerr (last season’s Golden Boot winner), Fran Kirby (one of the league’s top playmakers and goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger (third in clean sheets in 2021-22) back for the Blues.

Coach Emma Hayes was busy in the off-season transfer window, bringing in some recruits to strengthen an already formidable side. Amongst the newcomers are Canadian centre back Kadeisha Buchanan, French fullback Ève Périsset, Czech wingback Katerina Svitkova, Swedish midfielder Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Serbian playmaker Jelena Cankovic.

Arsenal best bet to unseat Chelsea

Chelsea has dominated the WSL since its formation in 2010, winning the championship on five occasions, and finishing runner-up two other times. By all accounts, the title is theirs to win again in 2022-23, as no other team boasts the same star quality and roster depth.

But if there is one side that can end Chelsea’s bid for a fourth straight WSL crown, it might be Arsenal. The Gunners were one of only two teams to beat Chelsea in 2021-22, earning a 3-2 win over the Blues in the opening week of the campaign. Arsenal sat atop the table for a good portion of the season before starting to wobble around Christmas, thus opening the door for Chelsea to go on their magical run. Even still, Arsenal pushed right until the very end, and only conceded the title on the final day of the season.

Swedish coach Jonas Eidevall is entering his second year in charge, having transformed the Gunners into a high-energy team that used a high press to unbalance their opponents during his debut season at the helm.

Not only has Arsenal re-signed top scorer Vivianne Miedema, but they’ve also added some significant pieces in the off-season, most notably Swedish forward Lina Hurtig and American goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese. They can also rely upon forward Beth Mead, who helped England win this summer’s European Championship, winning the Golden Boot (as top scorer) and Golden Ball (tournament MVP) along the way.

Canadian content: Buchanan arrives in the WSL

From a Canadian perspective, the big news in the WSL centres around Kadeisha Buchanan joining Chelsea.

Buchanan, from Toronto, has been one of the best centre backs in the world over the last six seasons at Olympique Lyon, helping the French club win five domestic championships and five UEFA Champions League titles. Her arrival strengthens a Chelsea defence that only gave up 11 goals last season in the WSL.

Buchanan isn’t the only Canadian on the books at Chelsea, as she joins London, Ont., native Jessie Fleming, who had a breakout campaign in 2021-22 as a key figure in the Blues’ midfield.

Elsewhere, Canadian centre back Shelina Zadorsky, also from London. Ont., is set to play in her third season for Tottenham Hotspur, while forward Deanne Rose, from Alliston, Ont., is back at Reading FC and looking to build upon a solid rooke season in 2021-22 when she scored three goals in 18 appearances as a starter.

After scoring 13 goals in four seasons for West Ham United, Canadian winger Adriana Leon, from Mississauga, Ont., made a major career move when she signed with Manchester United in the off-season.

Player to watch: Vivianne Miedema

Vivianne Miedema had an MVP-like season for Arsenal in 2021-22, as the Dutch striker finished second in the league in goals (14) and tied for the most assists (eight).

Miedema has been positively prolific for the Gunners since joining the London-based club in 2017 from Bayern Munich, scoring 74 goals in WSL play across five seasons. Despite interest from Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, she signed a new deal with Arsenal in the off-season, declaring that winning titles with Gunners would mean more to her than winning them at any other club.

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John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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