Aston Villa WSL Season Preview: Midtable for the newcomers
KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Stonewall rainbow laces in a pair of boots during the FA Women's Continental League Cup Quarter Final match between Chelsea Women and Aston Villa Women at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on January 15, 2020 in Kingston upon Thames, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Aston Villa are preparing for their debut season in the Women’s Super League under Gemma Davies after a barnstorming promotion campaign in 2019/20.

The Villans managed an invincible season in the FA Women’s Championship as they romped to the title and promotion. While they only got to play 14 games due to the season being ended by the COVID-19 pandemic, 13 of those were wins. This was more than enough for Villa to be awarded the title on points per game with them six points clear of Durham at the close of the season.

Melissa Johnson and Shania Hayles dominated the Villa scoring charts, with the pair comparing for 25 goals in all competitions. Johnson was especially impressive, netting 12 goals in just 10 league starts. Her strike partner endeared herself to the Villa faithful by leaving their Second City rivals Birmingham City to return to her childhood club.

Davies also took home the award for manager of the year, goalkeeper Sian Rogers claimed the golden glove while Johnson narrowly mossed out on the golden boot to Sheffield United’s Katie Wilkinson.

Following their promotion to the top tier, Villa gave their squad an immediate overhaul by releasing much of their promotion squad and going on a massive recruitment drive.

Transfers

Villa surprised many by the number of players they released and the stature they held in the squad. Captain Jade Richards and top scorer Mel Johnson were both let go, with Johnson joining Sheffield United and Richards still being without a club at the time of writing.

Midfielders Phoebe Warner and Alice Hassall both signed for Coventry United while January marquee signing Sophie Maierhofer has returned to Germany to sign for Frauen Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg. Striker Kerri Walsh, defender Charlotte Greengrass and goalkeeper Daniela Kosinska are all also without clubs.

As for players coming in, midfielder Chloe Arthur and defender Freya Gregory became the latest players to join the conveyer belt between Birmingham City and Aston Villa. They became the third and fourth players to cross the Second City in the last two seasons, joining Shania Hayles and Emma Follis.

The third signing of the window came by the end of the first week, being WSL veteran Anita Asante arriving from Chelsea. The 35-year-old is the direct replacement for Richards and is a prime candidate to take the armband. Her 71 England appearances adds a level of much-needed experience to Villa’s squad and will prove to be crucial this season.

Villa found an impressive replacement for Johnson in the form of Diana Silva from Sporting Lisbon. The 25-year-old striker has been playing first team football since she was just 14 and has almost 60 caps for Portugal. Gemma Davies will surely be pinning her goalscoring hopes on Silva as they bid to make a storm in the top tier.

Silva was followed by a triple German signing. Goalkeeper Lisa Weiss joined from European Champions Lyon, while Caroline Siems and Ramona Petzelberger joined from Turbine Potsdam and SGS Essen respectively. The signing spree was ended with the arrival of Danish forward Stine Larsen from French side FC Fleury 91.

Villa shed most of their Championship standard players and replaced them with seasoned internationals and exciting attacking talent to build a top flight quality squad.

Player to watch

Villa’s marquee Portuguese striker Diana Silva has the potential to take the WSL by storm in 2020/21.

In four years with her Sporting Lisbon, she came close to averaging a goal a game. Silva bagged 62 goals in just 78 league matches with the Portuguese champions, typical of her free-scoring form in her home country. In her single season with Clube de Albergaria, she bettered a one in two goal ratio with 13 goals in 24 games. She did the same with her hometown club Atletico Ouriense, scoring 89 goals in 124 matches across her six year spell.

The diminutive striker has also performed on the international stage, netting 13 goals in 58 caps for Portugal as well as impressing in a friendly match against England in 2019. With Villa’s creativity on the wings and in midfield, including the likes of Emma Follis, Jodie Hutton, Marisa Ewers and Nadine Hanssen, Silva should have the service she needs to allow her to replicate her fine form on the continent.

 Her signing was a massive statement of intent to the rest of the league and it will ensure the eyes of the WSL big guns will be on Villa Park on 5 September.

One for the future

It may seem odd to call someone who has been a first team regular for two years ‘one for the future’, but Jodie Hutton is a gem.

She started life on the left wing, gaining a reputation for being a free-scoring presence. However, she slowly drifted back to left-back through last season and nailed down that spot for herself. She has developed a strong relationship with the squad and the fans and is now entering her 11th season with her childhood club.

She has already represented England up to under 19 level and it is not inconceivable to see Hutton continue to push forward in the national setup if she has another strong season at the top level.

Predicted finish

It is always difficult to predict how a newly promoted team will perform in their first season at a new level. However, Villa should have a strong start to life in the WSL.

Relegation shouldn’t be a concern for Gemma Davies as there are certainly teams worse than them. Bristol City and especially Birmingham City are both in dire straits from last season, with the Blues narrowly avoiding relegation and losing many of their best players. However, the top half is so stacked with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United that Villa probably won’t be harbouring European ambitions.

Villa will be looking to compete with the likes of Everton and Reading for 2020/21, meaning that they should be looking for a solid midtable finish. Given the improvements of Everton this summer, it is predicted that Villa will finish anywhere from fifth to seventh. This will give Villa a solid platform to push on in the future and will surely please Gemma Davies.

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