Aston Villa Women manager Carla Ward spoke to the press ahead of Villa’s Women’s Super League opener this weekend.
In a rare pre-match press conference for Villa, the newly appointed boss spoke at length about her new signings and the task ahead for her side. She also discussed the challenge that newly promoted Leicester Citypose in their first ever WSL match.
1: Pre-season went well despite defeats
“The new players have been fantastic. They’ve brought different qualities, but they’ve all settled brilliantly.”
Villa were only able to fit three friendlies into their pre-season schedule. They faced off against Everton, Manchester United and champions Chelsea. The Villans were particularly impressive against Chelsea, with the Midlands side being unlucky in defeat.
Their host of new signings have featured heavily throughout pre-season, with Alisha Lehmann and Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah being the centre of attention. Swiss winger Lehmann was deeply unfortunate not to score twice against Chelsea. Meanwhile, fellow new signings Ruesha Littlejohn and Gemma Davison have been on trial with Villa for some time, meaning they are already integrated with the squad.
2: Survival alone is not good enough this season
“Ultimately, it’s about securing a higher points tally than last season. But I’m ambitious, so I want to aim higher than that.”
The Villans were able to secure survival by the skin of their teeth last season. Despite not winning a match between February and May, they were able to draw their way to survival. Their final five matches were all draws, with survival being secured with a 0-0 draw against Arsenal on the final day.
Villa ended up surviving by three points, finishing in tenth above local rivals and Ward’s former employers Birmingham City. However, they finished with just 15 points and the second worst goal difference in the league with -32. By signing a set of established WSL and international stars, Ward will be looking to push on this season.
3: Leicester will be no pushovers
“They’ve strengthened everywhere. We have big seasons ahead of us and we’re both in similar boats so it’ll be exciting I’m sure”
Leicester City were able to secure their first ever promotion to the WSL in some style. They won the league by eight points, despite Liverpool being the clear early favourites for promotion. Like Villa, they have embarked on an impressive recruitment drive since promotion.
Jonathan Morgan has recruited genuine top-class talent in Abbie McManus and Jess Sigsworth. Extra top-flight experience has been added in Molly Pike, Jemma Purfield and Connie Scofield. They have crucially kept the core of their promotion squad together, so Villa will be wary of the Foxes on Saturday.
4: Gielnik will be Villa’s new star
“She’s someone we’ve tracked and wanted to get in early on during the window. She’s a great character and has so much quality.”
While she will not feature against Leicester, Ward has continued to praise new signing Emily Gielnik. The Australian striker signed for Villa yesterday and is fresh off an impressive tournament at the Olympics. She will look to provide the reliable source of goals Villa have missed since the departure of Melissa Johnson in 2020.
Her arrival will excite Villa fans and is a true statement of intent to the rest of the league that they are no longer in this league to make up the numbers.
5: Gemma Davison will play a major role for Villa
“She’s been absolutely first class since arriving. When we get her fit, she can play a big part.”
One new arrival that is likely to feature in some capacity is Gemma Davison. The experienced winger was announced as a Villa player on Friday morning, but has spent the last few weeks on trial at the club. While Lehmann and Boye-Hlorkah are set to take the wide berths against Leicester, Ward is optimistic that the 4-time WSL winner can play a major role for Villa soon.