The new WSL campaign is just days away but for Arsenal and Manchester City the focus is elsewhere. First, the pair play first-leg ties in the final Women’s Champions League qualifying round with a place in the new group stage at stake.
City are in Spain, where they face a Real Madrid team making their debut in the women’s competition. Arsenal meet Slavia Prague at home. Glasgow City are also involved, playing Servette in Switzerland tomorrow evening.
The revamped competition has been expanded and upgraded. There is even a newly commissioned bespoke anthem, mirroring the Handel adaptation by Tony Britten which is the calling card of the men’s competition.
More pertinently for owners, there is also a new centralised TV deal (with streaming platform DAZN), more entries from the bigger leagues, and more guaranteed matches – if they qualify.
Sam Kerr: ‘I came to Chelsea to challenge myself – English football is more tactical than in the US’
Chelsea, last season’s runners-up, receive direct entry as WSL winners, along with holders Barcelona, and the champions of France and Germany – Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich. Co-incidentally this was last seasons’ final four. The other dozen teams in the group stage must to qualify.
Arsenal, having finished third in WSL, have already been through one round of qualifying, despatching Okzhetpes, of Kazakhstan, 4-0, and PSV Eindhoven 3-1, in a mini-tournament in Moscow. During this phase Celtic, Swansea City, Glentoran and Dublin’s Peamount United – were knocked out.
Now they face Czech runners-up Slavia, grateful to have avoided Lyon, champions for the previous five seasons prior to dethronement last spring – it was a four-to-one chance in the draw. Arsenal defeated Slavia 13-2 on aggregate two seasons ago and will expect to progress.
While having to compete in Europe before the season starts is often a nuisance, it has given new coach Jonas Eidevall the opportunity to see his players in a competitive environment before WSL starts. Since Arsenal start against Chelsea at the Emirates on Sunday that is invaluable.
DAZN are streaming the games on their website, as well as on YouTube for free as part of a deal designed at growing audiences for women’s football.
The 38-year-old Swede arrived from Rosengard where he won three titles either side of a spell working alongside Henrik Larsson at men’s club Helsingborgs. He also led Rosengard to the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League and has identified the competition as one Arsenal should be aiming to win.
“To see if we can win the Champions League is one of the reasons I came to Arsenal,” he said. “We have a chance against any team in the world and are going to do our best to grab that chance.”
In midfield he is without Danielle van der Donk, now at Lyon, and the injured Jordan Nobbs, but Mana Iwabuchi, recruited from Aston Villa, has settled quickly. The Japanese already looks to be building a fruitful partnership with Kim Little and Vivianne Miedema – whose retention was as valuable as any transfer coup. Arsenal also brought Nikita Parris back to the WSL from Lyon.
City, unlike Arsenal, were seeded, but have the tougher draw.  Real are in only their second season under the Merengues banner but are intent on making swift progress. A distant second to Barcelona last season they have since signed the prolific Esther Gonzalez from Levante.
However, influential Swedish midfielder Kosovare Asllani, once of City, is unavailable having contracted Covid-19. City should avoid going out to Spanish opposition for the fourth season in succession even though Lucy Bronze, Ellen White and Chloe Kelly are all absent.
With their US internationals Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper having all returned to the States City have been busy recruiting. The net has been cast wide with internationals from Spain (Vicky Losada, from Barcelona), Jamaica (Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, from Bordeaux) and Australia (Hayley Raso, from Everton and Alanna Kennedy from Tottenham).
Elsewhere former Arsenal coach Joe Montemurro, who began his career as a player with Australian club Brunswick Juventus, will be aiming to lead Juventus of Turin into the group stages for the first time. They face Albania’s Vilaznia in their first leg tomorrow.
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.