WSL 2023-24: Everything you need to know about the new Women’s Super League season

Can any club break up the top-four stranglehold of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City?

Date: Sunday, 1 October
Coverage: Watch Aston Villa v Man Utd live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online. Listen to Chelsea v Tottenham on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra & BBC Sounds. Follow live text coverage of the WSL on the BBC Sport website and app.

After a four-month hiatus, the Women’s Super League returns on Sunday and it looks set to be the biggest season yet following the record-breaking Women’s World Cup.

A jam-packed opening day will feature all the teams in action, with last season’s surprise package Aston Villa hosting runners-up Manchester United in the curtain raiser, which will be live on the BBC.

Champions Chelsea face London rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge in the evening fixture, while title challengers Arsenal could set a new WSL crowd record when they host Liverpool at Emirates Stadium.

So who are the favourites this time around? Will the battle for Champions League qualification be the most competitive yet? And how can you follow this season’s action? Here’s everything you need to know about the 2023-24 WSL season.

How close will the WSL be this season?

Both the title and relegation race last season went down to the final game, while Arsenal only pipped Manchester City to third and the final Champions League spot on goal difference.

But if the WSL managers are to be believed, this campaign could be even closer.

“I expect it to be the most competitive WSL season that has ever been,” said Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall. “I think a lot of squads have been strengthening.”

It’s hard to look further than Chelsea for the title. Emma Hayes’ side are bidding to finish top for the fifth year in a row, having won seven of the past nine WSL titles and having strengthened their squad over the summer.

“She’s going for the quadruple – one million per cent,” former Chelsea player Gilly Flaherty told the BBC’s Football Daily podcast. “Of course the Champions League is the one thing that has eluded Emma, has eluded Chelsea.

“Chelsea’s squad is one that any player in it could walk into any other WSL side and start.”

However, of the established top-four members, only Manchester United are still in the Champions League along with Chelsea, which could give Arsenal and Manchester City an advantage with fewer games to negotiate.

Aston Villa, who proved to be the best of the rest last season, showed they were more than capable of holding their own against the big teams with league wins over City and Arsenal and they have recruited wisely once again.

“Success for me looks like continuing what we have been building,” said Villa manager Carla Ward. “Now does that mean top four? No, it means trying to better what we did last year and continue to try to close the gap.

“Looking at the WSL and looking at how everyone’s recruited and the investment that has gone in up and down the division, I have no doubt this is going to be one of the toughest WSLs yet so we needed to recruit, we needed to keep building.”

WSL preparation disrupted by internationals

While the other major leagues in Europe are up and running, managers, players and fans have had to wait until October for England’s top flight to return.

The start comes days after an international break for the start of the Women’s Nations League, and just six weeks after the World Cup final.

Leicester manager Willie Kirk expressed his irritation at having preparations for the opening day disrupted by international games. “It’s a pain in the backside – I hate the international window,” he said.

“I was a little bit frustrated we didn’t start before the Nations League. I think every major league in Europe did apart from us. I don’t know why we are any different.”

Villa’s Ward shares that frustration with international breaks, but did not want the league to start earlier as she feels too much is being asked of players.

“You’ll probably not find anyone that moans more about international breaks more than me. If we’re talking about player welfare, we have to do something.

“We forget that they’re people and we have to start looking after them physically, mentally, emotionally.”

But former England striker Ellen White believes that having lots of tired players could result in a more interesting league.

“There is going to be a lot of tiredness, a lot of fatigue,” she said. “It’s going to come into it maybe that first month or two – hopefully the results will be a bit crazy! That’s what I want.”

More record-breaking ticket sales

All the WSL clubs, except Leicester, broke a club or stadium attendance record last season and several may do so again this time round.

Arsenal have sold more than 50,000 tickets for Sunday’s opener at Emirates Stadium against Liverpool, which could break the WSL attendance record they set last season – last September they sold 53,737 tickets for their match against Tottenham which translated into an attendance of 47,367.

In 2022-23, only West Ham did not play at their club’s bigger stadium, usually reserved for their men’s side, and teams are once again looking to stage more of their matches at their larger grounds.

Arsenal have confirmed at least five of their 11 WSL home games will be at their 60,000-plus capacity Emirates Stadium, compared with three last season. It will be one of three grounds usually used by the men’s teams to feature on the opening weekend, along with Stamford Bridge and Villa Park.

What else to look out for?

The Bristol City players and staff group together as Fran Bentley (centre) holds aloft the Championship trophy after their promotion is securedBristol City will play all their home games at 27,000-capacity Ashton Gate this season

Newly promoted Bristol City are no strangers to the top flight but a lot has changed for them since their relegation in 2021.

The club have switched home ground twice and moved to a new training facility, and changed head coach and appointed a much bigger backroom staff, as well as overhauling the playing squad.

“What we have done as a club is really professionalise how we are run, so our staffing has really increased since being relegated,” said head coach Lauren Smith. “The game is moving so quickly so we have got to keep up.”

While there will be plenty of faced new to the WSL on the pitch, including World Cup stars Hinata Miyazawa, Amanda Ilestedt, Daphne van Domselaar and Geyse, there have also been a couple of changes in the dugouts.

Rehanne Skinner, sacked by Tottenham in March, has replaced Paul Konchesky as West Ham manager.

Meanwhile Spurs, involved in a relegation battle last campaign, have gone for a manager new to the league in Swede Robert Vilahamn.

“Of course we want to be a top team in this league but the main thing is to start playing the kind of football that can take us up there,” said Vilahamn.

How to follow the WSL

The BBC will show one fixture per week – 22 games in total – while Sky will broadcast two matches per weekend and the FA Player will stream the rest of the games.

In addition, the BBC Sport website and app will have live text commentary on every match, along with weekend previews, reports and the latest news.

You can also watch highlights on the Women’s Football Show – the WSL version of Match of the Day – which is broadcast on Sunday nights on BBC One.

Pork pies, celeb DMs and hot tubs – Ella Toone’s phone unlockedAcross the BBC bannerAcross the BBC footer

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