This weekend is the opening round of games in the FAWSL 2013. However there is a slight catch folks. Due to the poor weather we have had here in the UK over the past few weeks, several Women’s FA Cup games have had to be rearranged and with the final scheduled to be played at the end of May, the League had no choice but to give FA cup games priority over League matches in order to get the competition finished on time. All this means that only two of the scheduled League games can go ahead this weekend; Lincoln Ladies host Liverpool Ladies and Chelsea host Birmingham Ladies in the battle of the blues. In the FA cup Bristol face Everton with a semi final against Lincoln the prize for the winners. Bristol and Everton’s scheduled league opponents Doncaster and Arsenal will have sit back and watch the action with the rest of us.
Lincoln Ladies v Liverpool Ladies
First up we have a contest between two sides which took very different approaches in the transfer market over the winter. Lincoln only made one incoming transfer but it was a major one; bringing in England’s number one goal keeper Karen Bardsley to replace Nic Hobbs who left for Doncaster. This means that Lincoln now possess the first choice England centre back pairing in Sophie Bradley and Casey Stoney along with keeper Bardsley. Given this it isn’t surprising that they are yet to concede a goal this season in the FA cup having beaten Chelsea 1-0 in the 5th round and brushed aside Leeds United 4-0 in the quarter finals. Lincoln have one of the smallest squads in the FAWSL this season and have been hit further with injuries to Sophie Barker and Meaghan Seargent. Sophie Walton will also sit out this match as the last game of her three game suspension gained in the last game of the 2012 season. All this means it is odds on that that they will name another unchanged line up and name only three subs on the bench.
Liverpool manager Matt Beard has been the busiest manager in the league over the winter bringing in 12 players and showing the door to another 12. This may seem drastic but given that the club have finished rock bottom in each of the last two seasons, collecting only two league wins along the way, shows that it was time things had to change. Quite a lot of money has been invested at the club this year and with it comes added pressure to gain results. However given the amount of new players brought in it will be interesting to see how quickly they take to gel. So far this season they have looked unconvincing. They started well enough with a 5-0 away win at lower league Aston Villa in FA cup but followed it up with a fortunate 1-1 home draw to Everton in the Continental Cup (The FAWSL’s answer to the Carling Cup) in front of the ESPN cameras. Two weeks ago they booked their place in the FA cup semi finals thanks to a 2-1 win away at Sunderland who play there football in the League below the FAWSL, with the winner coming two minutes from the end. It may only be the first game of the season but there is more pressure at Liverpool than any other club and a defeat at Sincil Bank will only add to that.
Prediction Given that Lincoln look to have a settled line up I will go for a home win. Lincoln 2-0 Liverpool.
Chelsea Ladies v Birmingham City Ladies
This is a fascinating clash that sees two sides that are tipped to be challenging for the second Champions League place this season and could even give Champions Arsenal a run for their money in the battle for the Championship. It is also a re-run of the 2012 FA cup final which Birmingham won on penalties after a 2-2 draw after extra time. Birmingham have been the bridesmaids of the league for the last two seasons, having finished runners up to Arsenal in both 2011 and 2012. They suffered a blow in pre season losing England international Eniola Aluko to Chelsea and Jodie Taylor to Goteborg FC in Sweden, but did bring in some quality in the form of keeper Mary Earpes from Doncaster, and Kirsty Linnett from Arsenal. So far this season they have had a 3-1 away win at Cardiff in the FA cup and were due to face Arsenal in the FA cup away tonight. (Result not known at time of writing)
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes had made some great signings over the summer and assembled an impressive squad. This week Chelsea made history by signing Brazilian international Ester who will become the first Brazilian player to play in the FAWSL. Last season they finished in a disappointing 6th place but look much stronger this time around. Due to the weather they have only had one game so far this season and that was the 1-0 defeat away to Lincoln in the FA cup. In that match Chelsea looked disjointed and rarely threatened the Lincoln goal. Although it must be said that conditions weren’t great for playing good football.
Prediction: Home win. Birmingham will have had a very hard game against Arsenal on Tuesday night and given the quality and freshness in the Chelsea squad I expect them to take the points. Chelsea 2-1 Birmingham.
Bristol Academy Ladies v Everton Ladies (FA Cup quarter finals)
Of the three games this weekend this is by far the hardest to call. Bristol suffered a huge blow in the close season when they lost Jess Fishlock to Seattle in the NWSL as she was not only theirs, but the league’s, star player in the 2012 season. I wouldn’t say that Bristol were a one girl team last year, but they were pretty close to it as at times she was simply unplayable. They have however brought in some quality in bringing in Lucy Staniforth from Lincoln who is regarded as a dead ball specialist and is a great signing for them. Also on the plus side the club have kept hold of the likes of Laura Del Rio Garcia and Natasha Harding, so goals shouldn’t be a problem. Again they have only had one game so far in 2013; a 2-0 away win at Doncaster in round 5 of the FA Cup.
Everton have were just pipped to the post by Birmingham for the second Champions League position last season and that signalled a bit of a changing of the guard at the club. Manager Mo Marley left the club to be replaced by her assistant Andy Spence. They did lose some players, notably Fara Williams to neighbours Liverpool, but there was good news for the club when Jill Scott committed her future to the club. So far this season they have crushed Oxford United 7-0 away in the FA cup and drew 1-1 with Liverpool in the Continental Cup in a game they will feel they should have won.
Prediction As I have said this is a really hard one to call but I will go for an Everton win. Bristol 1-2 Everton.