After a summer of waiting and an influx of world-class overseas talent, the new Women’s Super League season begins on Saturday.
Chelsea are the defending champions after winning the title on a points-per-game basis. Newly promoted Aston Villa will host Saturday’s opening game (14:30 BST) against Manchester City, with live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Here’s BBC Sport’s guide to all 12 teams, including players to watch, summer transfers and the thoughts of some of the big names.
Last season: Third
Best WSL finish: Champions, 2011, 2012 & 2019
Summer signings: Steph Catley (full-back, Melbourne Victory), Malin Gut (midfielder, Grasshopper Club Zurich), Noelle Maritz (defender, Wolfsburg), Lydia Williams (goalkeeper, Melbourne City).
Manager Joe Montemurro: “It’s undoubted that the WSL is becoming probably the best league in the world. It’s a league where you know you want to be, to be the best you can be. But we try to make a statement every time we step out on the field. As Arsenal, we try to play our style of football.”
Opening fixture: Reading (h), Sunday 12:30 kick-off live on the BBC Red Button, iPlayer and online.
Player to watch: The Gunners squad is full of talented players but once again all eyes will be on Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema, the division’s top scorer last term with 16 goals in 14 league games.
Last season: Promoted as second-tier champions
Best WSL finish: Top-flight debut this season
Summer signings: Chloe Arthur (midfielder, Birmingham City), Anita Asante (defender, Chelsea), Stine Larsen (striker, FC Fleury 91), Ramona Petzelberger (midfielder, SGS Essen), Caro Siems (full-back, FFC Turbine Potsdam), Diana Silva (forward, Sporting Lisbon), Lisa Weiss (goalkeeper, Lyon).
Forward Emma Follis: “We’ve gone from a winning environment where we didn’t have many bumps in the road, but this year it is going to be different. You are almost going into every game as the underdog because you are the new team, but it’s just going to be about mentality. I fully believe in the capability of the team.”
Opening fixture: Manchester City (h), Saturday, 14:30
Player to watch: Denmark striker Stine Larsen arrived this summer from French club FC Fleury 91 with a strong reputation across the continent and plenty of experience at Women’s Champions League level.
Last season: 11th
Best WSL finish: Second, 2011 & 2012
Summer signings: Rachel Corsie (centre-back, Utah Royals, loan), Chloe McCarron (midfielder, Linfield), Christie Murray (midfielder, Liverpool)
Defender Harriet Scott: “We want to establish ourselves. Since Carla [Ward] has come in, our new manager, she’s been very clear about what our target is. And that is, first and foremost, to make sure we do not go down. Hopefully we will surprise teams and show them we’re not just there to make up the numbers.”
Opening fixture: Brighton (a), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: Birmingham goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, 19, received her first senior England call-up earlier this year after some impressive performances and, at such a young age, has shown great potential
Brighton & Hove Albion
Last season: Ninth
Best WSL finish: Ninth, 2019 & 2020
Summer signings: Lee Geum-min (striker, Manchester City, loan), Nora Heroum (midfielder, AC Milan), Inessa Kaagman (midfielder, Everton), Katie Robinson (forward, Bristol City), Katie Startup (goalkeeper, Charlton), Rebekah Stott (defender, Melbourne City),
Defender Victoria Williams: “[Brighton’s investment and women’s hub] is unbelievable. The plans that they are putting in place and are going forward with are probably far and beyond. It’s testament to the club and the owner that they actually believe in a women’s programme that much that they’re going to build us our own place.”
Opening fixture: Birmingham City (h), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: Experienced Finland midfielder Nora Heroum has signed a one-year deal with the Seagulls after leaving AC Milan and head coach Hope Powell will hope she can boost Brighton in and out of possession.
Last season: 10th
Best WSL finish: Second, 2013 (when known as Bristol Academy)
Summer signings: Emma Bissell (midfielder, Manchester City), Benedicte Haaland (goalkeeper, Lugano), Aimee Palmer (midfielder, Manchester United), Jemma Purfield (left-back, Liverpool), Ella Mastrantonio (midfielder, Western Sydney Wanderers), Megan Wynne (winger, Tottenham)
Midfielder Ella Mastrantonio: “Speaking to a few of the girls, where we are in this point [compared to] last season, there are lots of improvements, so that’s really good to hear. Of course, we want to finish as high as possible – why can’t we push for mid-table? I’m quite the optimist. When you really knuckle down your philosophies, anything can happen.”
Opening fixture: Everton (h), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: Scotland striker Abi Harrison is back fit again after an anterior cruciate ligament injury and will hope to rediscover the scoring form that saw her win two Golden Boots for Hibernian.
Last season: Winners
Best WSL finish: Champions, 2015, 2018 & 2020
Summer signings: Niamh Charles (forward, Liverpool), Jessie Fleming (midfielder, University of California), Pernille Harder (forward, Wolfsburg), Melanie Leupolz (midfelder, Bayern Munich).
Versatile defender Maren Mjelde: “That is the plan of course [to retain the title] but we know its going to be hard. The league is going to be tougher than ever. There are going to be a lot of trophies to compete for this year and we want to win as many of them as possible. We are positive, we had a good pre-season. We’ve made some good signings who have adapted really well into our team.”
Opening fixture: Manchester United (a), Sunday 14:30
One to watch: Chelsea have signed arguably Europe’s best player in Denmark captain Pernille Harder, but – now that she has had some time to settle in England after arriving last winter – Australia superstar forward Sam Kerr will hope to start finding the net with the frequency she has done so throughout her career.
Last season: Sixth
Best WSL finish: Third, 2011 & 2012
Summer signings: Damaris Egurrola (midfielder, Athletic Bilbao), Claire Emslie (winger, Orlando Pride, loan), Valerie Gauvin (striker, Montpellier), Poppy Pattinson (defender, Bristol City), Rikke Sevecke (defender, FC Fleury 91), Nicoline Sorensen (forward, Brondby IF), Ingrid Moe Wold (right-back, Madrid CFF)
Winger Hayley Raso: “A top-three finish for us is really important. Willie [Kirk] has brought in some high-profile signings and the team looks different now to even when I joined. Everyone’s brought so much depth to the squad and I think it’s going to be a really great season for us.”
Opening fixture: Bristol City (a), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: Everton’s signing of France striker Valerie Gauvin may prove to be one of the best pieces of business done by any WSL club this summer.
Last season: Second
Best WSL finish: Champions, 2016
Summer signings: Chloe Kelly (forward, Everton), Rose Lavelle (midfielder, OL Reign), Sam Mewis (midfielder, North Carolina Courage)
England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton: “It’s a bit weird when you see that number [missing out on last season’s title by 0.1 points per game]. It is what it is. For us as a team it was hard to take but, at the same time, it’s probably given us a bit more motivation for this season coming. The main thing was everyone was fit and healthy over the pandemic.”
Opening fixture: Aston Villa (a), Saturday 14:30
One to watch: World Cup-winning United States internationals Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle will add significant prowess to City’s midfield and 6ft tall Mewis, 27, will provide a strong, calm and cultured presence in the middle.
Last season: Fourth
Best WSL finish: Fourth, 2020
Summer signings: Ona Batlle (defender, Levante), Ivana Fuso (forward, FC Basel), Lucy Staniforth (midfielder, Birmingham City)
Midfielder Katie Zelem: “Some new players have come in and fitted in brilliantly with the squad. We needed some new additions to strengthen our team and bring us a bit more strength in depth and that’s exactly what they’ve done. We’ve had some really good friendly games leading up to the Chelsea game so our pre-season has gone really well.”
Opening fixture: Chelsea (h), Sunday 14:30
One to watch: After a breakthrough year last year, 18-year-old striker Lauren James will aim to build on her six WSL goals.
Last season: Fifth
Best WSL finish: Fourth, 2018
Summer signings: Danielle Carter (forward, Arsenal), Deanna Cooper (centre-back, Chelsea), Jess Fishlock (midfielder, OL Reign, loan), Emma Mitchell (left-back Arsenal), Erin Nayler (goalkeeper, Bordeaux)
Wales midfielder Jess Fishlock: “It’s definitely the season to bridge the gap. I would like to say yes, we can [get in to the top three] but I’m also a bit realistic. That means we’ve got to be consistent. Every week we have to be at the very top of our game with no slip-ups.”
Opening fixture: Arsenal (a), Sunday 12:30
One to watch: Having suffered two serious knee injuries in recent years and having moved to the Royals from Arsenal this summer, England forward Danielle Carter is ready to put her ACL problems behind her as she starts a new chapter in her career after 11 years with the Gunners.
Last season: Seventh
Best WSL finish: Seventh, 2020
Summer signings: Kerys Harrop (defender, Birmingham City), Alanna Kennedy (defender/midfielder, Orlando Pride, loan), Aurora Mikalsen (goalkeeper, Manchester United), Rachel Williams (forward, Birmingham City), Shelina Zadorsky (defender, Orlando Pride, loan),
Goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer: “It’s been a long time coming. Through the pandemic it’s been a tough task for everyone to keep sane and make sure everyone is healthy and fit. We just can’t wait to play a London derby on the first game of the season – it is something we can’t wait to get our teeth into.”
Opening fixture: West Ham (h), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: After spending her entire career to date at Birmingham City, reliable centre-back Kerys Harrop has made the switch to Spurs this summer and will bring maturity and composure to the backline.
West Ham United
Last season: Eighth
Best WSL finish: Seventh, 2019
Summer signings: Mackenzie Arnold (goalkeeper, Brisbane Roar), Hawa Cissoko (defender, ASJ Soyaux), Emily van Egmond (midfielder, Orlando Pride, loan), Ruby Grant (midfielder, Arsenal), Nor Mustafa (forward, Eskilstuna United), Maz Pacheco (left-back, Reading), Katerina Svitkova (forward, Slavia Prague)
Defender Grace Fisk: “[Our first game] couldn’t be any bigger really – local rivals. We seemed to come up short against them a lot last season. We played [Spurs] in pre-season so they know a bit about us, we know a bit about them. We can’t wait to get going and hope to come out with a strong three points.”
Opening fixture: Tottenham Hotspur (a), Sunday 14:00
One to watch: England international Rachel Daly has joined the Hammers on loan until the end of December from Houston Dash and will be full of confidence and being named MVP as her American club won this summer’s NWSL Challenge Cup.