We’re now seven games into the 2023-24 English WSL season, but what have we learned so far? We look at some of the data storylines from the opening months of the campaign.
Record Champions Chelsea Make Impressive Start
Chelsea have made an impressive start to the 2023-24 Women’s Super League (WSL) season, dropping just two points in their opening seven games. In what will be legendary manager Emma Hayes’ final season in charge of the club, they are looking to win their fifth successive WSL title.
Only Arsenal in 2018-19 have managed to break up Chelsea’s WSL dominance across the previous seven seasons, and the opening to this campaign seems to suggest they’ll be the Blues’ closest rivals again. They are already three points behind Chelsea in the table but could close that gap when the two teams meet on 10 December.
For Chelsea, collecting 19 points from their opening seven games of a WSL season means this is their best start since the Covid-interrupted 2019-20 campaign (also 19 points). Winning their opening game of the season against Tottenham made a change, too. Chelsea had failed to win their WSL season opener in each of the previous three seasons, including defeats to Liverpool in 2022-23 and Arsenal in 2021-22.
It probably won’t come as a shock that Chelsea are the highest-scoring side (23) and the team to generate the highest quality scoring opportunities (22.0 expected goals), but they work the ball into such great areas to score that they have the highest expected goals (xG) per shot (excluding penalties) in the WSL too. Chelsea’s non-penalty shots have averaged 0.145 xG this season, which is the second best across a WSL season on record (since 2017-18), after Arsenal’s 0.15 in 2019-20’s shortened season.
They have also had the widest spread of goalscorers this season in the WSL, too. Thirteen different players have already found the net for Chelsea in their seven matches, three more than the next highest in the 2023-24 competition so far (Man Utd: 10). That’s just three scorers off the all-time WSL record of 16 different scorers in a season, recorded twice by Chelsea (2019-20 and 2022-23) and both Arsenal and Man City in 2021-22.
Sam Kerr has scored just two of those goals in her five appearances, with Chelsea – so far, at least – not relying on her for their goals as much as they have done in previous seasons. Although she finished as WSL top scorer for Chelsea last season with 12 goals, they contributed just 18.2% of Chelsea’s total – well below her opening two full seasons at the club in 2021-22 (20 – 32.3%) and 2020-21 (21 – 30.4%).
Chelsea have a trio of players on four goals apiece. Still just 20 years old, Aggie Beever-Jones has stepped up after back-to-back seasons on loan at Bristol City in the Championship and Everton in the WSL, scoring once in each of her last four appearances in the competition. German 22-year-old midfielder Sjoeke Nüsken has also hit the ground running with four goals in six appearances, including an excellent hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Brighton in October. Lauren James also has a hat-trick to her name, against Liverpool last weekend in a 5-1 win at Stamford Bridge. Her four goals overall are just one away from her WSL total last season (five) and two off her season-best six goals in 2019-20 for Manchester United.
Brighton Improving Under Phillips
When Melissa Phillips took over at Brighton on 7 April, the south-coast side were rooted to the bottom of the WSL table on nine points from 15 games. In the final seven games, she guided her side to seven more points, which included vital home wins versus Everton (in her first game) and West Ham.
With safety secured, Phillips has set about changing Brighton’s style and they have become less direct as a result. With seven points from seven games so far in 2023-24, they are already 44% of the way to last season’s final points tally (16) and have shown their ability to cause the bigger teams in the league some problems.
The Matchday 6 away win at Manchester City thanks to Lee Geum-min’s late winner came only a week after they were minutes away from sneaking a victory over Manchester United at the Broadfield Stadium – Guro Bergsvand put them 2-1 ahead in the 89th minute before Rachel Williams equalised in the eighth minute of added time. Brighton also led 1-0 against both Spurs and Chelsea until first-half added time, before eventually losing.
With the three WSL games before the new year coming against teams around them in the table – Liverpool (away), Leicester (home) and Aston Villa (away) – there’s every chance this new version of Brighton could enter 2024 in the top half. That would be a far cry from their struggles in 2022-23 and testament to Phillips’ qualities as a coach.
Last season saw Brighton as the second-most direct side behind only relegated Reading, but they have slightly increased their average passes per open-play sequence and dramatically dropped their direct style of play from 2022-23.
Pair of Appearance Records Broken in WSL
Sophie Ingle made her 184th WSL appearance in Chelsea’s emphatic 5-1 win over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge last weekend, breaking the WSL all-time appearance record.
That was previously held by Kerys Harrop, who made her 183rd and final appearance in the competition in May 2023 for Spurs but has since retired and opened to door for Ingle to go on to break the record. Only turning 32 years old in September, there’s a strong chance that Ingle will go on to break the 200-mark in the competition but will have one eye on 30-year-old pair Millie Bright and Mary Earps, who are storming up the all-time rankings and have years on their side.
Earps broke a record herself at the weekend, making her 172nd start in the WSL and overtaking Gilly Flaherty to take top spot in the all-time rankings.
It wasn’t a day to remember on the pitch for the Manchester United goalkeeper, losing the derby 3-1 against Man City at Old Trafford and Earps making an uncharacteristic error for Bunny Shaw’s goal.
Since Manchester United won promotion to the WSL with the Championship title in 2018-19, Earps has played every single minute of the Red Devils’ 87 WSL matches.
The Top Performers of 2023-24 So Far
Seven matchdays into the 2023-24 campaign, there are already some standout players in England’s top-flight women’s league. There are opinions on who the best players have been, but thanks to the Opta Player Ratings, we can rank the players based purely on the data metrics behind their performances.
Of players to have played the equivalent of at least four full WSL matches this season (360+ minutes), Arsenal’s Katie McCabe leads the way with an Opta Player Rating of 76.6 out of 100.
No player in the WSL has tallied as many chances created or secondary chances created as she has (20), while she is also among the league leaders for involvement in shot-ending sequences from open play (43) – only teammate Caitlin Foord (44) and Man City’s Chloe Kelly (53) have been involved in more.
Second in the Opta Player Ratings (76.3/100) is Chelsea’s French defender Ève Périsset, who has impressed despite limited minutes (368). Only two players have averaged more tackles and interceptions per 90 than she has in 2023-24 so far (5.6), while she also ranks inside the top 10 players for progressive carries per 90 (9.1) and sixth for successful passes per 90 (65.1).
Jill Roord (74.6/100) has created 11 chances from open play for her teammates this season – only three players have more – while her four goals put her joint third in the goal charts as we head into MD 8 of the season. Just below her in the Opta Player Ratings is current WSL top scorer Martha Thomas (74.5/100), who has scored six goals for Spurs while attempting a league-high 17 shots on target.
These Opta Player Ratings also power our set of brand-new, free-to-play gaming experiences, which you can play on Opta Analyst all season long.