Women’s Super League 2021-22 previews No 4: Brighton

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H ope Powell’s Brighton surprised most people in their third Women’s Super League campaign with a sixth-place finish last season. The 15-point gap between the top four and the rest was large, but the south-coast side would be right to be eyeing the best-of-the-rest spot that they were only five points away from last term.

The team’s standing was a marked improvement on the preceding two seasons. In both of those they finished ninth, with 16 points in 2018-19 and 13 points in 2019-20, though there were 12 points still to play for when the latter campaign came to a premature end because of Covid.

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Powell, who was twice named manager of the month, has targeted goals in the transfer window after Brighton scored only 21 in 22 games last season. Danielle Carter, who made 101 appearances for Arsenal and scored 28 times, has joined from Reading, where last season she continued her recovery from two horrific ACL injuries within a 14-month period.

Carter has become their first player to sign for a fee (with players usually joining when out of contract) and it was a statement of Powell’s belief in the ability of the 28-year-old. “Danielle is a player I have known and admired for a long time and I’m really pleased she is joining us for the next stage of our journey in the WSL,” the former England manager told the club website after Carter signed.

“This is the first time we have paid a transfer fee for a player which reflects the club’s ambition and our desire to bring in quality additions to the squad. Adding to our options in attack was something we were keen to do in this transfer window and Danielle will definitely help us with that.”

As a taste of things to come, Carter scored in Brighton’s final pre-season friendly to earn a draw against Manchester United and Powell was pleased with the team’s progress. “It’s been a tough pre-season for the players. The demands of the WSL are going up all the time. Squads are getting bigger and with more quality and the physical demands on everyone are increasing,” she said.

“But I think we’re in good shape. I know a lot of the players didn’t want last season to stop because we finished it so well but we’ve reset, integrated the new players and have worked on every aspect of our game, both as individuals and collectively.”

Alongside Carter Brighton have secured the services of the South Korea forward Lee Geum-min from Manchester City after the striker impressed on loan. The 23-year-old Rinsola Babajide completes Powell’s trio of attacking recruits, joining on loan from Liverpool. Babajide endured a tough season on Merseyside after finishing as the club’s player of the season in 2019-20.

Rinsola Babajide in action against Leicester City last season. Photograph: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

The forward missed a number of training sessions after her request for a move away from the Championship side was turned down in January and she would spend time training with the development squad later in the campaign. Brighton offer the talented player a fresh start in the WSL.

The added firepower will likely close the worryingly large gap between goals scored and goals conceded but with no defensive recruits the team that shipped 41 last term could struggle to provide a base which their new attacking talent can thrive off.

The Seagulls’ first game is at home to West Ham on Sunday and is being played at the Amex rather than at the team’s regular home in Crawley.

The manager

Hope Powell is a legend of the game but is yet to find real success in the WSL with Brighton, since taking over in 2017. Powell will be aiming for at least one place higher than the sixth place achieved last season.

Key players

Danielle Carter The 28-year-old is a crucial signing as a big name in the WSL. The forward did not shine as brightly at Reading last term as many thought she would on her return from injury but now she has the platform to get back to her best.

Rinsola Babajide The explosive midfielder should make an immediate impact on Brighton’s attacking options as she leads from the front and reads the game perfectly. On loan from Liverpool, she has the opportunity to once again show her skills on the top-flight stage. Her adaptable and fast-paced playing style is sure to grab headlines.

Maya Le Tissier The defender has progressed into the Brighton starting XI after coming through their development squad. Having to earn her spot has meant she is a versatile and impressive defender who leaves her body on the line for her side. She is one of the first names on the team sheet.

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