Big things are expected of Manchester City this season but goalkeeper Karen Bardsley believes that Chelsea could well be the team to throw a spanner in their works.
With a squad packed full of England stars – including Bardsley, who has 59 international caps to her name – Man City are a legitimate contender to win every competition they enter.
The 2014 FA WSL Continental Cup is the only major trophy in their history to date but two wins from the opening two league games this season have them sitting atop the nascent WSL 1 table.
However, Chelsea have already got the better of City once this season – as they triumphed 2-1 after extra-time in the SSE Women’s FA Cup semi-final on Sunday – and Bardsley is wary of the talent that their London rivals have in abundance.
“I think Chelsea will be our main rivals this season. But every team in the league has the chance to win the title this year,” said Bardsley, speaking at the launch of SSE’s new girls-only football participation programme. “The standouts have to be Chelsea though.
“We have strength-in-depth in the squad – not only on the pitch but the strength of the characters off it as well – and we have learned a lot from the last two or three seasons.
“We have built a resilience and a desire and that is already being displayed from our start to the season. We hope that continues to build.
“But Chelsea are very talented, they have a lot of strength and a lot of depth in the squad as well.
“I expect them to be our top contender this season. We are starting to build a good rivalry with them.”
In partnership with the FA, Women’s FA Cup sponsors SSE are launching a new girls-only participation programme, designed to increase the number of girls between the ages of 7-14 playing the game.
The programme will see FA affiliated clubs offered grants to help run new girls-only teams and create the next generation of female football players.
And after her own travails playing the sport growing up, Bardsley is convinced the participation programme can only benefit the next generation of girls.
“Growing up in the States we had the youth organisation AYSO which allowed anyone to get into football,” added the 31-year-old.
“I progressed through the ranks from local teams to then club teams, there were massive tournaments country-wide and the opportunity for scholarships.
“The great thing is you can now draw parallels between what happens in the States and England at the grassroots level.
“These programmes show kids that you can build a career from playing football now and it is no longer a hobby or something you just do for exercise.
“These are no longer just pipe dreams; you can have fantastic aspirations from the sport. It is a huge thing for kids and these programmes really help with that.”
SSE are proud to be creating more opportunities than ever for girls to play football through the Participation Programme. To find out more about the work SSE are doing in women’s football, visit: www.SSE.co.uk/girls-united
Image courtesy of Manchester City FC via YouTube, with thanks