SWPL: Can Glasgow City be toppled after 13 years of dominance?


Glasgow City celebrate winning the 2019 SWPL title
Glasgow City have won the last 13 league titles in a row
Coverage: Watch matches live on Sunday’s on the BBC Sport website & app as well as on BBC ALBA

Glasgow City’s dominance of Scottish women’s football is facing its biggest threat yet as they enter the 2020-21 season after winning 13 league titles in a row.

Scotland’s football giants, Rangers and Celtic, are circling, becoming the first in Scotland to move to full-time football and adding a number of high-profile signings.

Hearts have won promotion to the top flight, joining Edinburgh rivals Hibernian, who have been Glasgow’s main rivals in recent years, amid promises of more financial backing.

Just to add a bit of extra drama, there are two places up for grabs in a revamped and expanded Champions League, as the season begins again on Sunday after the first attempt to start the campaign in February was halted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

BBC Scotland will be screening a game live every Sunday. If you’re new to the Scottish Women’s Premier League, here’s what to expect:

Glasgow City

The mainly amateur side have won the last 13 league titles and as recently as August were in the Champions League quarter-final for the second time in their history.

However, the squad, led by former Aberdeen and Scotland striker Scott Booth, have lost five players to Rangers alone in the last 12 months, including Scotland defender Nicola Docherty and last season’s SWPL top goalscorer Kirsty Howat.

They have responded to those losses by bringing in South Africa captain Janine van Wyk and American trio Krystyna Freda, Zaneta Wyne and Sharon Wojcik.

Last season: Champions, finishing 11 points clear of Hibs. Won the Women’s Scottish Cup with a 4-3 victory over Hibs at Tynecastle but were denied a domestic treble by a penalty shoot-out loss to the same opponents in the SWPL Cup. Reached the Champions League quarter-finals before losing 9-1 to Wolfsburg.

Key player: Tyler Toland, a 19-year-old midfielder who became Republic of Ireland’s youngest-ever cap three years ago, has signed on loan from Manchester City.

Rangers

A distant fourth last season with then head coach Gregory Vignal declaring it was “impossible” to compete with Glasgow City and Hibs.

Successor Malky Thomson has a squad packed with new faces. Forward Ngangom Bala Devi is India’s first professional footballer, Venezuelan Sonia O’Neill has been added to midfield, while they have not only lured players from Glasgow City, Hibs and Celtic but have convinced Scotland internationals Lizzie Arnot and Zoe Ness to return north from Manchester United and Lewes respectively.

They have never won the Scottish league title, with runners-up in 2014 the closest they’ve come, but they are many people’s favourites to win it this season.

Last season: Fourth in the SWPL and semi-finalists in both domestic cups – losing heavily to Glasgow City on both occasions.

Key player: Northern Ireland midfielder Megan Bell, 19, impressed in Rangers’ early SWPL Cup games in February and March – and in the only league game to be played.

Celtic

Celtic against Glasgow City
Celtic have won the last two clashes with Glasgow City

Without a major honour since the SWPL Cup in 2010, Celtic have been making steady progress for a number of years and only goal difference prevented them finishing runners-up last season.

They set down a marker by beating Glasgow the last two times they have played and will open their league campaign on Sunday against the reigning champions at Broadwood live on BBC Alba.

Managed by Spaniard Fran Alonso – formerly Ronald Koeman’s assistant at Everton and a technical coach at Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino – they too have been offering full-time contracts. They boast a multi-national squad with players from Spain, Germany, United States, Ireland and England.

Last season: Finished third, but the 11-point gap was a significant improvement on the previous seasons. Lost in the quarter-finals of both cups to Glasgow City.

Key player: Sarah Ewens, a striker with good height and pace, scored 20 league goals last season.

Hibernian

Having emerged as contenders with an exciting young team in 2015, Hibs won seven domestic cups in a row before their run was finally ended last November by Glasgow City. Just three points separated them from the title in 2018, but a year later the gap had stretched to 11.

Head coach Grant Scott has stepped down and is now the assistant at Glasgow City, while a number of players have left for pastures new, but they still have Scotland internationals Joelle Murray, Rachael Boyle and Amy Muir.

Last season: Won the SWPL Cup on penalties against Glasgow City. Finished second in the league and were runners-up in the Scottish Cup. Reached the Champions League last 32 before losing 9-2 on aggregate to Slavia Prague.

Key player: Attacking midfielder Shannon McGregor has bags of talent.

Hearts

The Edinburgh side were promoted last season after winning SWPL 2 under Andy Enwood. Since then, they’ve changed manager twice and are now led by former Hearts men’s striker Andy Kirk.

Owner Ann Budge has promised a six-figure investment in the side and, with relegation scrapped this season from the top flight as it prepares to expand to 10 teams, they have no worries on that front.

Last season: Won SWPL 2 by six points. Lost to Hibs in both cup competitions.

Key player: Striker and lifelong Hearts fan Lia Tweedie is aiming to put last season’s injury-hit spell with Hibs behind her.

Spartans

Edinburgh’s other side have been hovering between fifth and sixth for the past few seasons – never threatening the top teams but rarely having to worry about relegation.

Head coach Debbi McCulloch has led them to a number of cup finals in her time and they have an enviable youth system. However, they suffered a lot of heavy defeats last season.

Last season: Fifth in the league, reached the SWPL Cup semi-final, were knocked out in the third round of the Scottish Cup.

Key player: Goalkeeper Rachel Harrison has been in a number of Scotland squads but is still waiting for her first cap.

Motherwell

Back under the management of Eddie Wolecki Black. At Glasgow City, he won four consecutive trebles between 2012 and 2015 and led them to the quarter-final of the Champions League for the first time.

The expectations at Motherwell are more modest. They aren’t expected to be in the title race, but they reached the Scottish Cup final two years ago and might fancy their chances of another cup run.

Last season: Sixth in the SWPL, Scottish Cup semi-finalists, SWPL Cup quarter-final.

Key player: Tenacious forward Lori Gardner is a proven goalscorer.

Forfar Farmington

Won just two league games and conceded an eye-watering 78 goals last season, more than anyone else. They were saved from relegation by Stirling University having an even more torrid time.

Some key signings should have them in much better shape this term. Northern Ireland goalkeeper Lauren Perry joins from Blackburn Rovers, youth international midfielder Eirinn McCafferty has ended a scholarship at Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina, while Lisa Ryan is a former Sheffield United defender.

Last season: Seventh in the SWPL, went out in both cups to Rangers.

Key player: Donna Paterson can play in defence and midfield and also carries a significant goal threat.



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