The WSL’s Trend of Signing Forwards: Can It Help Smaller Teams Prosper?

Jessy Parker Humphreys uses TransferLab to assess this window’s prevalence of teams trying to break the Big Four’s hegemony by acquiring new firepower up front

The race to become the ‘best of the rest’ continues to hot up in the WSL, as teams look to make their mark at the top end of the table. While we have traditionally talked about a ‘big three’ in the WSL, based on the fact that there are three Champions League spots available, in reality the past two seasons have seen the league become a ‘big four’. Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United have all started to pull significantly ahead of the rest of the league. United finished ten points ahead of Tottenham in 5th in 2021/22 and 15 ahead of Everton in 2020/21.

Clubs outside this top four continue to look for ways to close the gap and it has been notable this summer how many of them have focused on signing forwards in an attempt to make up ground. Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa, and Tottenham have made four quite different signings to try and score more goals, but which will be best suited to life in the WSL?

Everton – Katja Snoeijs

Dutch striker Katja Snoeijs is a player who has been eye-catching for quite a while. Perhaps best known for the partnership she formed with Bunny Shaw (now of Manchester City) at Bordeaux in the 2020-21 season where they managed a combined 31 goals, Snoeijs has been primed for a move away from France for a while.

Everton have been burned before in the striker market, having signed hyped forwards in both the previous summer windows. Valerie Gauvin also came from France and while her initial impact at the club was undeniable, she was plagued by injuries and has since ended up at the Houston Dash (a transfer that will become important to a team further down this list). Anna Anvegard then joined at the start of last season but struggled in what was a chaotic year for Everton and moved back to Sweden after managing four goals in 14 WSL appearances.

Katja Snoeijs compared over the last twelve months to other strikers in Feminine Division 1

Comparing Snoeijs to other strikers in the D1 Arkema, (both the D1 Arkema in France and the WSL are considered Tier 1 leagues), we can see that she is less of a pure goalscorer and more of a forward who likes to link up play. Her expected assist numbers and key pass numbers are very high, showing that she is good at creating chances. This is part of why she excelled when paired with Shaw, with the two able to switch positions in order to exploit opposition defences. The problem that Everton might have is that they do not have a particularly settled forward line for Snoeijs to link up with.

They have brought in Manchester City loanee Jess Park, who is an exciting player but a fairly traditional winger. Chelsea loanee Aggie Beever-Jones might be more suited to forming a relationship with Snoeijs given she has played all across the front line as part of her loan spell last year with Bristol City and in the England under-19s. At the other end of the spectrum, veteran Toni Duggan certainly has experience at centre-forward.

Snoeijs is undeniably a very technically gifted player, but she is not the kind of forward who is going to bag you goals no matter what. Her success at Everton will depend on the relationships she can form with those around her.

West Ham – Viviane Asseyi

West Ham’s signing of 28-year-old Viviane Asseyi is potentially the least clear-cut piece of recruitment from all of these teams, mainly due to Asseyi’s versatility. As can be seen from her positional map on the right-hand-side of the report below, Asseyi has fairly evenly split her minutes between all the forward positions.

Viviane Asseyi’s ‘all-round winger’ profile, compared to other Frauen-Bundesliga forwards over the last twelve months

Some signs in pre-season suggested that West Ham’s manager Paul Konchesky might look to use her as an attacking midfielder, but that would block Yui Hasegawa’s best position. The permanent signing of Lisa Evans on the right, meanwhile, suggests that perhaps the left wing might be the most logical place for Asseyi to end up.

Asseyi has never struggled to score during her time in France or Germany, but found minutes harder to come by in her two seasons at Bayern Munich, where she managed 13 goals in 17 starts. Her movement off-the-ball allows her to pick up dangerous pockets of space within the penalty area, in a manner that is often reminiscent of Raheem Sterling, and is why it would be a mistake for Konchesky to play her deeper. Despite often playing out wide, she is not the kind of forward who will be making lots of dribbles, as her profile shows, and while her passing is serviceable, Asseyi is a player who needs to be given the opportunity to attack the ball. If used correctly, Asseyi could be a very prudent addition to a West Ham team which is not short of creativity, but currently lacks a cutting edge.

Assessing Asseyi against the ‘all-round striker’ profile, compared to other Frauen-Bundesliga forwards over the last twelve months

Tottenham – Nikola Karczewksa

Tottenham’s punt on a striker is the youngest of these four clubs, but with potentially the highest ceiling (literally). The first thing to know about 22-year-old Polish forward Nikola Karczewska is that she is six feet tall. She arrives at Spurs from Fleury, where she scored ten goals last season, the same number as Everton’s Snoeijs. However, there is no doubt that she is a player with much more finessing required than some of the other names on this list.

Nikola Karczewska compared to other strikers in Feminine Division 1 over the last twelve months

Looking at Karczewska’s numbers, we can see that she is currently very much a pure ‘number 9’. She is good at latching onto opportunities, finishing, and carrying the ball forward. She is less good at linking up with the players around her, as is demonstrated by her expected assist and key pass percentiles, although her adjusted pass accuracy numbers suggest it might not be a lost cause.

To be honest, this kind of player might suit Tottenham best, who are not a team known for intricate attacking play. Having played Rachel Williams as their central striker for the past two seasons, we can see that in comparison Karczewska is the better finisher, carrier, and takes better touches in the box. Williams might make better choices when it comes to link up play, but Skinner will feel like that is something she can coach Karczewska in. It is hard to look past her as anything other than a pretty significant upgrade.

Comparing Karczewska and Williams as ‘all-round strikers’ versus all strikers in Tier 1

Aston Villa – Rachel Daly

No one needed a striker more than Aston Villa. Carla Ward’s team scored fewer goals than any other side in the WSL last season, managing just 13 in 22 games. Yet it is Villa who have perhaps pulled off the biggest coup of any of these teams, paying an undisclosed fee to the Houston Dash for Rachel Daly. Yep, that is why Valerie Gauvin has ended up in Texas.

For those who do not watch the NWSL, Rachel Daly might be more familiar to you as England’s starting left-back but across the pond, she has been one of the league’s most successful centre-forwards. Having been drafted to the Dash back in 2016, she became club captain and the side’s all-time record goalscorer.

Rachel Daly rated against other NSWL strikers in the ‘all-round striker’ profile for the last twelve months
Daly was also very effective as a shadow striker playing in a more attacking midfield role; shown against all forwards in the NSWL over the last twelve months

What is undeniable about Daly is that she is an extraordinarily well-rounded player. At 30, she comes to Villa incredibly experienced and, while clearly not necessarily a long term option, there is no doubt that she will score goals this season. Daly is a strong finisher: TransferLab puts her in the 94th percentile when compared to other NWSL strikers. But she is also good in the air and at receiving passes, and has the inherent versatility and tactical intelligence of someone used to playing in a wide array of positions. With Villa also signing French international Kenza Dali from Everton, there will certainly be some high quality attacking play for Daly to latch on to. Her return to English league football could be an eye-catching one.

Header image credit: Shutterstock/Romain Biard

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