Women’s Super League 2023-24 awards: Best XI, best goal, more

Another Women’s Super League season has come and gone, with fans and pundits enjoying heated debates over who the standout players have been. To settle all arguments (or maybe stoke some more), ESPN’s Sophie Lawson has put together some alternative — and some not-so alternative — awards, as well as a team of the season.

They may not have won the WSL title but, with 37 goals between them, there isn’t much debate about the prowess of Man City’s preferred front three.

Even with Kelly falling out of favour and Shaw picking up a knock at the tail end of the season, City’s attack has been so consistent this season, and when the trio got on the scoresheet, City routinely hammered their opposition.

Breakthrough player of the year award: Jess Park (Man City)

Having impressed on loan at Everton last season, Park has come into her own this term. Although many would have expected to see her in her element out wide, it’s been her form in the No. 10 role, following Jill Roord‘s ACL injury, that has seen the 22-year-old flourish.

Honourable mention: Khiara Keating (Man City).

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Best goal award: Lauren James vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (Jan. 27, 2024)

It’s been a great season for stunning goals, with every WSL team nominated for goal of the month at some point.

There have been some memorable belters: Cloe Lacasse vs. Man United in October; Shaw’s lob against Everton in December; and Dan Turner’s volley vs. City the same month. There were even two in the same game as Hemp’s bicycle and Kelly’s olimpico (a goal straight from a corner) both came in the 2-0 win over Leicester City in February.

But just for sheer deftness, James’ audacious finish for Chelsea at Brighton in February edges a tough contest.

Best renaissance award: Rachel Williams (Manchester United)

With five goals in the WSL, as well as six across both domestic cups, the 36-year-old Williams has rolled the years back this season to come up with some key goals for Marc Skinner’s side.

A player who’s been there, done it and bought several T-shirts along the way, Williams’ form has been unexpected but very welcome for United.

Honourable mention: Becky Spencer (Tottenham Hotspur)

Utility player award: Sjoeke Nüsken (Chelsea)

Playing as a centre-back, central midfielder and striker this season, Nüsken has done everything that Chelsea have asked her to do on their way to a record fifth successive title.

Although best in the heart of midfield, the Germany international has filled in at the back despite the fact she doesn’t love playing there, and has also scored eight WSL goals as she made a claim to permanently fill Chelsea’s injury-hit No. 9 position. She has moved from one position to the next with ease, regardless of the different skill sets required to execute, and has played a key role for Chelsea this season.

Clutch player award: Ella Toone (Manchester United)

Toone has a knack of popping up at the perfect time with the perfect strike, as we saw in the FA Cup final against Spurs when her late first-half rocket helped unlock the opposition and set the tone for United’s 4-0 win.

From her wonder strike against Brighton at the start of the season to her winner against Leicester, Toone has delivered in the important moments when United have been struggling to find a way through.

Cult hero award: Stina Blackstenius (Arsenal)

A player who offers something different in attack to her teammates, Blackstenius has made a habit of scoring some silly goals this season, and her legend has grown as a result.

There was the air ball against Brighton that the Sweden international needed a second bite at to hammer into the top left corner; and there was also the wildly illegal effort against Aston Villa that was somehow allowed to stand. Starting her run from an offside position, Blackstenius proceeded to handle the ball on the way down before adding Arsenal’s last of the game in a 3-1 win that saw calls for VAR grow louder.

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Lawson: Wrong socks and wrong tactics from Arsenal!

Sophie Lawson analyses Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Arsenal after the game was delayed due to kit socks clash.

The fashion award: Arsenal

This could be for Arsenal’s innovative kits and partnership with designer Stella McCartney, but no, it’s for that utterly bizarre evening when they made the short trip to Stamford Bridge in March with the wrong colour socks.

With both teams set to wear white socks, kickoff was delayed by 30 minutes as the Arsenal kit man had to sprint to the Chelsea megastore to buy enough blue and black ones for the away team so they didn’t clash. It was a light-hearted moment but seemed to impact the Gunners as they lost 3-1.

The effort award: Bristol City

It has not been a fun season for Bristol City on their return to the WSL. Tipped as the most likely team to drop straight back into the Championship, the Robins have done just that, struggling to only one win all season.

It was never going to be easy as the gap between the two tiers has grown since their last relegation in 2020-21, and Lauren Smith’s young squad was no match for the rest of the league.

Injuries to both experienced and key players along the way haven’t helped, but the Robins tried to learn their lessons to develop and grow as best they could in the circumstances. And their effort can’t be faulted.

Best signing award: Jutta Rantala (Leicester City)

Leicester fans may be happy to see the back of this season after plenty of ups and downs on and off the pitch. But, despite their diminutive points tally, the signing of the 24-year-old Finland international was a real high point.

With six goals and five assists from 22 games, the summer signing from Vittsjö GIK hit the ground running in the WSL and consistently brought positivity and creativity to the Foxes’ attack. Effortlessly falling into a great partnership with Yuka Momiki, Rantala will be one to watch next season.

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Laurens excited by potential Miedema-Shaw partnership at Man City

Gab & Juls react to the news that Vivianne Miedema will leave Arsenal at the end of the season.

WSL Team of the Season

Best XI (4-3-3)

GK: Khiara Keating (Man City)
LB: Niamh Charles (Chelsea)
CB: Alex Greenwood (Man City)
CB: Jess Carter (Chelsea)
RB: Taylor Hinds (Liverpool)
MID: Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea)
MID: Yui Hasegawa (Man City)
MID: Sjoeke Nüsken (Chelsea)
FW: Lauren James (Chelsea)
FW: Elisabeth Terland (Brighton & Hove Albion)
ST: Khadija Shaw (Man City)

Coach: Matt Beard (Liverpool)

2nd XI (4-4-2)

Courtney Brosnan (Everton); Ève Périsset (Chelsea), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal), Grace Fisk (Liverpool), CJ Bott (Leicester); Jess Park (Man City), Clare Wheeler (Everton), Marie Höbinger (Liverpool), Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (Chelsea); Lauren Hemp (Man City), Jutta Rantala (Leicester).

Coach: Robert Vilahamn (Tottenham)

While Keating has rightly been receiving all the plaudits in goal, Everton’s Brosnan has been a standout for the Toffees amid a trying season and deserves a spot in the second XI. Similarly, Liverpool’s Fisk has been key at the back for the Reds in their charge up the table but has been overshadowed by players from the top three and her own teammate, Hinds.

The forward areas have seen the most competition, and there is simply not enough room to praise others such as Toone, Liverpool’s Sophie Román Haug and Tottenham’s Celin Bizet Ildhusøy.

In the dugout, Man City’s Gareth Taylor and Chelsea’s Emma Hayes deserve credit for making the title race so interesting, but Beard is our pick as he has flexed his managerial muscles to firm up his Liverpool team and ensure they can now compete with the big three by finishing fourth. Likewise, Vilahamn’s impact on a Spurs team fighting relegation last season can’t be overstated — especially as they reached the FA Cup final — even if they have struggled for consistency.