2021 has been a huge year for the WSL. The league has emerged from the pandemic strong after the 2019/20 season was abandoned, with healthy attendance figures and an even bigger audience on television thanks to the historic broadcast deal with BBC and Sky Sports.
The top WSL players are becoming more and more widely known, not just within women’s football circles, and already feeding into the hype of Euro 2022 in England in the summer.
These are 90min’s top 10 WSL players of 2021….
All goal, assist or clean sheet stats refer to WSL appearances in the calendar year
WSL goals: 8
Having finished last season strongly, helping Arsenal win eight of their final nine WSL game to snatch the third Champions League, Kim Little has picked up where she left off.
Retiring from international football after the Olympics, something she admits has helped her stay fresh and rested, the Scot has so often dominated games, finding the pockets between midfield and attack.
WSL goals: 10
WSL assists: 7
Ella Toone is an undeniable star of the future but is fast becoming a star of the present off the back of a stunning 12 months, taking a leading role for Manchester United at just 22 and establishing herself with England.
Toone is the creative spark that makes a United squad otherwise lacking attacking firepower tick. She is just as adept at setting up chances for her teammates or scoring them herself.
WSL goals: 7
WSL assists: 8
Whether operating at left-back or on the left wing, Katie McCabe continues to be one of the most dynamic players in the WSL, with her performances underpinning Arsenal’s rise to the top of table in the latter half of the year.
McCabe, who has regularly been nominated for individual monthly awards, is also a major asset for the Gunners at set-pieces, often taking corners, free-kicks and penalties.
WSL goals: 9
WSL assists: 1
Pernille Harder has been getting increasingly better since a 2020 world record transfer and was recently voted seventh best player in the world at the Ballon d’Or, partially as a result of her Champions League exploits.
The Dane has been slightly overshadowed by her even more spectacular attacking partners (more on whom shortly), but scored one of the best WSL goals of 2021 in a Chelsea thrashing of Manchester United in September.
WSL clean sheets: 10
Leah Williamson has stepped up again in 2021, becoming a real leader at the back for both club and country – she captained the Lionesses across the recent September and October international breaks.
The 24-year-old brings outstanding technical quality to the Arsenal defence, as well as exceptional reading of the game. If anything, her injury absence towards the end of the year further highlighted her importance.
WSL goals: 10
WSL assists: 9
On her day, Lauren Hemp is utterly unplayable, making life hell for WSL full-backs. Her pace, direct running and unpredictable dribbling make her so difficult to contain, while she is also unbelievably consistent as well.
The 21-year-old, who is a three-time and the current PFA Young Player of the Year, helped Manchester City push Chelsea all the way for last season’s title and has been a sole bright spark in a difficult first half of 2021/22.
WSL clean sheets: 14
Leadership and class best describe what Magdalena Eriksson gives Chelsea. The Swede laid her hands on yet another WSL trophy at the end of last season, part of an eventual domestic treble.
Chelsea’s back-line is often impenetrable with Eriksson – 14 WSL clean sheets when she has played this year – and she also improves those around her, which is the mark of a truly world class defender.
WSL goals: 14
WSL assists: 6
In October, Vivianne Miedema scored her milestone 50th WSL goal, breaking the league’s all-time record in the process. In the remainder of 2021, she has only increased her tally.
Miedema’s game incorporates the very best qualities of both a ‘number nine’ and a ‘number 10’, as comfortable dropping deep to create chances as she is finishing them herself.
WSL goals: 20
WSL assists: 11
Chelsea’s Fran Kirby finished the 2020/21 season in May with a clean sweep of the PFA, FWA and WSL player of the year awards, highlighting her remarkable return to world class level from a career threatening illness.
This latter half of the calendar year has seen a continuation of that in the WSL. Kirby continues to be a prolific scorer and assister, racking up an impressive 31 direct goal contributions in 2021.
WSL goals: 22
WSL assists: 9
Only Champions League winning duo Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso were considered better in the world than Sam Kerr at the 2021 Ballon d’Or, high praise indeed for the Australian superstar.
It took Kerr a little while to settle in the WSL, but her second calendar year in England has been truly phenomenal. She finished last season with the Golden Boot and so far in 2021/22 is averaging a goal every 65 minutes.