Women’s Super League 2021-22 previews No 6: Everton | Everton Women

The plan

No one at Everton is remotely shy about spelling out this season’s ambition. Champions League qualification remains the overriding aim and if this summer’s friendlies are anything to go by they have a very strong chance of fulfilling it.

Everton were slightly disappointed to finish fifth last season but optimism is high around Finch Farm, the training base they share with the men’s team. Nine new signings including the former England winger Toni Duggan, Italy’s Aurora Galli, France’s Kenza Dali and Sweden’s Anna Anvegård, Nathalie Björn and Hanna Bennison have intensified competition for places. Perhaps the most exciting newcomer is Bennison, an 18-year-old midfielder whose six-figure transfer from Rosengård represents a club record.

Everton won all six of their pre-season friendlies, with a 6-1 hammering of Brighton particularly impressive. “We’ve put together a fantastic squad,” says the manager, Willie Kirk. “We’ve got a big squad full of real quality and real options. And we’ll be really versatile in terms of the ways we want to play. It’s really exciting. It’ll be tough picking a team every week.”

Kirk has been particularly pleased by the development of his homegrown nucleus. At 21, the defender Megan Finnigan has shone in pre-season. “It’s a completely different Meg from two years ago,” says Kirk. He was also delighted with the Denmark striker Nicoline Sørensen and the Scotland forward Claire Emslie, who was menacing in a more central attacking role.

With Hayley Raso having departed for Manchester City, Sørensen, Emslie, Duggan and Anvegård – acquired from Rosengård – should be afforded ample opportunities in a formidable frontline also featuring France’s excellent Valérie Gauvin.

While Galli and Dali, recruited from Juventus and West Ham respectively, also add class to the midfield, Björn, another signing from Rosengård, bolsters the backline. Small wonder Duggan is optimistic about the campaign and shestill has hopes of reviving her England career.

At 30 years old she has swapped Atlético Madrid for the club where she began her career. “It’s so important to get Everton back into the Champions League,” she says. “It’s everyone’s objective.”

Toni Duggan is back in England after spells at Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Photograph: Emma Simpson/Everton FC/Getty Images

Duggan’s irrepressible personality and vibrant humour will also help fill the gap vacated by Jill Scott, who has returned to Manchester City after last season’s loan stint. Her penchant for practical jokes reached a zenith as England headed towards the bronze medal at the 2015 World Cup and she squeezed into an overhead luggage locker on a luxury Fifa jet transporting the Lionesses across Canada before shocking teammates by bursting out of it as the plane prepared for take off.

“Toni’s a big personality and a big game player,” says Kirk. “She’s an exciting signing and having played for three of Europe’s biggest clubs in Manchester City, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid her experience will be a big help.”

Like Duggan, Izzy Christiansen will want to impress against her former colleagues when City visit Goodison Park for the first game of the season on Saturday. A gifted midfielder, Christiansen is keen to regain the England place she lost due to injury and it could prove a useful litmus test of not only her international prospects but her team’s European hopes.

The manager

Willie Kirk has done an incredible job since saving them from relegation in the 2018-19 season. They have taken big strides over the past few years and were challenging for a top-four finish for most of last term. After some impressive signings they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Key players

Valérie Gauvin The France forward’s influence was clear when their form took a dip last season after she was injured. Her aerial ability and link-up play makes her a crucial player. With five goals and an assist in the league last term she is sure to be an integral part of the campaign.

Toni Duggan Has described coming back to Everton as coming home and fans will be hoping the forward brings the tricks of the trade she learned while away for the past seven years. Her experience in the Champions League could push the side into the top three and secure European football.

Izzy Christiansen The forward is one of the most exciting WSL players. She leaves defenders for dust and her stats back up her electricity on the field. She scored six goals and made six assists last term in another impressive season.