Continental Tyres Cup: Part-time clubs set to face World Cup stars

Manchester City women
The 2014 competition saw Manchester City Women win their first ever major piece of silverware

Part-timers and World Cup stars begin their campaign this week for the third major piece of silverware in the women's game in England.

The Continental Tyres Cup gets under way on Tuesday, with the 18 Women's Super League 1 and 2 clubs all chasing glory.

Manchester City are the holders - they beat four-time finalists Arsenal 1-0 last October to collect their first major honour in the women's game.

The Gunners have won the competition three times, beating Birmingham in 2011 and 2012 before a 2-0 win over Notts County (formerly Lincoln Ladies) in the 2013 final.

How the competition works

Now in its fifth year, the competition will include more games than ever before after expanding to include quarter-finals for the first time since both divisions first took part.

The group stage sees teams pulled together by their regions, as WSL 2 clubs come up against their WSL 1 counterparts.

There are three groups of six, with the teams finishing in the top two in each group plus the two best third-placed teams progressing to the last eight.

Ahead of the first round of fixtures, BBC Sport takes a look at the clubs vying for the trophy in 2015.

Group One
Arsenal, Chelsea, London Bees, Millwall Lionesses, Reading, Watford.

As the only group to include just two WSL 1 clubs, Group One could offer the best chance for a WSL 2 club to progress to the quarter-finals.

Arsenal and WSL 1 leaders Chelsea will be the favourites to progress, while Reading will hope to build on their fine WSL 2 form.

England striker Fran Kirby could make her debut for Chelsea against her former club Reading when the two clubs meet in the opening round of fixtures on Wednesday.

If selected, it would surely be an emotional evening for a player who first joined Reading aged seven.

With just five WSL 2 wins between them this season, London Bees, Millwall Lionesses and Watford will be hoping for a confidence-boosting cup run to distract from their league form.

Player to watch:Emma Follis - The Reading winger has scored nine goals in 10 league games so far this season and is undoubtedly one of the stars of WSL 2, but will be hoping to prove herself against higher-calibre opposition in Arsenal and Chelsea.

Emma Follis
Emma Follis has been a potent attacking threat for Reading in WSL 2 so far this season
Group Two
Doncaster Rovers Belles, Durham, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Sunderland.

With Group Two containing holders Manchester City, WSL 1 champions Liverpool and top-flight challengers Sunderland, it makes for a formidable challenge for the WSL 2 sides.

Of those three, City were the only team to reach the last four in 2014.

Liverpool are enduring a difficult league campaign and may see the cup as their best chance of claiming some silverware, while Sunderland go into the competition in fine form lying third in WSL 1.

Doncaster Rovers Belles, who are currently chasing promotion from the second tier, will look forward to testing their skills against the teams they hope to be facing in WSL 1 next season.

Everton and Durham can look forward to local derbies with Liverpool and Sunderland, but will find it tough to make the knockout stages.

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WSL 1: Beth Mead scores hat-trick for Sunderland

Player to watch: Beth Mead - The Sunderland forward's hat-trick in Saturday's 4-0 win over WSL 1 leaders Chelsea took her tally to eight for the season, making her the league's top goalscorer. Black Cats boss Carlton Fairweather has tipped Mead to get a senior England call up soon.

Group Three
Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Notts County, Oxford United, Yeovil Town.

This group is defined by those clubs languishing at the bottom of the WSL 1 table and those clubs chasing a top-two finish in the second tier.

Bristol Academy and Birmingham City are yet to win a WSL 1 league fixture in 2015 and look to be the two sides scrapping for survival, while third-placed Yeovil Town and Aston Villa in fourth count themselves among the contenders to go up from WSL 2.

Bristol Academy's Tatiana Pinto (r)
Tatiana Pinto (r) was among seven Bristol Academy signings on transfer deadline day earlier this month

Oxford United sit sixth in the second step of the English game, having collected more league wins so far this term then they managed in their entire first season last year. Group games against WSL 1 teams give the U's the chance to prove just how far they have progressed.

For Notts County, they begin what they hope to be the third part of a treble-winning season. They are going strong on two fronts already, sitting fourth in WSL 1 as they prepare for their first FA Women's Cup final on 1 August.

Player to watch: Corinne Yorston - Her move from Bristol Academy to West Country rivals Yeovil Town last winter was heralded as the biggest signing in the Lady Glovers' history. The former England midfielder has certainly made an impact as the club's joint leading scorer so far this season with five goals, helping Yeovil to third in WSL 2.

Compiled by Tom Garry, Andrew Aloia and Jo Currie.

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