Eniola Aluko column: I'm primed for new season but schedule confuses me

Eniola Aluko
Women's Super League 2016 season
Date: Starts Wednesday, 23 March
Coverage: Commentary of Man City v Notts County on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra at 18:15 GMT

My Chelsea team start our defence of the Women's Super League title on Thursday against Doncaster Rovers Belles. This is exciting for all the players, coaches and fans but I have to admit I'm baffled by the schedule this season.

Not only are there massive gaps between fixtures, meaning that the season loses its continuity, but the prospect of an exciting finale could be scuppered too.

When the fixtures for a new season are published, one of the first things you do as a player is check the first and last game, but when we scanned to 6 November there was a glaring omission.

This is the first season where there are nine teams in the top division, so one side is always going to be left out each time, and for the final round Manchester City do not have a game.

I find this hard to understand because for the past two years the title race has gone down to the last game, which generated loads of excitement for fans, and with City finishing runners-up last season they are sure to be contenders this time.

But as the season reaches a potential climax they will be watching at home while the likes of ourselves and other title contenders such as Arsenal are playing.

If you ask anyone who follows the WSL, and many who don't, they will say that the standout moment over the past two years has been the final day where three teams all had a chance of winning the title. People were switching between games on TV, and continually refreshing their phones to find out who'd scored and who was ahead, but that might not happen this season and I think it's a disservice to the fans.

How a thrilling climax to the 2014 season unfolded

Each team will have 16 fixtures over the space of 32 weeks, but many of the games are blocked in groups so at Chelsea, for example, we have two three-week gaps and three month-long gaps in our league season.

Players will play five days a week if they need to but collectively we are trying to sell a product and build momentum after the World Cup. There is a danger this type of schedule could put fans off, especially with all the newcomers we gained following the World Cup.

Supporters are creatures of habit. In the men's game they know there is an early and late Premier League fixture on a Saturday, Match of the Day is on Saturday night and maybe two live games are on a Sunday. Keep things easy to follow and the football sells itself. Kick-offs have moved from traditional slots but everyone knows them now and they are practically built into our culture.

But we are playing games on Monday, Thursday, Sunday and then you don't have a game for a month. It's too complicated and even my family is struggling to work out when I'm playing.

We're trying to expand the game by getting bums on seats but it is a worry for me that the scheduling is too confusing for fans.

Training like Deeney and Joshua for pre-season

Chelsea's Eni Aluko put through pre-season paces

Like many other footballers, pre-season is not enough these days. This year, it was time to get stuck into pre-pre-season!

In the past I've used pre-season as a way to get fit but it can take a couple of games to feel up to speed, which, in such a competitive league, is too late. I feel in a much better place at this point than I did this time last year. I made sure that when I returned for pre-season at the end of January, I already had some hard work under my belt.

External training before pre-season gives you the foundation you need and when we played our last pre-season game against Bristol, and the first game of the season in the FA Cup against Doncaster Rovers Belles on Sunday, I felt sharp and strong.

That all came because of time spent with a trainer called Jamie Reynolds, who works with Premier League players such as Watford striker Troy Deeney and Manchester City midfielder Fabian Delph, as well as Olympic heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

It's short and sharp speed, agility and power work but it makes a big difference in terms of the repeated movements I will be doing throughout the season. The earlier you start the better and other players also do the same.

Having not played as much as I would have liked for England in the SheBelieves Cup in the United States, I'm glad I got that extra work done. Now that I'm back playing with Chelsea - and scoring goals - I'm primed for our WSL opener against Doncaster on Thursday.

Man City and Arsenal our biggest rivals

There has been a lot of movement in the transfer market over the winter, with Arsenal bringing in eight players, Manchester City making some good signings and Chelsea recruiting England winger Karen Carney from Birmingham.

Karen is an intelligent player and a leader too, so she has slotted right into the Chelsea team. Alongside myself, Ji So-yun, Gemma Davison and Fran Kirby we have an attack which will frighten any team and when we played Doncaster on Sunday, our football, particularly our third goal, was Barcelona-esque at times. After a slow start we won 4-1 but if our finishing was more clinical it could have been seven.

That's just the sort of quick attacking play we like and I think our fans enjoy it too, so hopefully it will yield similar results to last year when we won the league and FA Cup double.

The league will be tough again, I'm sure of that, but I believe that for the past two years we have been the best team in the country and we want to defend both titles and add the Continental Cup too if we can. We also have to improve on our Champions League performances - we were knocked out at the last-16 stage at the end of a long season last year.

Manchester City and Arsenal will be our closest league rivals and the games between us three could decide who comes out on top.

It will be interesting to see how Arsenal gel with so many signings, while Manchester City were only two points away from us last season, so it could go down to the last game again.

It's just a shame that City won't be part of what could be another exciting finale.

England and Chelsea forward Eniola Aluko was speaking to BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan

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