Ah, love the smell of a new season in the air.
Despite the struggles that women’s football face in general, there are loads of positives to look forward to as the Liverpool Women head into their second season in the Championship league. The return of manager Matt Beard, who led the team to two consecutive WSL titles, and a plethora of new signings to make up for the goals being taken with our departing players.
The Women played their final preseason friendly this weekend, ending a mixed bag of results with a 0-0 draw against Birmingham City and the new season starts a week at home on August 29th. Gabe and I looked at how things might shake out for the Women in the new season.
Who wins the starting gloves?
Gabe: Liverpool are very lucky to have two very good goalkeepers. Rachael Laws is the elder statesman at 30 years old, and was the starting keeper for most of last season where Liverpool gave up the joint fewest goals in the league. Rylee Foster is a talented young gun, just 23 years of age. Foster came on strong and took over the starting job for the last few games of the season before sustaining a concussion. These two have shared starts during preseason, but there has been no indication from the club as to who will be the starter for the opening game. Either way, Liverpool should be in good hands.
Jordan: I think we’ll likely see Laws starting in the league and saving Foster for the Continental Cup and FA Cup. I would love for the roles to be switched, to get Foster league experience, but Laws also played with Beard in the good old days and we know how loyal he is to players who do well under him. That is not to say it’s a bad choice - they’re both strong keepers and have even more competition now that Katie Startup has joined the ranks, too.
What is the preferred center back pairing?
Gabe: Liverpool’s captain, Niamh Fahey, and New Zealand international Meikayla Moore created a formidable partnership last season in the back. Fahey was a good organizer at the back, allowing Moore to play aggressively on the front foot. While being defensively sound, they also chipped in with goals on the other end. This season, Matt Beard has brought in competition in the form of Jasmine Matthews. Matthews played for Beard at Bristol City last season after previously having played at Liverpool, and has appeared as a starter in the back during a preseason friendly. Will Matthews be able to snag a starting spot away from either of the incumbents?
Jordan: I think it ultimately depends on Meikayla Moore. She has been really impressive since she’s come in, and even playing in the Olympics was a great experience that she can carry over. I doubt that Niamh Fahey will ever get dropped, not just because she’s the captain but just because she’s so dependable in the back, so it might just depend on the opponent and the fitness of both Moore and Matthews. Moore brings, as you said, aggression and forward press, Matthews brings experience and a little more of a defensive mind so it’s a great problem to have when you can switch like that. Fahey is so stable, as well, I don’t feel worried about the ability to switch, either.
What is the shape in midfield?
Gabe: Liverpool have a talented group of midfielders, and competition for spots will be fierce. Since all of the preseason matches have been closed door affairs with no video streams, it’s still unclear as to the shape of the team. From snooping the line ups (when available), it has looked like either a single pivot in a 4-3-3 or a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. Jade Bailey is the regular holding midfielder, and Ceri Holland can either play beside her in a double pivot or as a box to box player. Rachel Furness and Bo Kearns are both capable of playing as an eight or in a more advanced role behind the striker. If nothing else, Matt Beard should have himself plenty of options.
Jordan: I don’t really expect us to do anything more than a single pivot 4-3-3 unless something happens - Furness is such a great organizer in the 8 role that I’d be loath to change that up, although like the centerbacks, you could put anyone around her. I’ll be interested to see where Ceri Holland settles into, but a box to box role would really be great to let Furney or Bo Kearns fly a little more freely to help out the attackers. There’s also the addition of Carla Humphrey to further bolster the midfield, as she was also in the number 8 role back at Bristol with Matt Beard.
Where will the goals come from?
Gabe: The first half of last season was the Rinsola Babajide and Rachel Furness show as far as goals were concerned. The second half of the season was more like a scene from Oprah — “You get a goal, you get a goal, everybody gets a gooooooaaaaaallllll!”
That said, almost 50% of the goals scored in the FA Women’s Championship last season were scored by players no longer with the club. Rinsola Babajide (5 goals), Amalie Thestrup (4), Becky Jane (3), and Amy Rodgers (3) alone accounted for 15 of the 36 goals on the season. The only players left in the squad with more than two goals are Rachel Furness (5), Melissa Lawley (3), Ceri Holland (3), and center back Niamh Fahey (3).
Manager Matt Beard brought in some fresh faces to hopefully help fill the void in attack. New signing Leanne Kiernan was given the number 9 kit. She was a prolific scorer in the Irish league as a teenager, and she has already managed to find the back of the net for Liverpool multiple times in preseason. Rianna Dean is another young player with a lot of potential that can hopefully convert consistent playing time into production on the goal front.
Jordan: I think now that Mel Lawley is getting into her goal scoring groove we should see a lot more contributions from her, and the support from the new players will hopefully, as you said, make up for the void left behind by the departing players. Goal scoring players are also performers, so with more to play for as they battle for promotion again this year, and the return of the fans, will hopefully contribute towards all the goals.
Truly I’m most excited for the link up play between the midfield and the attack because it feels like we have a lot of players that understand those partnerships, and the problem in previous seasons has been that that link has been deteriorating. Either the attackers couldn’t read where the midfield was going to send the balls and were never in the right places, or vice versa, and it really hurt our goal scoring abilities, so with more players willing to get forward and the competition in midfield for positions, good things should happen.