After the postponement last weekend, Liverpool Women look to start their campaign in the WSL by welcoming reigning champions Chelsea to Prenton Park.
Manager Matt Beard spoke to Liverpoolfc.com on the challenges Chelsea will bring as the first opponents:
Yeah, look, you’ve got to play them at some time. Listen, they are a fantastic team. They have won the league three years on the spin, so that tells you all you need to know. As I said just before, we have had a good pre-season and we have challenged ourselves against a team like Manchester United that’s trying to break into that top three and Champions League spots. We played against Manchester City, so we’ve given ourselves a good learning curve going into this game.
We know it’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, especially with the players they’ve brought in over summer. But we will be setting up to try and get something out of the game as we always do. I’m confident we can give a good account of ourselves and let’s see what it brings.
Asked if it would be possible to “catch Chelsea cold,” Beard reflected on the potential positives inherent in getting such a tough test now:
Yeah, potentially. I think you’ve just got to look at their recruitment. That has been really driven to the Champions League success, especially after getting knocked out of the group stages last season, so I think it is good if you are going to play them early, but you never know. They had a lot of players away at the Euros, so from that perspective it might be a good time to play them, especially the players coming from overseas. It is a tough league to come into and to perform week-in, week-out, because I think if you look, no disrespect to the French league and maybe some of the other leagues, you don’t get the challenges that you get in the Super League.
That will be a big challenge for some of their players that have come in, but we are looking forward to the test. We want to be playing against the best players, I want to be coaching against the best coaches, so it’s going to be a great test for us. We are going to go into the game with the mindset of wanting to win the game, but we understand we are playing one of the best teams, not only in Europe, but in the world in club football.
In contrast to Chelsea, Liverpool come into the new season with a more settled squad, which could well be an advantage:
It has helped a lot because you have only got a few players that need to get up to speed with your patterns of play, your expectations, and we had a long pre-season. We planned for the international window before the season started, so we had eight weeks with the group of players to work them. It was only Emma [Koivisto] and Furney [Rachel Furness] that missed the first two weeks due to the Euros. So we’ve had most of the squad in right the way throughout. It has helped because I can concentrate on things maybe we didn’t really need to concentrate on last year and we could work with individuals to get them up to speed with where we are.
It’s going to be a similar pattern to last year to a certain extent. If you look back to last season it took us to the end of September to really get going once we found our feet. It has helped and I think we are equipped for this division. We’ve got the blend between youth and experience and players that know the division. If you look at our recruitment the players we have brought in all know the league as well.
Looking to the season ahead, Beard hopes to carry momentum into the new season as the newly-promoted side:
I think so. We have worked incredibly hard in pre-season, I guess, dealing with different moments. Last year we went on that run of 20 games unbeaten and we kept going. We know that potentially that won’t happen this year, it would be great if it did! We have done a lot of work in the classroom on the psychological side of things about resetting, so if we do get a negative result, we’ve got the next game where we can potentially get points from.
We’ve done a lot of work in the off-season. We’ve worked on our defensive strategies, more so than what I would have done last year, but we had a lot of the ball in the games, so really it was just fine-tuning that and just adapting for the opposition we may be playing against. We might not have as much of the ball this year as what we did [last year], so we’ve got to find different ways of winning football matches.
We’ve concentrated on that over pre-season and we’ve been really pleased with the work we’ve done and the way pre-season has gone and the results. But playing for points is completely different to, obviously, working and learning, so we are looking forward to the challenge and we do feel we are equipped for the season. But there are going to be ups, there are going to be downs, just because of, I guess, the way the Super League has grown since we’ve not been in it.
Speaking directly to fans — who have as yet purchased 3,000 tickets to the weekend’s match — Beard detailed what he hopes for from support this season:
Just really what they gave us last year. The support we got was fantastic and I think if you saw the bond by the end of the year and the way the players, especially after the Bristol City game, [the way they] celebrated promotion and then we had a fantastic day playing against Sheffield United, the fans have been absolutely brilliant. We know they can help us and get us through tough moments in games. We’re looking to continue that bond and hopefully the numbers continue to grow.
As for the team, Beard outlined pragmatic goals for the first season back in the WSL:
The aim first and foremost is to stay in the division [and] to be as competitive as we can. We have been out of this division for two years and the Super League has moved on in that two-year period, so we need to be realistic. But we do feel we can compete at this level and we are looking forward to seeing how far we can go.
Liverpool Women kick off their campaign on Sunday at 5:00 PM BST/12:00 PM EST.