The Liverpool FC Women’s team completed their first season in the FA Women’s Championship by finishing a disappointing third place. Previously week we took a look at some of the major story lines and standout performers from the year, and then dug into the goalkeepers and defensive units. This week, we’ll look at the progress this exiting, young midfield unit made over the season, as well as look ahead to next season.
Coming into this past season, Liverpool looked to have a midfield unit that was big on talent but short on experience outside of Rachel Furness. The Northern Irishwoman joined Liverpool the previous winter, and managed to provide a spark for the Reds before the season was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Furness picked right up where she left off this season, pairing skill with a large dose of grit and determination to drive Liverpool to points early on in the season in an attacking midfield role in a 4-3-3. Furness lead the team with 7 goals for the season.
Jade Bailey and Amy Rodgers were primarily tasked with playing deeper to shield the back line. Jade Bailey was solid and dependable in a holding midfield role, but she was unfortunately injured partway through the fall. Her presence was immediately missed. In her stead, Liverpool moved defender Meikayla Moore into a holding role for a period of time before she took over the starting role in the center of defense. When Moore moved back into defense, Rachel Furness dropped deeper with Rodgers, making room for the Scouse starlet Missy Bo Kearns to step into an advance midfield role. Furness got injured herself during the winter leaving Liverpool shorthanded to move defenders Razza Roberts and Becky Jane into midfield at times.
With so many changes in personnel and a lack of balance, Liverpool’s midfield struggled to have much impact during the poor run of form during the late fall and early winter. Vicky Jepson seemed more intent on having her team get the ball to the wide attackers for quick attacks rather than playing through the midfield and holding possession. A change at the top and an incoming player changed the fortunes for the midfield, and helped send Liverpool on a stunning run of form.
Amber Whiteley was appointed as the new manager in January, and Ceri Holland was brought in after finishing her collegiate career at the University of Kansas. Whiteley changed the shape of the team, moving to more of a 4-2-3-1. She also changed the patterns of play to focus on moving the ball through midfield, and to create runs from deep in midfield after defenders were pulled out of position or to make late runs into the box. The change in style jump-started a run of 7 games in a row without a loss.
A big part of the great midfield play were Amy Rodgers and Ceri Holland playing as a double pivot with license to get forward. Holland immediately upped the energy from midfield, making driving runs from deep, and showing up as an option in the box to finish of moves. Rodgers began to show her passing range, playing slide rule through balls or pinging the ball out wide to runners. The third part of the midfield group was Bo Kearns. She served as the attacking midfielder, showing movement and vision well beyond her age. She pulled defenders out of position to open lanes for other to run into before making her own runs off the back shoulder of defenders. Kearns also showed off her skill from dead ball situations, delivering some stellar corner kicks and free kicks. Holland and Rodgers both finished the season with 3 goals, while Kearns knocked in 2 goals.
Rachel Furness and Jade Bailey both came back from injuries for a short period of time before getting injured again, meaning both would miss the rest of the season. Ceri Holland also took a knock while on international duty, and was used sparingly for the last month of the season.
Looking ahead to next season, newly appointed manager Matt Beard should have an exciting group of midfield talent to draw from. If Furness and Bailey can fully recover from their injuries ahead of next season, there should be a decent amount of depth as well. Bo Kearns and Amy Rodgers are extremely exciting young talents, just 20 and 21 years old respectively. They both were promoted from the Liverpool Academy, and are the types of players to build a team around. Ceri Holland is just 23 herself, and Bailey is 25. Only Rachel Furness is over the age of 30 in the group of midfielders, and she has the fire and desire to keep playing for several more seasons. This group has a nice blend of steel, grit, technical ability, and vision.