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. We then followed on with a look at the young and talented midfield unit. This week, we will complete our series by taking a look at the attacking unit.
Coming into this season, Liverpool had a pretty big transition in their strike force. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Christie Murray moved on, and Ashley Hodson was still out with a long term injury. Amalie Thestrup was brought in from Roma to battle it out with Jess Clarke for the point striker in the 4-3-3 set up. While the central role was up in the air, the two wide forward roles were pretty much set. Rinsola Babajide was sensational playing as a wide forward on the left the previous season. Babajide combined great pace and close control with underrated vision and timing of her runs to wow fans. On the right, Melissa Lawley was cemented on as a tricky dribbler with a strong shot.
The attack was really a tale of two halves of the season. Starting out, Thestrup was given plenty of opportunity to grow into the central striker role. She showed great work rate and industry, but seemed to struggle to know when to make a run or when to check back, never quite on the same page as the other attackers. Jess Clarke combined better with the other attackers when given some minutes, but she unfortunately was injured in the fall, and was out for a significant portion of the season. With Thestrup as the only option, Liverpool struggled to generate attack through the middle.
Babajide proved to be the nexus of Liverpool’s attacks in the first half of the season, carrying the ball up the field to create opportunities for herself and others. She was head and shoulders above pretty much everyone else on the field most of the time. Defenders took to seeing how much hurly-burly they could get away with against Babajide (it was a lot) rather than try to actually defend against her. To Rinsola’s credit, she did a good job keeping her head despite being targeted — and more often than not, not protected by the referees. Babajide did it all, scoring lasers from distance as well as sensational weaving solo goals. She ended up with six goals by the end of December, and she earned her first ever England senior team call up.
Melissa Lawley was solid on the right, especially with the ball at her feet. She was good at beating a player or two on the dribble from wide before cutting in and letting fly. Unfortunately, most of those shots came from well outside the box, leading to very few clear cut chances. I would not put the blame for shot selection on Lawley, as it seemed like all Liverpool attackers were told to let fly at the first site of goal. There were very few penetrating runs into the box for the first half of the season, and the ones that did occur tended to come from Rinsola Babajide.
Liverpool’s inability to consistently threaten the other teams goal was definitely a large part of their poor run of form during the late fall and early winter. Those poor results ultimately led to Vicky Jepson being let go by the club. There were also rumblings that Babajide was asking to be sent out on loan to a WSL club for the rest of the season so she could have a better chance for earning further national team call ups. It came out that Rinsola and the club were at loggerheads, and supposedly Babajide held out of training in protest. The club decided to freeze their best player out, eventually sending her to train with the U21s rather than send her out on loan or attempt to mend fences and integrate her back in the team.
With Jepson and Babajide out of the picture, interim manager Amber Whiteley had her work cut out to try and jump start the attack. She switched from a pure 4-3-3 to more of a 4-2-3-1 to put more of an emphasis on play through the midfield. She also integrated Kirsty Linnett into the central striker role, deploying her as more of a false nine. Linnett proved to be masterful at dropping deep or wide to pull central defenders out of position, creating room for the likes of Bo Kearns and Ceri Holland to run into. Linnett also showed some great skill and work rate with the ball at her feet, creating several goals with cutting runs down the wing. The only thing Linnett struggled to do was score herself, notching only 1 goal in 15 games.
Whiteley also changed her personnel with the wide attackers. Lawley was no longer a nailed on starter, and players like Becky Jane were given an opportunity. Jane proved to have a knack for making late runs into the box to knock in goals from close range. She scored 3 goals, all in the second half of the season.
Amalie Thestrup was also given chances to play as a wide attacker, where she looked more comfortable. He workrate and industry were put to good use, and she won several ball back deep in the opponents territory. She even managed to score a few goals down the stretch, bringing her total to four goals on the season.
While Liverpool’s attack came alive in the second half of the season, it is still an area where the team needs to improve. We now know that Kirsty Linnett, Becky Jane, Amalie Thestrup, and Jess Clarke all had contract offers rescinded, and were all released by the club instead. will not be offered contracts for next season. Emma Sanders of The Athletic has also reported that Rinsola Babajide is in talks with Brighton, but there is no word of Liverpool will agree to let her move.
A few people have asked about other key players. As I’ve tweeted previously, I understand Rinsola Babajide is in talks with a move to Brighton but remains under contract at LFC. Rachel Furness has another year under contract, along with Mel Lawley & Rachael Laws. #LFC https://t.co/yL7fCf92ic— Emma Sanders (@em_sandy) May 25, 2021
New manager Matt Beard will have a lot of work to do to rebuild his attacking band. There are only a few pure attackers still on the roster, and it is still not know what type of style or formation that Beard will look to play. Unlike the defense and midfield, the attack is a bit of a blank slate where new blood will be required if the team is to hit the ground running as they push for promotion next season.