After a shock win over Chelsea on opening day, the Liverpool FC Women have had some moral victories along the way, but had failed to pick up any additional points coming into the match with Brighton. The Reds really needed a result against their fellow bottom third side to try and get some distance from Leicester City at the bottom of the table. A quick start and an early goal for Liverpool was quickly wiped out by a trio of Brighton goals in the first half. Matt Beard’s side never stopped battling, however, and the introduction of Shanice van de Sanden provided the boost Liverpool needed to come back and earn a massive point.
Below, we take a look at some winners and losers on the night, and attempt to disentangle narrative from fact.
Liverpool have struggled mightily to put the ball in the back of the net this season in the WSL. Katie Stengel came into the game as the sole player to have scored, with only one of her three goals coming from open play.
Against Brighton’s leaky defense, the Reds doubled their goal tally for the season, with all three goals coming from players (Missy Bo Kearns, Shanice van de Sanden, and Rachel Furness) getting their first of the season in the league. Taylor Hinds came within inches of scoring as well, sending a shot crashing back off the crossbar.
Shanice van de Sanden
The Dutch winger was Liverpool’s big signing this offseason, and today she showed why. Coming on as a sub at half time, van de Sanden showed off her class, and speed, as she pulled the Reds back into the game. She showed great anticipation and movement to get onto the end of Emma Koivisto’s cross, and her cross to Rachel Furness for the equalizer was pure perfection. Matt Beard and staff are being very careful getting van de Sanden back up to speed after an achilles injury, but she will be a big difference maker going forward.
Name a better combination than Rachel Furness and headed goals? The Northern Irishwoman was a pest for Brighton after coming on in the second half, throwing her body around to win the ball however she could. She made the run in extra time to get into the box, and was rewarded with an exquisite cross from Shanice van de Sanden that Furness made no mistake with, powering her header into the back of the net.
The Finnish right wing back was facing the club she left Liverpool for this summer, and put on a stellar display. She was particularly good going forward in the second half, constantly making herself available as an option down the wing. She set up the second goal with a good cross to van de Sanden, and she came so close to scoring with a driven show just barely turned around the post.
The central defender has largely been very good this season, but she struggled today, with several poor back passes, and was caught out of position a couple of times. It’s unclear whether she was subbed off for tactical reasons or due to a knock, but only making it to the 38th minute is not good in either case.
First Half Defensive Woes
Liverpool have struggled to get going in the first half of games this season. It looked like they have flipped the script today, playing well and scoring a goal before the 20 minute mark, but then the wheels fell off as the Reds conceded three goals in 13 minutes. So far this season, the Reds are averaging almost 1.5 goals conceded in the first half of games.
At their best, Liverpool are a fluid attacking side, moving the ball out to in to create passing lanes to the attacking players. Too often this season, the Reds have been much slower with their decision making, meaning passing lanes are closed out. Instead, we’re seeing low-percentage diagonal passes played forward to a winger or forward who are often isolated against multiple defenders. We saw that for a long stretch of the game against Brighton, with hopeful balls played to Melissa Lawley, Yana Daniels, and Shanice van de Sanden too easily cut out. Liverpool got their mojo back later in the game as they changed shape slightly, but more importantly started playing more quick combination passes to get the ball forward.
What Happens Next
It’s a quick turnaround for Liverpool as they go back on the road again on Thursday to take on 11th place Reading. It’s another chance for the Reds to pick up points against a fellow bottom third team during a crucial run of games before the winter break. They will have a FA WSL Cup group stage match against Blackburn next Sunday.