Well that was certainly not how the Liverpool FC Women were hoping to start the new year. In their first match of 2023, Matt Beard’s side put forth quite possibly their worst performance to date. It’s one thing to be outclassed, which Liverpool absolutely were, but the Reds were wasteful on the ball, often deep in their own half, and showed very little fight outside of a 15 minute stretch to start the second half.
Below, we take a look at some winners and losers on the night, and attempt to disentangle narrative from fact.
While there were very few positives on the field to take away from a Liverpool perspective, it was great to see yet another record breaking crowd for a WSL match. Let’s hope these numbers continue to grow this season and beyond.
Total LSV attendance is 7,666. A new record for a Man Utd women’s game here. #mufc— Emma Sanders (@em_sandy) January 15, 2023
This isn’t the first time that Liverpool have struggled with turnovers, especially in their own defensive third, but Manchester United made the Reds pay with three of their goals coming directly off of misplaced passes or a loss of possession around their own box. When your team only has 27% of the possession, you really need to take care of the ball.
Katie Stengel missed out after sustaining a knock in training this week. With Leanne Kiernan still at least a month away from returning, that left Matt Beard without a true central striker. The team’s ultimate Swiss army knife, Yana Daniels, played through the middle to start the match, but she didn’t offer any real outlet and hold up play to help relieve pressure on the defense, and struggled with her runs when Liverpool did make their few forays forward. Melissa Lawley and Shanice van de Sanden had a few opportunities to carry the ball forward on the counter, but they were typically isolated with no real support. At the end of the day, Liverpool finished with only four shots, and didn’t put a single one on target.
Lethargic Pace of Play
While I understand playing compact and reserved to slow the game down against a superior opponent (more on that later), Liverpool all too often saw themselves beaten to balls that they were easily closer to. In fact, there were several occasions where Manchester United players ran PAST a Liverpool player to get to a loose ball. Even in possession, Liverpool players typically spent too much time dawdling on the ball with their head down, frequently having it nicked off of their toes.
Let’s start by stating an obvious fact - I am not a professional manager, so any tactical opinions should be taken with a bucketful of salt.
Ok, now on to the meat of it. Matt Beard has continually set his side up to play a reserved low block in the first half in a bid to stay compact and limit chances. While this is understandable in theory, it hasn’t really worked. Liverpool have consistently made errors that have led to goals, leaving the team chasing the game all season long. The team has also struggled to create any sort of cohesive counter attacks while playing out of this low-intensity low block, often leaving one or two attackers isolated well ahead of the rest of the team, leading to the ball being turned over and coming right back into Liverpool’s half.
The team has usually stepped up the intensity and dialed up a higher press in the second half, which has led to more open games, but also the vast majority of Liverpool’s attacking chances.
The game against Manchester United was a microcosm of the season. The low block was easily picked apart, in no small part due to mistake after mistake on the ball by Liverpool players on top of a severe lack of intensity. When out of possession, Liverpool gave up acres of space on the flank and did nothing to close down the crossing lanes, leading to several easy chances that led to goals.
Liverpool finally stepped up the pressure and intensity in the second half, led by some strong counter pressing by Ceri Holland. With the pressure turned up, Liverpool finally began to win second and third balls, and were able to maintain more than a few minutes of pressure. It was all way to little too late, however, and Liverpool got picked out on the counter after stretching the game.
What Happens Next
Things do not get any easier the rest of this month for Matt Beard and his squad. Liverpool will travel to London to take on Chelsea twice over the next to weeks. The first meeting is in league play next Sunday, with a FA Cup fourth round fixture the following week. The Blues will certainly be out for revenge after Liverpool pipped them in the opening match of the season thanks to two penalty kicks from Katie Stengel.