It may be February, but the Liverpool FC Women have just finally made it to the halfway point in the WSL. With 11 of their 22 league matches played, let’s take a look at how the season has played out thus far, and delve a little deeper into the standout players and the stats.
Where Things Stand
Liverpool are in 8th place out of 12 in the table, sitting on 11 points. Notably, the Reds sit 9 points ahead of last place Leicester City, with the teams set to play each other twice in the second half of the season. Matt Beard’s side is also 4 points ahead of Reading, but Liverpool have two games in hand. At this point, it feels pretty certain that Liverpool will stay up barring a massive collapse and a huge surge from Leicester City.
Along with league play, Liverpool were involved in two cup competitions. They came second place in their group in the FA WSL Cup, finishing behind Manchester City. Liverpool advanced to the quarterfinals, however, as the top second place team after defeating all other teams in their group. The Reds were knocked out in the quarterfinals by West Ham in a tight 1-0 match. Just four days later, Liverpool were also knocked out of the FA Women’s Cup in the fourth round after a thrilling 3-2 match against Chelsea.
First Half Narrative
Making the jump from the FA Women’s Championship to the WSL was always going to be difficult. A schedule gone haywire and injuries to some key players has made life all the more difficult for Matt Beard’s side. Liverpool have had three matches postponed, one due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, and two because of frozen pitches.
On the injury front, key signing Shanice van de Sanden missed the first couple months of the season with and achilles injury picked up late in preseason, while Leanne Kiernan suffered a terrible ankle injury in the very first match. Van de Sanden was able to return, for a few games, but recently sustained a knee injury after trying to warm up on a frozen pitch, and is expected to be out for another two months. The loss of those two players have vastly depleted the squad’s depth up top, as well as their team speed.
Despite those issues, Liverpool have faired decently. A shock win over Chelsea on opening day was followed by a very difficult stretch of games that left Liverpool sitting on three points in mid-November. The schedule eased up, and Liverpool picked up five points over their next three games to finish out the calendar year.
A win over Reading in their last outing has Liverpool sitting in a solid position to avoid relegation. The Reds seem solidly at the top of the lower echelon of teams in the WSL, and on the cusp of being a mid-table side. A raft of incoming players have provided significant depth and youth in midfield, with Fuka Nagano seeming like a lynchpin signing for the club. Gemma Bonner provides experience lost with Gilly Flaherty retiring as well. On the whole, Liverpool are on the upswing heading into the second half of the season.
Under Matt Beard in the FA Women’s Championship last season, Liverpool were known as fast starters, playing with an aggressive attacking style that piled pressure onto teams. In the WSL, Beard has shown he prefers a more restrained and structured side in the first half, focusing on limiting chances before opening the game up in the second half.
While Liverpool have done well to limit chances early in games, they have had a proclivity for a poor turnover deep in their own half early that has led to goals. With their more defensive posture in the first half of matches, Liverpool have also struggled to generate any sort of attack, whether on the counter or with a sustained spell of pressure. The second half, on the other hand, has seen Liverpool come to life and dial up a high press that causes turnovers, and more recently, goals for the Reds.
What has been seen by the eye bears out in the numbers as well. Liverpool are conceding an average of 1.27 goals in the first half, while averaging under half a goal (0.45) themselves. The second half of games has been dead even, both scoring and conceding 0.73 goals on average.
Most of these matches have been with Liverpool playing their standard 3-4-3 formation. The Reds have often been overrun in the first half while sitting deeper, and there has been a struggle to connect the midfield with the attack while in the defensive shell. To help this, Beard has shifted to a 3-5-2 in the past two games, with January signing Fuka Nagano sitting as a holding midfielder to help control the tempo from deep while Ceri Holland and Missy Bo Kearns shuttle and provide better connection with the attack. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can play a more balanced match for the entire 90 minutes in the second half of the season.
I shudder to think of where Liverpool would be without the American striker. Stengel leads the team with 6 goals over the first 11 games, and has had little to no rest with Kiernan out. Stengel has battled extremely hard, often while isolated up top, to hold the ball and give her team a rest. She’s shown more speed than expected running the channels at times, and has done well to bring others into play with her hold up game and passing.
The Wing Wizard has been one of the few consistent offensive sparks this season. Lawley has shown just how dangerous she can be at the ball at her feet, beating player after player on the dribble down the left wing. She’s also shown the quality of her service, assisting a team-high three goals.
The Welsh midfielder has been a key cog for the Reds. Holland covers a lot of ground, and has shown the motor to make late runs into the box and then make a recovery run to stop a counter at the end of games. Her physicality has helped the Reds win the ball on the ground and in the air with an aggressive high press that has led to quite a few second half chances for Liverpool. Holland is tied for second on the team with two goals as well.
While Shanice van de Sanden was the signing most people were excited about this summer, it has been Koivisto who has had the biggest impact of any incoming transfer on the pitch. The Finn has made the right wing back position her own, and she has shown a proclivity to get the ball into advanced areas down the right wing and put good service into the box. Koivisto has two assists for the season, but has created quite a few other big chances. She has proven to be very durable as well, featuring in every league match this season.
Liverpool have done a decent job of limiting chances for opponents, but they have been carved open on the counter as the team has pushed forward more in the second half of games. Goalkeeper Rachael Laws has been on hand to make some massive saves in key moments to help Liverpool earn points.