Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth II’s death postponed the firework-filled and much anticipated start to the WSL last weekend. So instead of Chelsea welcoming West Ham to Stamford Bridge, we’re headed north to face Liverpool on Sunday to start the season.
The Reds have returned to the top flight after being relegated in 2019-20, so Gabe (@Geo_Gabe) from The Liverpool Offside is here to give us some insight on how they got back, and what to expect on Sunday.
WAGNH: Welcome back to the WSL! What was it like when you secured promotion and what was central to doing so?
TLO: I thought Liverpool would definitely be a favorite for the FA Women’s Championship title last season, but I really didn’t expect them to dominate the way they did. It felt great to see the Reds headed back to the top flight, and honestly it was also a feeling of relief.
The club finally put some money into the squad by bringing in quite a few players with legitimate WSL experience, and also brought in a coach who has a track record of building winning teams.
Matt Beard was given the leeway to put together a team that was much deeper than any other squad in the second division last year, and a squad that was ultimately meant to be a core able to compete in the WSL.
WAGNH: We know one of the biggest problems had been the lack of investment in the team. Has that changed and what level of commitment are you expecting with the team back in the first division?
TLO: Yeah, I think we’re finally seeing FSG and Liverpool put more than the bare minimum into the Women’s team, and it seems like they are committed to building for the long term. They’ve seemingly spent much bigger on wages to bring in players with a bevy of top flight experience like Shanice van de Sanden, Gilly Flaherty, and Emma Koivisto. They also have been locking down some of their bright young stars to multi-year deals, which is a welcome change to just a couple years ago when talent was just walking away.
The other thing that doesn’t get talked about as much is the appointment of Russ Fraser last season as the Managing Director. He is working behind the scenes to get a permanent training facility and a better stadium situation sorted out. Getting those items finalized will be a huge step in the right direction.
WAGNH: Some feel facing Chelsea is a great instant litmus test while others maybe prefer to ease into the season. How do you feel and why?
Gabe: Look, I’d be lying if I said I would rather play Chelsea in the first match instead of Reading. Liverpool could really use some momentum heading into a very tough October schedule (Spurs, Arsenal, Man City), and it looked like there was a legitimate chance to pick up points against Reading and Everton prior to that stretch.
Now there is more pressure in what becomes a season opener against Chelsea before hosting Everton at Anfield in a local derby match.
WAGNH: Who are the players who impressed in the Championship and who you are excited to see continue to progress in the WSL?
Gabe: The good news is that there were a TON of great performers from last season’s side that won the Championship. This was not a team focused on any single player. I’ll name three that I’m most excited about watching in the WSL.
Taylor Hinds is an excellent young wingback/fullback, and just might be my favorite player on the team. She is a very good 1v1 defender, and thrives at progressing the ball forward and getting deliveries into the box.
Missy Bo Kearns is a very exciting young Scouse midfielder, and is the face of the team going forward. She’s got great passing range, an eye for goal, and is very good on set pieces.
The last is American forward Katie Stengel. She only joined last January, but scored 8 and assisted 5 in half a season. She’s got great physicality in and around the box, and is a very efficient finisher with her head and her feet.
WAGNH: What are your expectations for this match? Will you frustrate the champions or do you think it will be a brutal welcome back?
Gabe: It’s the first game back in the top flight, and it’s in the friendly confines of Prenton Park, so I think Liverpool will be up for a battle. Beard has said the team really focused on defensive shape this offseason, so I think they will make it tough for Chelsea.
Unfortunately for the Reds, there is just too much firepower to contain. I’ll say 2-0 to Chelsea.
Liverpool and Chelsea are set to kick off at 17.00 BST on Sunday. Thanks again to Gabe at The Liverpool Offside for his time and insight. Be sure to check out the reverse version of this Q&A where we talk (even more!) heightened season expectations for the Blues.