By Neil Evans.
It was last-day joy for the Reds as they pipped Chelsea on goal difference to become champions last season. But can they keep that winning feeling going this term as they mount another defence of the title?
Fans of Chelsea and Birmingham may disagree but Liverpool Ladies thoroughly deserved their second WSL title in a row. Yes, they were the outsiders going into that fateful, final day. However, the Reds won more games than anyone, lost fewer than anyone and had the league’s second best defence. In short, Matt Beard’s side won the title on merit. Others had their chances but Liverpool were hardly responsible for rivals’ shortcomings.
It was a successful defence based on stability and a refusal to give up the chase. Six players played in all 14 games, whilst another four played a part in a further 13 and that was key to their consistency. Reds fans will be hoping for more of the same and Beard has, mostly, kept the same squad together to launch Liverpool’s challenge.
American Libby Stout is a fine goalkeeper, with Danielle Gibbons more than adequate cover. Central defender Gemma Bonner is an England regular and German international Corina Schroder is one of the best left-backs in Europe and will be challenged by Martha Harris for a starting berth. Becky Easton is a proven, reliable right-sided defender and she will be challenged by new Norwegian signing, Ingrid Ryland. Satara Murray is a highly-rated American centre-back, having previously played for Washington Spirit. She’ll be needed as Lucy Bronze is no longer at the club – breaking up one of the best ever WSL partnerships in Bonner and Bronze. Liverpool’s defence would, therefore, appear as stingy as ever.
Liverpool missed their inspirational driving force, Nicole Rolser, for much of the last campaign through injury and her return is a massive boost. Another heartwarming return is that of Lucy Staniforth, who missed all of 2013 due to a serious ACL injury, and Beard has said it is like having a “new signing”. She contended with the same injury (to her other leg) during the 2013 FA Cup final with Bristol, so it is a testament to her determination and fortitude. Elsewhere, in midfield, the incomparable Fara Williams will continue to pull the strings and act as playmaker. There is not the space here to speak highly enough of her amazing back story. What I will say is, she is living proof of someone who richly deserves her success after overcoming immense challenges. Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem will both have benefited from last season, and offer steel and creativity in the middle of the park.
Up front, Natasha Dowie is a proven predator in front of goal and will be relied on to continue to deliver. Once again, former Chelsea player Kate Longhurst should chip in with her fair share. There are also some exciting additions: namely current African Player of the Year, Asisat Oshoala (voted most valuable player at the last Under-20 World Cup) and Line Smorsgard (another Norwegian talent) bringing experience to complement her youth.
Beard is a proven winner and he will have derived enormous pleasure from pipping former club Chelsea to the title. But they have a run of very difficult games before the World Cup break, including back-to-back fixtures against Manchester City Women in late April. While Liverpool will be in the mix again, it seems too big an ask to deliver three in a row.
2015 Prediction: 3rd
Key Player: Fara Williams
Liverpool Ladies begin the defence of their title v Sunderland Ladies (The Select Security Stadium) live on BT Sport on March 25th. Kick-off is 19.45pm.
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