By Andrew Gibney
With an unconvincing display against Birmingham and a defeat against newly promoted Sunderland, the hope for a third title for Liverpool Ladies may suffer if they don’t regroup as soon as possible.
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Reigning champions Liverpool have struggled to hit the ground running as the new Women’s Super League season began last month. Facing increased competition and a disjointed season split with June’s World Cup – this tough start could already have put laid to their title defence.
In the quest for a third successive crown, Liverpool have not enjoyed an ideal start and that was compounded as they kicked off their season losing 3-1 to Birmingham City in the FA Cup – ending their dream of playing at Wembley in August.
There was always going to be some level of hangover following the jubilation of edging both Chelsea and Birmingham on a dramatic final day, but losing Lucy Bronze to Manchester City and the inclusion of four new signings has brought with it a period of adjustment.
Away against Birmingham, three of Matt Beard’s new recruits started the game, but despite levelling through Natasha Dowie, they couldn’t take control of the game and the home side were well worth the two-goal victory.
Playing against a title contender was always going to be tough, especially away from home, but the real shock came when they hosted newly promoted Sunderland in Widnes.
Only Arsenal managed to pick up three points at home to Liverpool last season, so when Bethany Mead headed in Keira Ramshaw’s cross, the home crowd were understandably stunned.
Liverpool’s defence, led by England’s Gemma Bonner and Bronze only conceded 10 goals on the way to the title. In the second half against Sunderland, Mead cut-inside past American Satara Murray, and the new signing’s outstretched leg brought the striker down.
To pour salt in the wounds, it was former Everton midfielder Brooke Chaplen who fired the spot-kick into the top corner. In one match, against the favourites to be relegated, the home side had already conceded the same amount of goals at home as they did last season.
After the game, Bonner told the Liverpool Echo of the team’s upset, but tried to put their form in a positive light, “we were all disappointed with the first two results but there’s still a positive feeling in the camp.” She went on to add “we know we’re not performing to the level we can at the moment but we know we’ve got the quality in the squad.”
Though Sunderland deserved the win, it was Liverpool who controlled most of the possession but failed to find quality in the final third. There was a clear lack of understanding between a team where all were trying to find their place in the 3-5-2 system.
African Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala was energetic but was more involved on the defensive side of things where she could hurt Sunderland. Murray was impressive, looking confident and commanding. However, she did get caught out by Mead for the penalty.
Before the international break Liverpool managed to quell the tide, beating their cup conquerors Birmingham 2-1 in Widnes, and there were definite signs of Beard starting to turn things around.
Oshoala netted Liverpool’s opener in first-half stoppage time with a sweet volley and then provided the assist for Fara Williams to seal the three points. The 21-year-old Nigerian’s ability to adapt to the WSL could be crucial to how close Liverpool can come to winning their third title.
The international break has come at the right time for the champions. They have time to regroup and compose themselves before tough challenges against Chelsea, Manchester City and Notts County.
In a league season where you only play 14 games, you can only realistically lose three or four to still be considered contenders. Failure to fully recover from this disjointed start could see Liverpool’s chances of a third title disappear without a trace.