Rachel Roberts takes a look at the big talking points after Emma Hayes’ serial winners slump to a shock 2-1 defeat to the newly-promoted Reds in their opening fixture of the 2022/23 season.Embed from Getty Images
Campbell’s throw-ins hit the spot
The long throw is a powerful weapon. In a game with few clear-cut chances — but no less than three spot-kicks — it was Liverpool substitute Megan Campbell who changed the game after coming on to replace Leanne Kiernan in the 57th minute. The Republic of Ireland star caused chaos and won a penalty in the aftermath of her long – and let’s be clear – very long throws into the box.
After Fran Kirby’s penalty was awarded in the first minute, no one would be forgiven for thinking champions Chelsea were on their way to a win, but it was fellow England hero Millie Bright’s handball that gave the hosts the opportunity to equalise after an hour. Katie Stengel coolly converted from the spot as Kirby had earlier done. The American scored nine goals for Liverpool on their way to promotion last season, and after Kadeisha Buchanan fouled her in the box with only five minutes left to play, she took her opportunity to win the game by firing the ball into the back of the net.
With relatively little threat at either end of pitch, Campbell’s ability to spectacularly turn throw-ins into genuine chances delivered the opportunities this game was lacking. This is sure to serve as a warning to future opposition going forward in this league – chances can be created from anywhere.Embed from Getty Images
Liverpool deal with the biggest test
It was the worst possible start for the newly-promoted side. Making her debut, ex-Chelsea player Emma Koivisto conceded the opening penalty. This could have opened the floodgates, but the Reds’ resolve remained firm throughout the game. The first half offered few chances – Koivisto almost made amends shortly after the opening goal but kneed the ball over the bar from five yards out. Kiernan hit the post, albeit from an offside position, but Liverpool didn’t concede many either.
After remaining well-organised and surviving the first 45 minutes only a goal down, they grew in confidence in the second half and the game opened up as a result. There was great commitment in challenges, especially from substitute Rachel Furness, and it is this energy and resolve that saw them through in this game. Although there was relatively little for her to do between the posts, Rachael Laws was solid as the clock ticked down and calmed some nerves in the crowds during the tense seven minutes of added time. This was the biggest challenge possible for Liverpool upon their return to the league, but the growth in confidence in this game is a sure sign they can compete at this level.Embed from Getty Images
Chelsea dominated possession, but couldn’t make it count
Reigning champions Chelsea have felt like an unstoppable force, after winning three league titles on the bounce, but for all their big names and high-profile summer signings, they failed to capitalise on their quality, depth or possession to take anything from this game. Between Kirby and Sam Kerr’s link-ups early in the first half, it felt as though a second and third goal would be inevitable. Kerr did find the back of the net but was, perhaps harshly, deemed offside. There were opportunities that came and went with too many touches in the build-up, and Liverpool’s defensive resolve was hard to break. Beth England had a chance to equalise in the dying minutes of the match but couldn’t get a touch on the ball. To take nothing from this game will be severely disappointing, but for all their talent and experience, Chelsea were never able to carve out those clear opportunities for themselves to win the game, something that is a known hallmark of champions.Embed from Getty Images
WSL’s on Red alert
There are no easy games — it is a cliche but it’s true. Emma Hayes’ side will be severely disappointed at this opening result. Of course, this game doesn’t make or break their season, but realistically it is one they should be winning. Losing to newly-promoted opposition, especially after taking the lead is not something Chelsea are used to, having an unbelievable record of 18 wins and just two defeats last season. They were able to slice Liverpool open with expertly played long passed from Kirby, who in the first half, had the freedom that comes with a lack of pressure on the ball, but then in the second half this faded.
Were Liverpool going to be an ‘easy’ game? Despite being freshly promoted, they did storm their way to winning the Championship and will feel they belong at this level. This speaks to the all-important fact that the women’s game is growing evermore in strength and quality and therefore, going forward, both teams will learn from this opening game.
This season promises to be the most competitive yet
This opening weekend of WSL action has seen goals and upsets across the board. With Manchester City and their much-changed squad losing away to Aston Villa, to England’s triumphant Lionesses shining in Arsenal and Manchester United’s dominant respective 4-0 victories, to finally Liverpool upsetting the champions – this season has already excited. Going forward, for Chelsea, they will have to pick themselves up and go again, but starting on the backfoot as title rivals blast their way to victories is not where they will want to be. For all the talk of going for Champions League glory, they will need to remain humble and prevent themselves from being carried away if they are to retain their domestic league title – this result is sure to be that wake-up call.
For Liverpool, this game displayed that they have the determination to compete with the best and can take a lot of confidence going forward in this WSL campaign. With the Merseyside derby up next for the Reds, it is sure to be a huge occasion. Chelsea’s upcoming tie against Manchester City now looks very intriguing. As the two sides that have dominated the game in recent years, this weekend could be a sign that things are changing. Either way, they’ll be going into the fixture with a point to prove.
Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts