(This is a somewhat less technical post by me, and also more critical, but lets see how it goes)
2 times WSL winners, and back to back title winners now sit 6th out of 8, with 2 games remaining.
If we look back at the beginning of the WSL, Liverpool spent the first two seasons bottom of the league, only winning 1 game in each of these seasons. Come 2013 and the team are the first to go full time in England, with Beard stating that he wants to mount a title challenge within two years (The Guardian). This was obviously to come very early, with Liverpool winning the league by 5 points, scoring a WSL record of 46 goals. Very impressive when you consider this is over 14 games! Impressive goalscoring returns from Natasha Dowie (13 in 14 starts), Nicole Rosler (10 in 14 starts) and Louise Fors (8 in 14 starts) making up 3 of the top 5 scorers in the league.
This change in Full-Time training did however see other clubs begin to realise that to compete they also had to be training as frequently. Any of you that have worked within football will know how important contact time is, and this importance really showed in the 2013 season.
The 2014 season however proved to be much closer. Now with teams following Liverpools initiative, the majority of the league were finally training full time. Results were now a lot closer, and on the last day of the season the league was still able to go to 3 different teams, with Chelsea, Birmingham and Liverpool all in the hunt. In the end Liverpool pipped Chelsea to the top spot on goal difference. Both teams finished with 26 points, Liverpool with a goal difference of 9 and Chelsea of 7. However, this season Liverpool only managed to score 19 goals over the course of the 14 games. Albeit, Carney only led the goal scoring charts with 6 goals, but Dowie (Liverpools top league scorer) lay 13th in the scoring charts with 3 goals in 14 full games. (She was never subbed off in the league).
So what happened to make this so close? Did Liverpool only run away with the title in 2013 because they were full time and had more contact with their players? So, 2014 it was more of a level playing field? Had teams worked Liverpool out? Were Liverpool not preparing well for their opposition? All these questions and answers are quite speculative, and only if you were inside the club would you be able to answer these questions properly.
But for me, it is likely a combination of all these. At the end of the 2014 season I managed to get down to see the first leg of the Champions League qualifier against Linköping. Yes this was new territory for Liverpool, and yes they won that tie 2-1, but I left knowing that they would be lucky to progress to the next round. Now, I knew nothing about Linköping, with the exception of having seen Harder play a few times in the Euros, but at a guess, I would have expected a Swedish team to setup in a 4-4-2, and basically play the way they did. I also know how tough it can be to acquire footage of different teams in the womens’ game (even at International level), but it looked like Liverpool weren’t prepared for how Linköping set up and played, even if their own performance was more important. The depth of the forwards cancelled out Williams getting on the ball and taking control of the game. Overall, I thought Liverpool were better on a player to player basis, but tactically they weren’t up to scratch. They lost the away leg 3-0 and were out of the Champions League.
So from winning the league, being knocked out of the Champions League, making a few signings, and also losing a few notable players (Davison and Bronze), Liverpool started the new season with being knocked out of the FA Cup. Then they lost their opener at home against the newcomers, Sunderland 2-1. The ‘no-hopers’ (which was ironically used to describe Liverpool in the past) had beaten the reigning champions in the opening fixture of the season. Liverpool really couldn’t get a run going before the mid-season break, beating Birmingham and Man City, but having lost to Sunderland, Chelsea and Notts County. After the break, things looked good with a 3-1 win over Arsenal, but again they couldn’t put together a run of wins.
So now with 12 games played, the club sit 6th and can only finish 5th if they win their remaining games, and results go their way. Again Dowie leads their goalscoring charts with 3 goals (although has a netted a lot in the cups recently), and Oshoala also has 3.
Now, in-case some of you don’t know, Liverpool do try to play an expansive passing game, so I presume a lot of their work would be focussed on themselves. How they are going to play, how they can influence the game and ultimately how they will win. Having watched them a few times this season, it has often looked like their goals haven’t come from this expansive passing and movement game, but often more simplistic moves. But could they be more prepared for the opposition? Something from my point of view which is crucial at most levels. I can’t claim to have seen all or even the majority of Liverpools’ games, so it might be a case of the result not matching the performance, and I appreciate that, but this has been over the season. Maybe something just isn’t working. It’s difficult to know what without being part of the club, especially given their recent injury list.
Having watched their most recent game v Man City, and while I appreciate that their focus is no longer on the league (with an important Conti Cup tie against Bristol, and also the important champions league tie against Brescia at the end of the season), it was one of the worst performances I have seen from a single team in a long time. YES, Man City are in form, and on a major high. And YES, the season is finished for Liverpool. And YES, there are still a number of key injuries. But, for me there is no excuse for this type of performance. In the past I have been highly critical of the style of Liverpools’ play, and also of some of their players, but I have also praised players, such as Bonner (who has been a high point this season) and Harris, but even these players were hard to praise v Man City. Bonner and the introduction of Zelem were the two players I would really mention, and even Bonner had a very difficult day, especially in the first half with an excellent tactic of Harding man-marking her. Stout could be mentioned, but it was very much saying your GK was your best player, because she had to deal with so much due to the disappointing outfield performance. Zelem to be fair to her, did come on and look like she wanted to play, and moved for the ball. Ryland gradually grew into the game, but that was as good as it got. Lack of movement and atrocious passing were key to this poor performance. As well as what seemed like the players attitude to the game. This may have been a one-off performance, but these are things that Liverpool need to be consolidating over the coming weeks with Brescia being the main goal. The game looked like a pre-season game for Man City against a team a number of divisions below, and Liverpool got away with a 2-0 defeat.
Although I have written this before the Bristol Academy Conti Cup tie, out of respect of the tie I have decided not to post until after it. A Conti Cup win might save their season, but long-term things need to improve, especially if the quality of teams coming up from WSL 2 perform like Sunderland have. Liverpool may not have the decorated past that Arsenal have had in the women’s game, but I view them as the club that has pushed the womens’ game on, they deserve credit for taking the risk and backing their athletes, which in turn forced other clubs to go full time. So hopefully Beard, his staff and player can turn things around.
Still the team can look forward to a semi-final Conti Cup appearance, as well as the all important Champions League clash with Bresica, and hopefully they will end this season on a high.