Women’s Super League 2023-24 previews No 8: Liverpool

The team and manager, Matt Beard, are targeting a top-five finish after moving into improved surroundings at Melwood

The plan

After several years of being under-resourced, the 2013 and 2014 champions now find themselves taken seriously once again by the Anfield hierarchy. With Matt Beard in his third season back at the helm as manager there is confidence Liverpool can improve on their seventh-place finish last season.

It should help that they have left the weekday HQ they shared with Tranmere Rovers and moved into Melwood, previously the home of Jürgen Klopp’s men. “We’re very excited about Melwood,” said Niamh Fahey, Beard’s captain. “It’s an iconic training ground where all the successful Liverpool [men’s] teams have been so it’s a fantastic move for us. A lot is happening at this club and it should be an exciting season. Our goals are to try and get up into the top four or five. That will be tough but it’s where we want to go.”

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Beard does not disagree. “I want to make sure we improve on last year; we want to break into the top five,” he said. “We’re still a long way from the top teams in regard to expenditure. There’s still a big gap but my priority has been Melwood. It’s a massive step in the right direction and gives us a platform to really kick on and compete in the future. It’s a world-class training facility; it’s a game-changer for us.”

Liverpool’s manager is unafraid to alternate between variations on 3-4-3 and back-four themed teams. He tended to stick to the former formation until the arrival of the influential Japan midfielder Fuka Nagano from North Carolina Courage last January. Nagano’s presence offered a Liverpool side blessed with real talent in assorted positions in, among others, Shanice van de Sanden, Gemma Bonner, Missy Bo Kearns, Rachael Laws and Emma Koivisto, and sufficient control to play different ways against different opponents.

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The manager

Matt Beard led Liverpool to back-to-back WSL titles in 2013 and 2014 before crossing the Atlantic to coach Boston Breakers. The 45-year-old, who has also managed Millwall, Chelsea and West Ham, returned in 2021 and immediately led Liverpool out of the second-tier Championship. Last season a manager with a slightly old-school, no-nonsense, modus operandi presided over a creditable finish. The Liverpool goalkeeper Rachael Laws cannot speak highly enough of Beard. “With Matt, what you see is what you get,” she said. “Sometimes you need a bit of old school, to be told something straight. Matt’s a very good coach but he’s an even better manager off the pitch. He’s open and honest and treats you as a person. He’s created the perfect culture.”

Star player

Missy Bo Kearns. Liverpool’s No 7 is only 22 but is already a key goalscoring component of Beard’s midfield. The current joint holder of the Women’s Football Awards player of the year title with Chelsea’s Lauren James, Bo Kearns was also nominated for the PFA’s Young Player of the Year award in August. Capped by England at every level from under-17 to under-23, she hopes to join James in the senior squad this season. Predominantly an attacking midfielder, not entirely dissimilar in style to England’s Jordan Nobbs, she is capable of impressing as a No 10 and has also done well as a false 9.

High-profile summer signing

The 24-year-old Norway forward Sophie Román Haug, who has scored eight goals in 11 senior appearances for her country, including a World Cup hat-trick against the Philippines, joins from Roma – the Serie A champions last season – for an undisclosed club-record fee. “Sophie’s a fantastic, proven, goalscorer,” said Beard, who trusts Román Haug can help him build a new empire on Merseyside. “Her movement in the box is good but she can score all types of goals. I’ve monitored her progress since her early playing days in Norway and I know she’s still hungry to develop her game. We did our homework; the girl can score goals; wow she can score goals.”

World Cup 2023 delight/heartache

No matter that Fahey and the Republic of Ireland exited the World Cup at the group stage and there were tensions with the team’s then coach Vera Pauw, Fahey loved the experience. “The buzz is unrivalled,” she said. “Our support was insane. People were waiting for us at the airport which was a massive lift. And in Perth, where we had a 22,000 crowd, I’m sure 20,000 were Irish.” Although her teammate Nagano reached the quarter-finals with Japan, the midfielder was disappointed not to progress deeper into a tournament she believed her country could have won.

Social media status

In May Liverpool began a partnership with the campaign group Her Game Too to raise awareness of sexism in football. The goal is its eradication, leaving the sport a much more welcoming environment for female players, spectators and staff alike. An initiative promoted across the club’s social media channels is intended to enhance the work already done by Red Together, Liverpool FC’s equality, diversity and inclusion programme.

Contributor

Louise Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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