After Liverpool wrapped up their season in the FA Women’s Championship, we take a look at some of the story lines and standout performers. This will be the first in a series of articles looking over the past season and ahead to next season.
The Liverpool FC Women wrapped up their season this past weekend with a 2-2 draw against London City. The Reds finished the season in third place. It was a tumultuous season, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and a thin squad. Let’s take an initial look back at the season to highlight some of the story lines and standout performers.
Major Story Lines
No Return To The WSL
After Liverpool were relegated from the covid-shortened WSL season, there was a hope that the team would be able to bounce right back up. Yet another tumultuous offseason with several key players opting to leave the team, and voicing their displeasure with what was going on behind the scenes on the way out, did not bode well.
Still, for the first couple of months of the season Liverpool looked like they would be in the hunt for the sole promotion spot. Unfortunately, a poor run of results in the late fall and winter derailed any hope of winning the FA Women’s Championship to earn promotion. Despite a good run to end the season, finishing third can’t be seen as anything other than a disappointment.
A Change At The Top
Vicky Jepson seemed to have the goodwill of the fans and the LFC hierarchy coming into this season. She had been lauded for he work with player development when she was head of the Academy, and now had several of the players she had brought through the system playing for her at the senior level.
While Jepson excelled with player development, she seemed to struggle with tactics. Her team seemed to struggle to find a cohesive identity, instead relying on the individual talents of players like Rinsola Babajide, Rachel Furness, and Melissa Lawley. The team had the frustrating habit of taking shots at the first site of goal, no matter the distance.
Despite a poor run of form, it still came as a surprise when Jepson was let go in January. It was not clear initially whether Jepson left of her own volition or was asked to leave, but eventually it came out that it was the latter. In her stead, Amber Whiteley was announced as the interim manager.
Whiteley herself had just joined Liverpool in December, and was an unknown quantity. She immediately changed the shape of the team, and put more of an emphasis on controlling the game with Liverpool’s young, talented midfield. After losing her first game in charge to the league leading Leicester City, Whiteley coached her side to a seven game unbeaten streak before again losing to Leicester City.
While Whiteley came into a difficult situation and helped Liverpool to finish the season on a positive note, the Athletic recently broke news that former LFC manager Matt Beard would be rejoining the club to take the helm for next season. The news has not been confirmed by the club at this point.
One of the bright spots of these last couple seasons has been the emergence of Rinsola Babajide, who was one of the few constant attacking threats on the team. She used her scintillating close control and pace to beat players regularly on the dribble. She also displayed great vision and touch when combining with her teammates. Her stellar play early in the season earned her a first call up to the England National Team.
As Liverpool’s season unraveled over the winter, she voiced her desire to play at the highest level to stay in the national team picture. Liverpool were upset with Babajide’s request to go out on loan or to be sold, and instead sent her to train with the Academy team for the rest of the season. While we will never know all the details of what went on behind the scenes, it was a bad look for Liverpool to bench their star player with no explanation, especially after so many other star players have left the last couple of years due to poor training conditions. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool decide to sell Babajide this summer, or if they attempt to mend fences.
The left back joined Liverpool from Everton over the summer, and immediately proved to be a two-way force. Hinds proved to be a smooth operator going forward, combining extremely well with Rinsola Babajide. She was cool and calm on the ball, and was quite good at playing a progressive pass even when under pressure. Hinds also proved to be a strong 1v1 defender, locking down attacks coming down her side of the field. Only 22 years old, she has a bright future in front of her, hopefully with Liverpool.
Missy Bo Kearns
The young Scouser started the year making cameos in Liverpool’s midfield. By the winter, she was a regular, whether as a starter or first off the bench. Bo Kearns displayed sensational vision and touch with her passing from midfield, and took over free kick duties when she was on the field despite just turning 20 in April. Kearns also showed intelligent movement from an attacking midfield role that belied her young age. Bo Kearns has the potential to be an absolute star at the highest level. The question will be whether Liverpool will take the opportunity to build a legitimate contender around their young local product, or will she be just one more player who moves on in a season or two to find an opportunity to compete at a high level.
While Bo Kearns will garner most of the plaudits, Amy Rodgers quietly established herself as another quality young midfielder that Liverpool can build around. Only turning 21 on May 4 (happy birthday Amy!), Rodgers was forced into action playing in a holding role when Jade Bailey went out with an injury that required surgery. Rodgers showed great passing range, spraying the ball to attackers with nice precision. She also showed a willingness to get stuck in on the defensive side. She managed to chip in with a couple goals later on in the season after Liverpool changed shape to a double pivot that allowed her to get forward more.
The Northern Irishwoman was absolutely the heart and soul of this team. Furness did it all for the Reds. She frequently popped up to score goals, she served as a creative outlet from midfield, and she never shied away from mixing it up to challenge for the ball from box to box. Her spirit and grit helped drag Liverpool to a couple late victories early in the season, and her presence on the field was missed after a couple of injuries kept her sidelined for much of the spring.
Where there any other players that you felt deserved to be recognized after the season? Got another intriguing story line? Add your thoughts to the comments below!
Stay tuned as we continue to take a look at how each of the different units, from defense to attack, performed this past season, as well as looking ahead to next year.