“They just maximized the situations,” said Chelsea boss Emma Hayes as she summed up her side’s opening weekend defeat to the resurgent Liverpool. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But nothing about beating reigning Women’s Super League champions Chelsea is simple. Far from.
Two penalty kicks ultimately decided the outcome, with Katie Stengel showing nerves of steel to take out both with confidence, nullifying Fran Kirby’s opener.
Liverpool’s long-awaited WSL return was a bull’s eye, not least as Matt Beard’s side had failed to beat Chelsea since 2014. Not only that, but the Blues had been crowned to victory in each of their last nine league outings – the joint longest running run in the league.
But old stats, often appealing to spectators and media outlets, don’t deter defender Rhiannon Roberts, affectionately known as ‘Razza’ on Merseyside.
She wants to focus on the here and now. Only then can you shut out the ambient noise and focus on the “upcoming job”. Only then can you become the second newly promoted team to win their opening match of a WSL campaign.
“We as a team know we can compete in the Super League,” Roberts told exclusively air sports. “The goal was to get a good start. The result was not a shock to us.
“We have the players and the team to do that with teams. Maybe a different result for other people, but in our circle it was not the case.”
“The girls have a great mentality. We are working very hard on restarts and resets [when falling behind in games]. We were under the cosh after admitting, but everyone was just concentrating on the work ahead. We’re in a really good place right now.”
The Merseyside club are back at the top after a two-year hiatus after being dropped from the WSL in 2020. It was a tumultuous chapter, marked by strained relations and insufficient support, as well as a global pandemic.
Even Jurgen Klopp has previously admitted that Liverpool FC was “not famous for treating women’s football extremely well”.
However, 2022-23 marks a different era. Under Beard’s tenure – his second stint in charge – the Reds have risen from the ashes stronger than ever, as evidenced by last week’s dramatic defeat to Chelsea.
But the result, striking as it was, came as no surprise to Roberts, having ridden emphatically to the women’s championship title last season – 11 points ahead of nearest rival London City.
It sparked a new dawn for Liverpool Women. One that hopes to replace many of those that preceded it.
Could this be the campaign where the WSL is witnessing its greatest hierarchical upheaval? Roberts believes so.
“We want to inject speed into games. After the European Championship we will see a higher turnout and we want to entertain. There has been real progress in the women’s game in recent years.
“Especially this season, the competition is so competitive. Teams are going to take points from each other up and down the table.
“I don’t think it should come as a shock to see teams that are traditionally strong in the WSL losing points. It sends a message. Aston Villa also beat Man City in the opening weekend.
“It’s a very exciting start to the WSL and it shows how other clubs have caught up. It’s 11 against 11 on the pitch, with hard work and togetherness there’s no reason why you couldn’t aim for three points from every game.” That’s our mentality.”
Winning can be like currency in football terms. Often, one win can yield much more. For Roberts, a campaign riddled with conquests, like the previous one, was the perfect tonic for a club that had previously endured a period of isolation and hardship.
Liverpool experienced a kind of rebirth. Once pushed aside, the two-time WSL champions are now preparing for a Merseyside derby to take place on the sacred Anfield grass. The buzz has returned and the appetite to compete has never been healthier, explains Roberts.
“Last season we got into the rhythm of winning. You can’t replace the feeling of winning every week.
“Mat [Beard] always tell us, ‘remember you’re still champion’. It gives us a boost to go to games. Hopefully we can create some forward momentum now. Beating Chelsea gives us confidence – it shows that we can compete.
“Our success is based on togetherness. We have good quality, but we also have good people. That has helped to create a positive environment in which individuals can thrive.
“When you’re happy off the pitch, you’re happy on the pitch most of the time. That’s when we started playing our best football.”
There’s more than just points at stake this weekend. Pride is at stake. The Reds take on Liverpool’s blue half at Anfield, live on air sports. It’s a game that Roberts and her teammates have been drawn to since the minute-long playlists were released over the summer.
An opportunity, brimming with opportunity, that tends to divide households in the same way the River Mersey cuts through the expanse of the North West.
“It’s the fixture you’re looking for,” said the defender with a stab of excitement. “If playing a Merseyside derby at Anfield isn’t fuel, I don’t know what is. Everyone is buzzing. It’s a big opportunity.”
“I played in the fixture in 2019 and it was incredible. The general public was amazing. We want as many people as possible at Anfield because that’s what we thrive on. It makes a huge difference.
“I remember there were over 23,000 in the ground the last time we played against Everton and it felt full.”
She added: “We want to be focused. Enjoy the opportunity. But we want to get points in the end. We set ourselves goals for the first five games and then goals until Christmas. We have high standards.
“We’re really looking forward to being under the lights, on a grass carpet, it’s going to be incredible. Hopefully some tasty tackles there too – it’s a derby after all.”
air sports – All 35 games will be available on Sky Sports’ flagship channels, including Sky Sports Premier League, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event.
Sky Sports News – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fans of Barclays FA WSL can enjoy Sky Sports News (channel 409) ongoing editorial coverage of the league and its storylines throughout the season.
Within the WSL – Hosted by award-winning broadcaster and journalist Jessica Creighton, Within the WSL is a comprehensive summary of all things Barclays FA Women’s Super League and women’s football. The half-hour show will be broadcast weekly on Sky Sports Premier League and will watch and watch matches, including in-depth analysis and exclusive player interviews. Viewers can expect gripping behind-the-scenes access, as well as a recap of all the action, both on and off the field.
Sky Sports Social – In addition to coverage and visibility for the competition on all of Sky Sports’ main social media channels, the tailor-made Twitter channel @SkySportsWSL remains the home of all Barclays FA WSL content on Sky Sports.
New for the 2022/23 season, the Sky Sports WSL TikTok account gives fans 360° coverage of the competition and gives them exclusive access to their new favorite players. Also a first for the competition, a new Snapchat Discover show The Dub aims to become the platform’s new hub for Barclays’ WSL content.
Air Showcase – All Sky customers will benefit from the opportunity to watch the opening weekend matches on Sky Showcase (channel 106) without a Sky Sports subscription. This channel is designed to curate some of the best shows, movies and sports of all Sky channels.
Sky Sports digital – Follow all the latest from the WSL on SkySports.com and in the app, including exclusive features and interviews, plus special live blog reports and in-game clips from matches live on Sky Sports. You can watch match highlights of every WSL game for free this season on Sky Sports’ digital platforms and YouTube channel.