Everton look to dominate at Anfield in a historic WSL Merseyside derby
Last Sunday, Liverpool Men drove Reds wild at Anfield when they beat Manchester City 3-1, extending their lead at the top of the Premier League table. This Sunday will be the first women’s Merseyside derby at Anfield since 1997 but the Red Women will enter it on the opposite end of the table as their male counterparts. After a winless start of the season, they are currently in the relegation zone. Liverpool Women are struggling so much that they have even lost to two second-tier teams in the Continental Cup.
Liverpool may be a football-mad city with a strong rivalry, but it has not kept up with the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea in terms of resources and devotion to their women's team. When Liverpool Women visited the United States over the summer for a preseason tour, playing non-league teams at universities like Harvard and Notre Dame, Reds manager Vicky Jepson was impressed with the facilities there. “They really looked after us, she said. “It was a breath of fresh air to get that support. In England we get pushed to one side. We are not a priority. In the US, they were in awe of what we were doing but I guess that's just their opinion of women's soccer.”
This is shocking, coming from a club that provides Jürgen Klopp’s team with anything he wants; for instance, a throw-in coach or a head of nutrition who provides the men’s team with locally sourced organic menus like roast venison loin with an herb and nut crust and roasted plums.
Jepson had taken the preseason trip to the United States to be a sign that the club was starting to invest more in the women’s side. "This time last year we didn't have the best reputation as a women's set-up," she said. "There was a period where the game probably outgrew our club. We have managed to put ourselves in a very good position."
Unfortunately, the results have yet to come. The team have only scored one goal in five games and will be going into this derby as the underdogs. So, why are Liverpool Women so surprisingly bad this season?
Well, for one thing, their most prolific striker, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, has been absolutely stymied on the pitch and has yet to score a single goal. Here’s a comparison of Sweetman-Kirk’s current season vs last season:
Sweetman-Kirk entered the WSL three seasons ago as a Blue. Before Everton signed her, she had consistently been a top goalscorer in the second tier of the WSL and then went on to become a top goalscorer for the Toffees and earned WSL Player of the Month in November 2017. She then did the unthinkable and signed with Liverpool in 2018, where she went on to score 10 goals.
Finishing was her claim to fame something she spoke about focusing on in training:
“I work a lot on my finishing and I find that’s the thing that helps the most. You can’t always replicate the same pressure in training as in a match but the more you do it, the more I find it becomes a bit of an automatic thing. I watch analysis on opposition keepers too to see what their habits are, if they normally stay on their line or rush out for example.”
She chose her scoring opportunities wisely as is evidenced by this shot map from last season:
Compare that to this season’s shot map, which suggests that she's either forgotten where the goal is, or is struggling with a lack of service.
In a rapidly changing league, Liverpool may not have been ambitious enough during the offseason to keep up with clubs like Chelsea who, adding strength to strength, have just announced the signing of one of the best players in the world, Sam Kerr.
Everton, on the other hand, have escaped what had seemed like a predetermined fate to come in second to last place every season by exceeding expectations, and are currently in 5th place. So why are Everton so surprisingly good this season?
While the Reds’ striker has been coming up empty, the Blues have one of the most in-form attackers in the WSL in Chloe Kelly. After only scoring once in 11 appearances last season before undergoing ankle surgery in February, Kelly has since rehabbed into the Bionic Woman. Playing mainly from the left wing she's scoring worldlies from way downtown and is currently the top goalscorer of the league, with four goals out of five games, beating out even Arsenal wunderkind Vivianne Miedema.
Unfortunately for Everton, however, Kelly will miss the match due to a red card suspension, nullifying one of their most surprisingly successful weapons of the season.
Everton also had a much busier offseason than Liverpool, with manager Willie Kirk bringing in six new players, one of whom was a new starting goalkeeper, Finland international Tinja-Riikka Korpela, who has kept three clean sheets and is currently tied with Mary Earps for the second-best goalkeeping record in the WSL.
Two other new additions, Lucy Graham and Maeva Clemeron, join Kelly as the top three in combined tackles and interceptions on the team, the backbone of a revamped Everton defense.
A strong home fan turnout at Anfield, a 54,000 capacity seat stadium, could help bolster the Reds to beat the odds and win on Sunday. Both teams have suffered low attendance in the past, but Everton’s tendency to have the lowest in the WSL continues even after the World Cup bump, with an average home game attendance of just 383, up from last season’s paltry 192. Liverpool is faring better with an average of 1,180 so far this season, which will be shattered on Sunday.
But regardless of turnout, the match could provide an extremely rare occurrence: an Everton win over Liverpool at Anfield.