Having gone from back-to-back WSL titles, Liverpool didn’t just fall from grace last season, they plummeted from grace, hitting the ground with an undignified thud.
The end of the 2015 season couldn’t come soon enough for the Reds, half the team looking like they belonged on the set of Casualty, a last day drubbing to already downed Bristol the final humiliation.
Since then there have been wholesale changes in Widnes, Matt Beard left his role at the club to manage stateside and deputy Scott Rogers was given the task of rebuilding the team. Natasha Dowie, Becky Easton and Katrin Omarsdottir all left for Doncaster, Nicole Rosler headed back to Germany, countryman Corina Schroder Birmingham-bound and Libby Stout left to follow Beard to Boston.
One of the few positives of the 2015 season had been the array of young players who stepped up to the plate, Katie Zelem, Maz Pacheco and Ashley Hodson all given a run in the squad and Rogers had been paying attention and endeavoured to promote youth where he could although the young manager brought in a raft of talent.
A raft of new faces
Looking to the continent, Dutch duo Shanice van de Sanden and Mandy van den Berg were snapped up, so too Emma Lundh, WSL favourites, Siobhan Chamberlain, Caroline Weir, Sophie Ingle and Natasha Harding made Liverpool their new home. Life-long Liverpool fan Alex Greenwood made switch from Notts County and Laura Coombs was brought in on a season-long loan from Chelsea.
With a new cast of characters it took the Reds a little time to fully settle with each other, the training pitch a world away from actual game time. Their first competitive match was a home loss to Manchester City that saw them ejected from the FA Cup before they could even start, their first league game brought about happier news and they held their nerve to hold Birmingham off for a 1-0 in Widnes. A spirited draw against Sunderland followed before an unlucky loss to Chelsea, the Blues riding their luck up north just as Liverpool had done against Birmingham.
A 3-2 at Meadow Lane followed, the Reds all but out of the game after a subpar first-half, a late rally almost paying dividends before the Liverpudlians ended up on the wrong side of a 6-3 in Staines. Undone by silly mistakes, the Reds learned from their errors and grew with confidence, a 4-0 against Sunderland the shot in the arm their season needed – back-to-back draws against Man City either side of the mid-season break no mean feat.
July a complete success that started with a tight 1-0 against Everton in the League Cup that propelled them into a 2-0 league win the following week against Reading, a frustrating draw against Notts on a balmy Saturday afternoon kept them on the up before they finished the month on a high in Borehamwood with two fine goals against Arsenal.
Topsy-turvy to the finish
An extra-time loss to Birmingham saw their cup dreams cut short before back-to-back 1-0’s against Reading and Doncaster kept them pushing up the table, the top two well out of range but the next two down up for the taking. Getting over a 1-2 loss against the Blues with a 3-1 against the Belles before being soundly beaten 5-3 by the Gunners in Widnes on the last day of the season.
A season of ups and downs, silly but fixable errors and a team very much in transition but on the up. There are a number of pleasing things about this team, the personnel for the most part seems just about right, everyone clicking well, Ingle and Gemma Bonner forming a solid centre-back partnership – Bonner one of the revelations of the season, the defender completely stepping up her game in 2016.
There might still be a piece or two missing in attack but van de Sanden and Weir are well capable of getting the goals the Reds need to win games, Chamberlain usually reliable in goal should someone get though the backline. Balance the key for Rogers in his first season in charge, sometimes the scales have tipped one way or another but Liverpool have rarely been completely outplayed or just not at the races, the new-look team developing at a fine rate and very possibly the ones to watch in 2017.