LFC WomenMatt Beard column: New WSL season, Arsenal test and Maddy Cusack tribute
In his latest column, Liverpool FC Women manager Matt Beard previews the new 2023-24 Barclays Women’s Super League season and looks ahead to Sunday’s opener against Arsenal Women at Emirates Stadium.
We start the new WSL season on Sunday and we are all excited and can’t wait, and what a game we have taking on Arsenal at the Emirates.
I think it’s going to be an exciting season for sure. I think if you look at all the players who have come into this league and how strong every club has got in the off-season, it makes for an exciting WSL, so we are really looking forward to it.
Obviously it’s a tough one for us to start with against Arsenal and I think they have sold over 50,000 tickets so far for Sunday so it’s going to be a great occasion.
I’ve been really pleased with how our pre-season preparations have gone. If I look back on last pre-season we played a few Championship and a few WSL teams around us and it was good. We beat Aston Villa and we beat West Ham, but in this pre-season I feel we have really tested ourselves.
We have played against some of the top teams in Europe. We played Atletico Madrid, who beat Manchester City a few years ago in the Champions League, we played City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, so we have really tested ourselves. I wanted to do that because I think we learn more in these tougher games compared to others we might be more comfortable in.
For me, it was important that we really put ourselves into a position where we could test ourselves and it has also given us that belief that we can play, we can compete and we can create chances.
If I look back on the Leicester game we could have been out of sight within half an hour but we still scored three on the day, so I also look at the PSG game, the City and United games, all the chances we created that we didn’t take, so I’ve been really pleased with how it has gone.
Pre-season is completely different as you are not competing for points and it’s a completely different pressure with fitness and team shape the main aim, but I feel we are in a good place going into the season.
In terms of our recruitment we’ve brought seven new players in, which I’m delighted about.
The important thing for me with the recruitment was to add depth to this squad because last season we had a lot of injuries. We have added good-quality players as well as the depth, competition for places is there and nobody is guaranteed to play, which is a great thing for me.
On the injury front, Melissa Lawley isn’t a million miles away now and hopefully Leanne Kiernan won’t be too far behind as well but we’ve just got to be careful with her. Shanice van de Sanden is doing OK. She has been running so we anticipate that hopefully next week we might start to see her back in some sort of team activities. Mia Enderby’s injury thankfully wasn’t serious as she got a sprain on her shoulder so she is back training now.
Mel is now involved with the team, she has been in all summer. We gave her a week off last week so she will be back in training later this week. She is probably a couple of weeks away but maybe she could be on the bench for the derby with Everton at Anfield on October 15.
Mel has been fantastic. She has been in all summer, got her head down and worked really hard. We can’t wait to have her back into the mix.
We are now settled in at our new home at the AXA Melwood Training Centre and this is game-changing for us. We have a facility where we can make sure that all the players are catered for right across the board in everything from nutrition, recovery, gym etc, everything we need.
We’ve got world-class facilities and the great thing about Melwood is every time I’ve been there and people have come up to me who have worked there before or are associated with the club, they talk about it like being home.
We have fantastic ground staff, fantastic kitchen staff, it just feels like a little family and it’s just great and we are honoured and delighted to be there.
As I said, Arsenal away at the Emirates is certainly a tough way to start our season but it’s one we are embracing and we are really looking forward to it.
They have brought five new players in, including England striker Alessia Russo. It’s an interesting process and it was tough for them to go out of the Champions League.
If you look at it, they had everyone away at the World Cup apart from two players, so for them to have to play a Champions League game straight away after that is tough.
Hopefully we can take advantage of that on Sunday because we have had the benefit of a full pre-season, which Arsenal haven’t had, so we need to take full advantage of that.
But Arsenal have played at the Emirates a lot so it’s something that they will be used to. I’m sure eyes will be on them because of what happened in the Champions League but we just want to concentrate on ourselves, be the best version of ourselves on the day and hopefully that will be enough for us to get something out of the game.
As far as expectations go for this season, we definitely want to improve on what we did last year.
I feel we have got a more rounded squad now and if I look at formations, the 5-3-2 was really good for us in the back end of last season, and once we get Mel, Shanice and Leanne back we then have the ability to play 4-3-3, so tactically we have got a few different ways of playing.
We really want to improve on last year and we would love to try to break into that top five in the WSL and also go as far as we can in the cup competitions, but we kick off every season with the ambition to finish as high up the league table as we can.
If you go back two or three years ago in the women’s game, there was a lot of one-year contracts with players moving from club to club, but now there’s a lot more financial stability in the WSL right across the board.
There is still a massive gap between the top and the bottom but now we have tied players into two- and three-year contracts so we can really build something here I think.
If we are going to be successful we want to build a team that we can grow and then just add quality as we go if it’s needed because I do feel we have a talented team here.
If you look at the players we have signed, Natasha Flint is the oldest at just 27, so we wanted to make sure we are building a team that can grow because when you have a lot of new players and play in the WSL it is unforgiving, so it can take a little bit of time.
We want the players to learn and we are OK with them making mistakes but they have got to learn from those mistakes and I just feel this season could be a great stepping stone of where we want to be in the future.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say everyone at Liverpool Football Club was devastated to hear the news about Maddy Cusack passing away. We send their manager Jonathan Morgan, Sheffield United, Maddy’s family and friends all our love, thoughts and prayers.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support.
Matt Beard was speaking to Liverpoolfc.com's Steve Hunter