Ahead of Sunday's 2020-21 season-opener against Durham, Liverpool FC Women manager Vicky Jepson outlines her hopes for the new campaign in her latest column ahead of the big kick-off.
Our new season starts on Sunday when we host Durham in our first game at Prenton Park... and it’s fair to say we are chomping at the bit waiting for that first whistle to go off!
It’s been a long time coming but we are really ready, we are focused and we are prepared. We’ve built great foundations during the pre-season and we are just looking forward to getting going now. The girls have worked so hard and adapted so well because, obviously, when we returned for pre-season training it wasn’t like any other pre-season we've experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to go through the protocols to make sure that all of our players are safe and returned back safely in this pandemic. We have got through that and the girls have worked tirelessly hard; every time they’ve turned up to training they have pushed it to another level. The new players have come in and added fresh blood to the squad and also that positive energy around the team has been incredible. In addition, we announced a new captain in Niamh Fahey with Rachel Furness as vice-captain, so there have been lots of changes. We’ve even got the new kit and I’m feeling really positive ready to start the first game of the season.
Our main objective is to get promotion straight back to the Women’s Super League. We’ve got clear goals which we want to achieve, which we speak about and we keep in-house. We know it’s going to be tough. The Championship has different challenges than the WSL. We know that some teams are part-time, but we can’t take that for granted and have to make sure that we out-work them and out-wit them in every single game that we play. We will also have challenges that when we travel away we will be playing on 3G pitches. The WSL moved away from that as no-one plays on a 3G anymore but in the Women’s Championship they do. That’s something we are going to have to get used to and the medical challenges as well that come with that. The ball also rolls and bounces differently on a 3G pitch so there are little things that we need to adapt, think about and make sure we control. We must make sure we don’t get overwhelmed by anything in the league and we have real clear strategies to overcome any challenges that is thrown at us during the season, but it is very clear what we want to achieve.
We are looking forward to playing at Prenton Park on Sunday. Tranmere Rovers have done a fantastic job with their new pitch. It’s a great surface and I’m delighted we will get the opportunity to play on it. It’s probably one of the best pitches in this league by far, so it’s incredible we get to play on that this season. We have played Durham previously in cup competitions and it’s always been a tough battle. Durham are a unique team and I say that because they have been together for so many years and it’s rare that they lose players. They always retain their squad so with that comes consistency in how they work for each other. We certainly won’t be taking them for granted because it’s important we keep our standards and prepare the right way for every single game. We know it’s going to be tough but we are really looking forward to the challenge on Sunday.
It is important to mention that, sadly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are still playing behind closed doors. I personally am going to miss our fans because we have such a core group of loyal supporters who come to every game and hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will see them again soon. We will miss them but we know they are still there in the background supporting us from afar. I do feel that Liverpool as a club have the most special fans globally and we have one of the biggest fan bases, so it’s great that our female players can also feel that support. We need our fans’ support more than ever now to rise back to where we belong and to do that our supporters will certainly help us and give us that extra bit of motivation to keep pushing on.
It’s been a busy close season for us with four new signings. Our goalkeeper Rachael Laws, who of course won the Women’s Super League title in her first spell here, she has been an incredible signing for us. She keeps the back four really calm and composed in the way we retain and build from the back and also she creates attacks for us as well, as her distribution is phenomenal. Her maturity and her leadership has been incredible and she has really grabbed our goalkeeper’s union, as we call it, by the ears and taken them to a new level. Along with Rylee Foster, we also have a young England youth international goalkeeper with us who has really took on board the advice and inspiration Rachael has given her. I’m really pleased with the impact she has brought to our team.
Taylor Hinds, our left-back who we signed from Everton, has played in every minute of pre-season and is back on the pitch and doing what she does best. She is full of confidence and has grown in every single game and long may that continue for us. She is well liked amongst the group.
We have a new No.9 in Amalie Thestrup. It was great to see her get her first goal in a red shirt against Reading, which was a phenomenal strike. She has played many minutes in pre-season, she has fitted in well and I’m sure she will get many goals for us this season. She is relentless with the intensity that she presses and plays in that final third so it’s exciting.
Last week we announced our new centre-half from New Zealand, Meikayla Moore. Meikayla trained twice last week and has been training this week so we’ve got to build her back up ready for her to make a return to the pitch. The reason why I wanted to sign Meikayla is because she comes with that international experience at centre-half. She has played for New Zealand and she has got really good core values and morals. She really buys into what we are about as a club and what we need to achieve as a team going forward. It’s an area we certainly needed to strengthen following the news that Sophie Bradley-Auckland will be missing for a while for the right reasons. Having had conversations with Meikayla and having a real high reference from her international manager Tom Sermanni, she was certainly the right fit to come in. She will come in with great experience and a real determination to keep those clean sheets for us this season.
I would also like to welcome Susan Black, who this week was appointed as executive director of Liverpool FC Women. I have known Susan for many years, she has always been a great sounding board and mentor, leading the way for women in football, while inspiring and empowering others. Every project Susan has picked up at the club she has excelled with – she is relentless in making sure all of her projects succeed. I can’t wait to have Susan on this journey with us and I have every confidence that she will be pivotal in laying down new foundations that allow us to strive for success. The future is looking bright for LFCW with a new chapter ahead.
We also had the Continental League Cup draw this week, which sees us face a lot of local derbies against Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City. It does bring a different challenge for the girls. Some could look at it and say, 'Oh gosh, we are never going to get out of that group', but if you don’t see it you’ll never achieve it. I see it for us as an exciting challenge. We’ve always embraced playing against top teams. Last season we got points off Chelsea and narrowly lost out to Arsenal and Manchester City. We were also unlucky to lose to Everton at Anfield so they were close games. It’s good to be challenged out of your comfort zone so we’ll take it on board, we’ll embrace it and we’ll give everything we can to get out of that group. If we don’t, at least we’ll take a lot from it and we’ll grow again.
LFC Women begin their FA Women’s Championship campaign on Sunday against Durham, with fans reminded that this is a behind-closed-doors game due to the continuing restrictions regarding COVID-19. Kick-off at Prenton Park is at 2pm BST and fans can watch the game live on The FA Player.