WSL: Chelsea v Liverpool
Liverpool's Faye Kirby made a sensational WSL debut, but it wasn't enough to keep Chelsea at bay as the Blues earned a late 2-1 win
4 May 2023
Sam Kerr scored a late winner for Chelsea as they came from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday evening in the WSL. Emma Koivisto had given the visitors an early lead before Niamh Charles equalised for the Blues just before half time. The win sees Chelsea close the gap on the Manchester clubs at the top of the league to four points behind United and one behind City with two games in hand on them both.
This was Chelsea’s first league match since their 3-0 win over Aston Villa on the 2nd April, having been in FA Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League action since then. Emma Hayes made one change from their draw in Barcelona last Thursday with Lauren James coming in for Maren Mjelde who had jarred her back. They started in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Charles and Guro Reiten playing in the wing-back roles, Eve Perisset was one of the back three with James joining Kerr up front.
Matt Beard made four changes for Liverpool from their disappointing result and performance against Leicester at the weekend. Out went Rachael Laws, Leighanne Robe, Fuka Nagano and Katie Stengel. Coming in for them were goalkeeper Faye Kirby, who was making her WSL debut, Rhiannon Roberts, Gemma Bonner and Miri Taylor. They lined up in a 5-3-2 formation with Koivisto and Taylor Hinds playing as wing backs and getting forward when they could. When defending, the defence and midfield played very close together so it felt like there were about eight players for Chelsea to get through at times.
The home fans may have still been eating the free hot dogs promised by Hayes after the original game was called off after six minutes due to a frozen pitch in January when the visitors took the lead in the 2nd minute. After winning the ball in midfield, Liverpool attacked with Natasha Dowie’s cross finding Koivisto running in unmarked at the far post who finished past Ann-Katrin Berger.
Erin Cuthbert had Chelsea’s first effort at goal eight minutes in but shot over from 25-yards. A Perisset free kick was easily claimed by Kirby in the 11th minute. Bonner blocked Kerr’s effort four minutes later. Kirby got down low to save a Reiten shot shortly after.
Liverpool saw a long-range effort from Dowie was easily caught by Berger. The Reds were defending well and looked organised, blocking a Chelsea effort before Kerr put a shot wide. Kirby made a good one-handed save to stop Kerr’s flicked header in the 23rd minute. Jessie Fleming shot wide a minute later
The visitors were slow taking a throw in after half an hour and got warned by referee Abigail Byrne. Koivisto was booked for the same offence a few minutes later.
During a break for treatment to an injured Liverpool player, Hayes took the chance to have a chat to her players and changed formation to 4-2-3-1. She admitted after that she probably took too long to make this change as they were missing Mjelde playing the back three. This change also allowed their play-makers to be somewhere else on the pitch which Hayes said they felt they needed.
Chelsea equalised soon after this tactical change but the goal came from a set piece. Perisset put in a corner which Charles headed into the net in the 41st minute.
Liverpool had the final chances of the half during the four minutes of stoppage time with Shanice van de Sanden seeing an effort saved then Dowie’s shot which was blocked by Perisset.
Chelsea had the first opportunity in the second half but James saw her effort comfortably saved.
The Blues players did a bit more switching of positions when they made a double substitution in the 54th minute with Fleming dropping back alongside Melanie Leupolz in midfield, Pernille Harder came on and went in the middle behind Kerr with Jelena Cankovic going in the right-side attacking position.
Liverpool’s two wing backs almost combined but Koivisto deep cross couldn’t find Hinds running in at far post.
Cankovic was putting in some dangerous crosses but no-one could get on the end of these or direct the ball towards goal.
Liverpool brought on another defender in the 68th minute when Robe replaced Taylor meaning Roberts was pushed slightly further forward into a defensive midfield position.
Kerr put a chance over in the 73rd minute, before Harder was allowed to run towards the but her shot went wide a minute later.
A final slight positional change for Chelsea in the 80th minute saw Cankovic drop back into midfield when Johanna Rytting Kaneryd was brought on and she went on the right side.
Reiten had ball in net for the hosts in the 82nd minute but the flag was up for offside.
Chelsea did score a second, and what turned out to be the winner, in the 86th minute. Fleming’s shot from outside the area hit the woodwork and Kerr was first to the rebound to score despite Kirby getting a touch on the ball.
During the eight minutes of added time, Harder saw an effort blocked, and then a long ball forward was headed on by Kerr to Harder but Robe tackled before the Dane could shoot. The final whistle went seconds later.
After the match when speaking to the press, Hayes said that Chelsea’s performance had showed they had not played a WSL match for a month, “we needed this game to get back into WSL, it is such a different game”. She felt they were asleep for the first 10 minutes of the game and this might be a “little bit of a hungover from the semi-final (UWCL against Barcelona), playing in front of 72,000 people and then 1,600, there is an adjustment and the first half reflected that”. She continued by saying they “found new levels of grind and new levels of dig today” to get the win.
Beard said afterwards that he was disappointed for the Liverpool players as he thinks they “deserved a point” because of the way they defended. He admitted they “rode their luck at times” but considering everything that happened, they deserved something. After the disappointing performance against Leicester, he was happy with the commitment and desire the players showed against Chelsea.
Both sides are at home on Sunday in the WSL with Chelsea taking on Everton and Liverpool host Manchester City.
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) (changed to 4-2-3-1 during the first half): Berger, Perisset, Carter, Eriksson (c), Charles, Cuthbert (Cankovic 54’), Leupolz (Kaneryd 80’), Reiten, Fleming (Ingle 88’), James (Harder 54’), Kerr
Unused substitutes: Musovic, Abdullina
Goals – Charles 41’, Kerr 86’
Liverpool (5-3-2): Kirby, Koivisto, Roberts, Matthews, Bonner, Hinds (c), Taylor (Robe 68’), Kearns (Humphrey 82’), Holland (Lundgaard 60’), van de Sanden (Stengel 68’), Dowie
Unused substitutes: Laws, Cummings
Goal – Koivisto 2’
Booked – Koivisto, Kirby
Referee – Abigail Byrne
Attendance – 1,664