Liverpool FC Women are back in Championship action on Sunday as they host Blackburn Rovers at Prenton Park.
The Reds’ last game was almost a fortnight ago, when they continued their recent resurgence with an emphatic 5-0 victory over Coventry United.
That result stretched Amber Whiteley’s unbeaten run to four games, and she will be hoping to continue that with another home win against Rovers, which would help the Reds put further pressure on second place Durham.
With just four games of the season remaining promotion seems to be out of the question for Liverpool. They are still 10 points behind swashbuckling leaders Leicester, who look set to romp to the title having tasted defeat just once all season.
Liverpool’s two losses against the Foxes earlier in the campaign, as well as too many draws all but ended their chances of bouncing back up to the WSL at the first attempt, as they had a mountain to climb by the start of February to even get back into contention to win promotion.
They have managed to claw back some credibility in recent weeks and salvage some pride from what could have been a disastrous season in the second tier for the former WSL winners.
With the pressure of a promotion push lifted and Whiteley’s arrival, the shackles seem to have come off and the Reds have played some of their best football of the campaign in recent weeks.
Their three consecutive wins and clean sheets in their last three games show the strides forward the side has taken in the last two months, and they will be hoping to improve their league standing to reflect their upward trajectory under their interim boss.
If they manage to win on Sunday and Durham lose against fourth place Sheffield United, Liverpool would move to within four points of the Wildcats, and they crucially have a game in hand over Lee Sanders’ side.
It would make for an exciting end to the season to see who will finish runner up, and from the Reds’ perspective, a second place finish, given the tumultuous nature of this campaign for Liverpool, would be viewed as a success, when you factor in all their problems they have had.
It would also give whoever comes into the dugout on a permanent basis in the summer, strong foundations to build upon to launch a stronger promotion push next season, as it may sway a number of players to stay on to get Liverpool out of the Championship.
The importance of winning Sunday’s game, and every one from now until the end of the season, cannot therefore, be underestimated, and neither should the Reds’ opponents for this weekend’s clash.
Rovers are languishing in seventh place in the table, having endured an inconsistent season, but they did frustrate Liverpool earlier in the season, holding the Reds to a goalless draw the last time these sides met in November.Embed from Getty Images
They have also drawn with Durham and Sheffield United this campaign, as well as pushing Leicester close at the end of last year, losing 3-2 against the league leaders, having launched a spirited comeback in the second half, but just falling short of getting a late equaliser.
Although those draws against the top sides were impressive, they have been tainted by the fact that they have come in the midst of Blackburn’s eight game streak without a win, which stretches back to the end of November.
They will be hoping their fortunes change on Merseyside on Sunday, as they look to upset the odds and get back to winning ways against the Reds to enable them to push towards the top half of the table.
They lost 3-0 to Lewes in their last outing and Liverpool will be licking their lips at Rovers’ defensive frailties which were on show in that encounter, given the array of attacking talent Liverpool have at their disposal.
Amber Whiteley should have almost a full squad to choose from and yet another selection headache given the recent upturn in performances of many of the players.
She could opt to name an unchanged lineup for the first time of her short tenure in charge, given how well the starting XI fared against Coventry.
That would mean deploying Becky Jane as a winger once again, with her and Hodson wreaking havoc on the flanks last time out at Prenton Park with their pace and delivery into the final third.
Whiteley has tended to use Jane in this position when the Reds are at home and the onus is on them to break down a low block, and so one should expect to see her on the right flank once again for this one.
Ceri Holland is now one of the first names on the team sheets and will be hoping to add to her three goals in four games since joining the Reds at the end of January.
The FA Women’s Championship player of the month has been a great addition and is keeping the likes of Rodgers and Lawley out of the team, no mean feat considering the contribution of the latter in recent weeks off the bench.
With Rachel Furness seemingly over her injury knock Whiteley has a real dilemma as to where the Norther Irish woman, arguably Liverpool’s most important and consistent player this season, will fit in.Embed from Getty Images
Missy Bo Kearns, who had a brief stint at Blackburn last season, has stepped up in Furness’ absence and has shone in recent weeks in the number ten position normally occupied by the former Tottenham midfielder.
Kearns has been picking up good positions and linking play really well with those around her, but evidently is not as clinical in front of goal as Furness, who has rifled in seven goals so far this term.
Whiteley may look to drop Holland further back, to accommodate the attacking trio, but she would then be forced to drop Jade Bailey, when the defensive midfielder has played a pivotal role in setting the Reds on their way in games by breaking up play in the middle of the park.
Another option may be to play Furness even further forward, maybe as a false nine in place of Kirsty Linnett, whose performances have gone under the radar in recent weeks, due to the fact that others around her have been getting in amongst the goals.
There are evidently various combinations Whiteley could use, but it is clear that finding the first choice midfield three when everyone is fit and firing is going to be quite the conundrum for the interim boss.
Irrespective of who starts, Whiteley will be able to call upon a strong bench with a number of players able to come on and make a difference if needed.
That much has been proven in recent weeks with the likes of Lawley, Rodgers, Kearns and Furness all being introduced in the second period of games and helping to turn them in Liverpool’s favour.
The Reds will be hoping that the two week break won’t dent their momentum which positive results week in week out had afforded them.
The time off to work solely on the training ground will hopefully have enabled Whiteley to continue to implement her philosophy on the side, helping them to fine tune playing out from the back and becoming more clinical in front of goal.
Above all the interval will have been used for players to recharge both physically and mentally ahead of an intense end to what has been a challenging season.
Here’s hoping the Reds will come flying out of the blocks firing on all cylinders as they have in their previous two home games, as they look to make Prenton Park a fortress and edge closer to claiming second place in the table.
Liverpool’s game with Blackburn kicks off at 6:30pm on Sunday night at Prenton Park and will be streamed on Liverpool’s YouTube channel.
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