Liverpool FC Women begin their FA Women’s Cup campaign at the fourth round stage with a trip to Championship winners Leicester City on Sunday.
If the Reds manage to get past the Foxes, they will play either Burnley or WSL high flyers Manchester United in the next round of the competition. Liverpool will be hoping for a similarly smooth passage to the fifth round, this campaign, after they cruised to an 8-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at the same stage last term.
They will face an entirely different proposition on Sunday however, with the odds stacked heavily against them for this game. Leicester have lost just once in the league, winning 15 of their 18 games and notching a half-century of goals.
Jonathan Morgan’s team wrapped up the title and promotion to the WSL for the first time with two games to spare at the start of this month, after a 2-0 victory over London City, to cap off a truly remarkable season.
Liverpool are bidding to defeat the Foxes for the first time this season, having lost the previous two encounters with the Midlands side this campaign. They were outclassed by Leicester in the first game in October at Farley Way. The home side raced into a two-goal lead through two superb finishes in either half from teenagers Paige Bailey-Gayle and Lachante Paul.
Jess Clarke pulled a goal back for the Reds after a goalmouth scramble, but they couldn’t nab an equaliser as they surrendered their unbeaten start to the league season.
They suffered an even more damaging defeat to the Foxes, again by the same scoreline in January, which killed all hopes of a swift return to the WSL at the first time of asking. The Reds, in their first game under Amber Whiteley, scored first as Missy Bo Kearns slid in to convert the opener after only ten minutes, to net her first goal of the season.
It went downhill for Liverpool after the goal, as Natasha Flint hauled Leicester level from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time. Melissa Lawley was then shown a straight red card, just seconds after being introduced from the bench at the start of the second period.
The Reds defended resolutely considering they were a player down, but couldn’t hold on for a vital point as Charlie Devlin fired a shot, which squirmed under Laws, into the net nine minutes from time to seal the victory for Leicester and condemn Liverpool to defeat.
It was a hugely dispiriting loss, but the one bright spark was the emergence of Kearns. The Scouser, who celebrated her 20th birthday during the week, has blossomed since that Leicester game, establishing herself as a key attacking outlet for Liverpool.
She was a substitute when the Reds were last in action a fortnight ago against Lewes, but having had a week off – Kearns wasn’t on international duty like some of her teammates – she will surely be restored to the starting XI for such a game of this magnitude given her creative prowess in the middle of the park.
The former Blackburn loanee should come in as a straight swap for the injured Rachel Furness on Sunday, in what is likely to be Whiteley’s only change from the side who beat Lewes 2-0 at Prenton Park.
Furness looked to have damaged her ankle in the first leg of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2022 play off tie against Ukraine. The midfielder put her country ahead with a crucial away goal after only five minutes, but was forced off in tears after a heavy impact from the ball on her ankle on the half hour mark, ended her night prematurely.
She was spotted in a protective boot and crutches amidst wild celebrations in Belfast on Tuesday night, as Northern Ireland made history, qualifying for their first ever major tournament by beating Ukraine 4-1 on aggregate over the two legs.
It doesn’t look good from a Liverpool perspective, and it later transpired that Furness had actually broken her leg and her season is over.Embed from Getty Images
Amber Whiteley will be sweating over the fitness of midfielder Jade Bailey after she departed against Lewes with a suspected hamstring strain.
She went for a precautionary scan after the game but did not appear to feature in the Reds’ inhouse game against their u21 squad last week, or in pictures posted by the club on their various social media platforms.
Whiteley will no doubt give her all the time she needs to prove her fitness given her importance in anchoring Liverpool’s midfield, and giving the likes of Kearns and Holland in front of her, the platform to influence the game further up the field.
Speaking of Holland, she will return from the international break brimming with confidence, after she made her full debut for Wales against Canada, before starting the next game, a 1-1 draw with Denmark in Cardiff.
Alongside her for both those fixtures was Reds teammate Rhiannon Roberts, who looks set to continue her spell at right back for Liverpool, as well as her country, with Becky Jane likely to continue as a converted winger, to give Liverpool immense pace on both flanks.
Amber Whiteley was recently crowned FA Women’s Championship Manager of the Month for her work overseeing Liverpool’s six-game unbeaten streak, and she will be hoping to stretch that run and help the Reds once again reach the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday.
It will be a hugely difficult task against a Leicester side whose confidence will be at an all time high. The champions have quality throughout their team, but key to their promotion win has been striker Natasha Flint, who joined the club in the summer from Blackburn Rovers.
She is the Foxes’ top goalscorer this season with 16 goals to her name, and the Reds will be wary of the threat she poses if she is chosen to start. Given Liverpool’s recent struggles playing out from the back, they will have to be alert to ensure they don’t make any mistakes, which the Foxes will no doubt punish given their quality.
Leicester have had great continuity this season, naming a core group of players in almost all of their starting lineups. Their captain Sophie Barker has been a virtual ever present in the side this season, along with Kirstie Levell in goal and Ashleigh Plumptre.
They have a great blend of youth and experience, as well as as a clinical streak in front of goal, and solidity at the back. The Reds face the arduous task of trying to break down one of the division’s meanest defences. Leicester have only conceded 15 goals all season and have kept clean sheets in each of their last five games.
The stats are grim reading for Liverpool fans, but the old ‘magic of the cup’ narrative could once again be at work on Sunday. The Reds have breached the Foxes rearguard on the two occasions the two sides have faced off this season and were well in the game in January, even when down to 10 women.
They will take heart from that performance and the fact they are enjoying their own purple patch at the moment. Amber Whiteley will certainly fancy her side’s chances of causing an upset and enacting revenge over Jonathan Morgan’s team to seal a potential grudge match with Manchester United in the next round.
The game on Sunday kicks off at 2pm at Farley Way, and highlights will be available on the FA Player.
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