Liverpool Women take on Sheffield United in their first league game in three weeks on Sunday at the Technique Stadium, looking for a win which would take them above the Blades and closer to Durham approaching the final round of fixtures.
The Reds are currently 4th in the table, level on points with the Yorkshire outfit, but below them on goal difference. If Amber Whiteley’s side can stretch their unbeaten run to seven games by beating Sheffield United, and Durham fall to a shock defeat against Charlton, Liverpool could move to within a point of the Wildcats ahead of the last game of the season next Sunday.
A second (or more realistically) a third place finish would be the reward Amber Whiteley and the players deserve, having salvaged a tumultuous season with their late season renaissance.
They can’t afford to think too far ahead however and must first worry about beating the Blades, who have also been on an equally impressive run of late with a familiar face in their dugout.
Neil Redfearn was appointed their new boss in the summer and has helped the Blades, who are still a part time outfit, punch above their weight this season. Yet, many Liverpool fans will remember him for his (extremely) brief stint as Reds manager.
Redfearn took the reigns in the summer of 2018, a period in which twelve members of the first team squad departed and he was left to assemble a new team.
The former Doncaster Belles boss was in charge for only two games, resigning after a 5-0 defeat to Arsenal, citing that things that were promised to him by the board simply were not delivered.
He wasn’t out of management for long, working with Newcastle’s U23s before arriving back in the women’s game with Sheffield United. Their form has picked up dramatically since the new year and like the Reds, they are also on a six game unbeaten streak in the league, winning five and drawing one.
Evidently, these teams are quite evenly matched and the importance of this game therefore cannot be downplayed, like Redfearn has tried to do with his comments to the media during the week.
His team comes into the game brimming with confidence as they eased into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a thumping 9-0 win over National League side Middlesbrough. Liverpool meanwhile, exited the competition, suffering a frustrating 1-0 defeat at the hands of Championship winners Leicester.
The Reds got the better of the Blades in the last meeting between these two sides at Prenton Park in November. Rinsola Babajide settled the game with a superb solo strike after just six minutes, and Vicky Jepson’s team were worthy winners of the contest having dominated the majority of the game.
It promises to be an equally tight encounter on Sunday and the Reds are likely to ring the changes for this game, given what is at stake. Amalie Threstrup and Amy Rodgers were largely ineffective against the Foxes, and so it would be no surprise to see Ceri Holland and Ashley Hodson restored to the starting line up at their expense.
There is no doubting Holland has been one of the main driving force behind Liverpool’s revival, and they instantly looked a better team when she was introduced at the interval at Farley Way.
With Hodson and Lawley on the flanks, Liverpool always look a more dangerous outfit, and with Kearns and Holland always willing to make late runs into the box, the Reds could capitalise on their wingers’ great deliveries as well as their pace.
Captain Niamh Fahey should also reclaim her place at the back and reestablish her fledgling partnership with Mikayla Moore at the heart of Liverpool’s defence. Unfortunately that would see Leighanne Robe return to the bench, despite putting in a very good performance against Leicester.
Rachel Laws will want to make amends, after her dithering in possession allowed Natasha Flint to nip in and Hannah Cain to net the goal which knocked the Reds out of the FA Cup last weekend.
The Blades line up is a lot easier to predict, given Neil Redfearn has named an unchanged team for seven successive games, opting for a 4-3-3 formation. It is likely therefore that Courtney Sweetman-Kirk is set to face her former side.
The forward made the move to Yorkshire from Merseyside, linking up with Redfearn again in October, having netted 10 goals in her first season in the WSL with the Reds.
She is fresh from netting a hat-trick against Boro last weekend along with Rhema Lord-Mears, and both will once again be goal threats who Liverpool will need to be vigilant of on Sunday. They will have focused on playing out from the back during the week in training, given that it is an area which has caused them problems in the last number of weeks.
The Reds will also have to be clinical in front of goal, something which they lacked against Leicester, to beat Frances Kitching, who has been in excellent form for the Blades, keeping five clean sheets during Sheffield United’s unbeaten run.
After a full week’s worth of preparation both sides will be going into the game confident, with neither wanting to surrender their recent unbeaten runs and lose the momentum they have generated from them.
Throw in the implications the result of the game will have on final league standings and it becomes clear that this fixture has all the ingredients of a tasty clash.
The game will kick off at 2pm at the Technique Stadium.