Champions: One Year On

 On Sunday 29th September 2013, Liverpool Ladies lifted their first major honour as they were crowned champions of the Women’s Super League.

 Liverpool had enjoyed a vastly more successful year than the previous two, manager Matt Beard overseeing a squad overhaul that welcomed international players alongside young England talent.

 Over the course of the season Liverpool beat established teams such as Arsenal Ladies 4-0, did the derby double over local rivals Everton and fought to the final whistle to secure tight 4-3 victories over both Bristol Academy and Chelsea Ladies.

 Guaranteed a top 2 placing and Champions League football for the first time in the history of the club, the league title went down to the final game of the season as the reds welcomed Bristol Academy to Select Stadium, Widnes.

 A record crowd for Liverpool in the WSL cheered on as goals from Louise Fors and Katrin Omarsdottir either side of half-time ensured the win and wild celebrations – mainly from Kate Longhurst with silver streamings – ensued.

 For a full match report from the day, follow this link here!

 Of the players on the team that day 11 are still with the club, while 7 have moved on. Below you can find a look at every player in the squad that day, a brief recap on their season, what they have done in the year since and their stand-out performance from the 2013 season.

 23. Rachael Laws

 Rachael arrived midway through the season, an emergency loan signing after injury ruled both first choice keeper Sarah Quantrill and back-up Danielle Gibbons out of June’s derby win. During the mid-season break Laws extended her loan until the end of the season, battling Quantrill for a starting place and finally adding a WSL medal to a couple of Premier League titles won with Sunderland.

 At the end of the season Rachael returned to Sunderland, who are now playing in the new second tier of the WSL. Sunderland are one of the favourites for promotion to the top tier, currently sitting 5 points clear at the top of the league helped by their in-form keeper. On 12th August 2014 it was announced that Laws had been put on standby for the England senior team for the first time, with manager Mick Mulhern commenting “She is having a very, very good season and it’s rewarding for her to have this recognition… she is in the form of her life.” For the final Women’s World Cup Qualifier against Montenegro in September, Rachael was included in the final squad and was a named substitute during the 10-0 win.

 Performance of the Season: During the title run-in every game was crucial for Liverpool, with each player stepping their game up a level. Laws was no exception to this and gave a particularly important performance in the 2-0 home win over Doncaster Belles, producing save after save to keep Liverpool in the game and the pressing Belles out. The win was made all the more sweeter the following night, as Arsenal failed to beat Lincoln meaning Liverpool maintained a 4 point lead over their title rivals.

 6. Lucy Bronze

 Lucy Bronze’s role in the Liverpool team grew in importance as the season went on, in her previous two seasons at Everton Ladies Bronze had struggled with injury and made 24 appearances over 2 years out of a possible 36. For the reds Lucy missed just 2 games at the beginning of the season, starting every game since the 4-0 victory away at Arsenal both at right-back and centre-back – replacing Gemma Bonner and Whitney Engen in the middle when either was unavailable. Bronze won Liverpool’s Players’ Player of the Year at the end of the campaign and also picked up the prestigious PFA Women’s Player of the Year in April 2014.

 This year Lucy Bronze has become an England regular under new manager Mark Sampson, who deploys her at centre-back alongside captain Steph Houghton. Bronze also began Liverpool’s 2014 campaign in the centre of defence, partnering Gemma Bonner. Following the mid-season arrival of Nina Frausing, Lucy has returned to right-back and excelled in the 3-5-2 formation used during the second half of the season. Scored her only goal of the season in a dominant 2-0 win over league leaders Chelsea Ladies, a superb strike ending in the back of the net after a brilliant run and exchange with Gemma Davison on the edge of the box.

PFA Player of the Year: Lucy Bronze

 Performance of the Season: With so many stand-out displays from the consistent performer, you could pick a game out of a hat and give reason as to why it was Bronze’s performance of the season and though her performances grew in stature throughout the season, the 4-1 win over Birmingham perhaps showcased her abilities and set her on a run of consecutive appearances. Playing alongside Whitney Engen in the absence of Gemma Bonner, Bronze put Liverpool back in the lead after the blues had drew level, rising above two defender to powerfully head home her first goal for the club. Being at centre back also failed to restrict Bronze from getting forward during normal play and she has also excelled in the centre of defence for England over the last 12 months.

 3. Whitney Engen

 Whitney was Liverpool’s first major signing as Matt Beard began to re-build the club prior to the 2013 season. Reunited with former college team mate Lucy Bronze and forming a partnership with Gemma Bonner in the centre of defence, Engen became an integral part of the Liverpool team. Upon signing she had been capped twice for USA and while at Liverpool seemingly cemented her place on the US roster with a number of impressive performances for club and country.

 Unfortunately for Liverpool Whitney’s success with the national team meant the defender would be playing her football in the NWSL in 2014, being drafted with league newcomers Houston Dash. Between the end of the FAWSL season and the NWSL beginning, Engen featured for Tyreso FF in Sweden as they reached the Champions League final – even scoring a brilliant back-heeled goal in the knock-out rounds. Tyreso were narrowly beaten 4-3 in the final by VfL Wolfsburg.

 Performance of the Season: Whitney Engen missed Liverpool’s 3-2 win at home to Lincoln Ladies at the end of May due to an international friendly in Canada, returning for the Merseyside derby at the start of June. Under 48 hours earlier Whitney had put in a Player of the Match performance against Canada for the US across the Atlantic, leading many to believe she would play no part in the derby. Engen played the entire 90 minutes with another Player of the Match performance with a solid display in Liverpool’s back line.

Engen’s wonder goal

 5. Gemma Bonner

 Gemma Bonner signed for the reds in November 2012, with Matt Beard making the former Chelsea defender Liverpool captain. Gemma quickly set about showing why she is the perfect captain for Liverpool Football Club with a string of impressive displays. Popped up with a couple of important goals over the run-in, with a strong header in the 4-2 derby win over Everton and her goal against Bristol Academy in the 4-3 victory was perhaps the most crucial goal all season; netting the winner after Liverpool had given up a 2-goal lead. 3 days before lifting the title for Liverpool, Bonner won her first international cap as England beat Turkey 8-0 in a World Cup Qualifier.

 This year, Gemma has taken her game to another level. Liverpool have conceded half as many goals during the league campaign, largely due to Bonner’s colossal performances at the back as she has partnered Lucy Bronze, Becky Easton and new arrival Nina Frausing. Constantly talking to the players around her, offering encouragement when needed and being an excellent example to the youth players coming through.

 Performance of the Season: Liverpool Football Club have a history of captain’s being a leading example of the pitch and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck when required. When Liverpool let a 3-1 lead slip to 3-3 away at title rivals Bristol Academy at the end of a tough week in August last year, after losing 3-0 to Arsenal and being knocked out the Continental Cup on penalties, the ball fell to Bonner midway through the Bristol half. The reds captain took one touch, looked up at goal and smashed the ball past the helpless Siobhan Chamberlain between the posts.

Gemma Bonner. Captain.

 19. Corina Schroder
 Arriving at Liverpool with plenty of medals, Corina Schroder gives Liverpool a huge attacking advantage on the left wing. Forming an excellent partnership with both Louise Fors and Nicole Rolser, Liverpool’s goals in 2013 came predominantly from the left wing. Inch-perfect crosses, providing a number of assists for Natasha Dowie, Schroder’s derby performances in the league last year were unforgettable as she provided the source for the main goal threats in both the 4-1 win away and the home 4-2 victory.

 In her second year on Merseyside, Schroder has yet again been a consistent performer attacking with style down the left. In the 1-0 win over Everton in July, Corina played her best game yet in a red shirt superbly setting up the winning goal after shaking off a number of blue shirts to get the ball into the box towards Natasha Dowie. At the beginning of 2014 Liverpool suffered an injury crisis, yet Schroder played through despite having picked up a knock herself. Will be a vital part of the squad as Liverpool Ladies enter the women’s Champions League for the first time next month.

 Performance of the Season: As mentioned, Corina Schroder derby performances for Liverpool always seem to see the German raise her game to another level. In the 4-2 win last September, Schroder lost her marker on the left and sent a low cross in for Natasha Dowie to send Liverpool in front for the first time during the game. Equally her performance during the 4-1 win away from home was another fine example of her attacking prowess from left-back and Schroder scored her first goal for Liverpool against their fiercest rivals.

 4. Fara Williams

 Fara is the most consistent player in the Liverpool side, both this season and last. A vastly experienced and important first-team player, her partnership with Katrin Omarsdottir in the centre of the reds midfield was formidable and dominant throughout the season. Williams’ passing range is unrivalled in the women’s game and she is also an expert set piece taker. Constantly talking the players around her through the game, communication is key with Williams in midfield.

 In the year since Williams has been named in the PFA Team of the Year, an honour she shared with no less than 4 of her 2013 team mates and also became the most capped England player of all-time after picking up her 130th international cap in a friendly against Sweden. Fara has also stepped back into defence this season, after injury forced Becky Easton off the pitch against Notts County, dictating the pace of the game with ease from her new position between Gemma Bonner and Nina Frausing. Scored the most audacious of goals in the 2-1 win over Birmingham in September, after Liverpool had conceded an equaliser in the dying minutes, Williams spotted Becky Spencer off her line from kick-off – magnificently winning the game for the reds from the halfway line.

 Performance of the Season: Liverpool faced Chelsea Ladies at home on 17th August, after the most difficult couple of weeks of the season with a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, being knocked out of the Continental Cup by Lincoln on penalties and then narrowly overcoming Bristol Academy 4-3 the previous week to keep their title hopes alive. Chelsea raced 2-0 ahead within the opening 10 minutes, Liverpool looked to be beaten before Williams gathered the team for an impromptu team talk. Raising her game Fara dragged the reds almost single handedly to half-time, scoring a brilliant free kick to reduce the deficit before Nicole Rolser took the reigns in the second-half.

“130 not out”

 8. Katrin Omarsdottir

 One of many international players to arrive during the winter transfer window, Katrin was quick to settle on Merseyside in her role of midfield general. Calm, yet firm is the best way to describe Omardottir on the pitch, effective in breaking down the opposition attacks and just as effective in assisting the Liverpool attack. Katrin scored 3 goals over the course of the season, including the winner 5 minutes from time in The FA Cup Quarter-Final and the final goal of the title winning season in the 2-0 victory over Bristol Academy.

 This season has once again seen much of the same from the Icelandic midfielder, a number of injuries to the reds midfield has seen youth players making the step-up to the first-team. With players like Katrin, Williams and Bonner in the side, the youth have slotted in with ease and play with confidence. Katrin has missed just one game this year, the 1-1 draw with Birmingham City and has scored twice, with one in the 6-0 win against Sunderland and the other in the 3-1 win away at Bristol Academy. Katrin has now played Bristol 3 times and scored in every game.

 Performance of the Season: Liverpool Ladies being given the opportunity to play The FA Cup Semi-Final against Arsenal Ladies at Anfield was a special occasion for both players and supporters. Katrin was one of many players who rose to the occasion, completely and utterly dominating the midfield, chasing every ball, closing down the opposition and urging the reds on as they desperately searched for an equaliser that unfortunately wasn’t to come.

 13. Amanda DaCosta

Amanda DaCosta scores at the Emirates

 Although Amanda had just 2 goals to her name for the title-winning campaign, the reds dynamic midfielder was the one pulling the strings and linking the midfield to the forwards as the attacking trio of Natasha Dowie, Louise Fors and Nicole Rolser plundered 40 goals between them. Constantly working box-to-box, DaCosta’s work-rate for the team is phenomenal.

 During her second season at the club the American playmaker continues to be the heartbeat of the midfield, her eye for a pass is second to none and her ability to pick out the runs of her team mates from practically any position on the pitch admirable. Has 2 goals to her name this campaign, one against Doncaster Belles in a tough 3-2 cup clash and a vital goal in the 2-1 win over Birmingham City last weekend.

 Performance of the Season: To go for an obvious stand-out, you could immediately point out the thrilling 4-0 win over Arsenal Ladies at the Emirates in which Amanda scored her 2 goals – including an extremely well-taken first strike from the edge of the area. However the Continental Cup semi-final defeat on penalties to Lincoln Ladies was a far greater example of DaCosta’s influence over her team mates. As the game dragged on into extra time, the American playmaker’s never let her head drop, playing box-to-box as others visibly tired around her and throwing every ounce of effort into the game as Liverpool chased for a winning goal.

 11. Nicole Rolser

 Nicole was one of Liverpool’s surprise entities in 2013, the relatively unknown German announcing her presence in the league with some incredible performances. A hat-trick away at Birmingham, inspiring the reds to their brilliant comeback to Chelsea at home and terrorising Everton in the two league derbies. Named Liverpool’s Young Player of the Year and featuring in the PFA Team of the Year, Rolser was a player many tipped to once again be Liverpool’s star in 2014.

 Devastatingly for player, club and supporters, Nicole suffered an ACL injury during pre-season which would rule her out for the entire league campaign. The attacking midfielder’s rehab has been going well and we could well see her feature during Liverpool’s upcoming Champions League games.

 Performance(s) of the Season: You could probably pick any game and find reason there to highlight a great performance from Rolser. Two in particular however jump out, first of all a second-half showing against Chelsea in the 4-3 win as Liverpool twice came from behind to take all 3 points. Rolser scored the equaliser to take the scoreline to 2-2, set up Natasha Dowie for the second equaliser for 3-3 and then grabbed the winner with minutes left on the clock.  Nicole was also on-form for Liverpool in the 4-2 win away at Birmingham, firing in a hat-trick as the reds embarked on an unbeaten run that took them to the end of the season.

Rolser mobbed after scoring the winning goal vs Chelsea

 10. Louise Fors

 Louise Fors, Liverpool’s super Swede dead ball specialist with bags of skill. Fors was voted Player of the Season at the midway stage last year, with a number of eye-catching displays. Opposition defences found it near impossible to get near the winger, as she constantly switched wings with Nicole Rolser attacking down the right or left wing with ease. Smashed free kicks past Lincoln Ladies and Birmingham City, while showing nerves of steel when netting penalties past Everton Ladies, Doncaster Belles and Bristol Academy.

 Initially it was planned that Fors would spend the 2014 season on loan in Sweden, however midway through the year the midfielder announced that she was to retire from the game at the age of 24. A massive loss for Liverpool.

 Performance of the Season: Throughout the season Louise Fors was magnificent for the reds, it was towards the beginning of the campaign however that her displays on the field particularly stood out. In the 3-2 home win against Lincoln Ladies Fors was a dominating force down the left side of the pitch, a first half free kick ricocheting off the cross bar. Controlling the game from the left with partner-in-crime Corina Schroder, Fors scored a deserved goal in the second 45 minutes to give Liverpool a 2 goal cushion.

 9. Natasha Dowie

Natasha Dowie scores in front of the Kop

 Natasha Dowie hit the ground running at Liverpool in 2013, thriving in a formation that oozed creativity with Amanda DaCosta, Louise Fors and Nicole Rolser pulling the strings around her. One of Natasha’s main strengths was holding the ball up in and around the 18-yard box to bring her attacking companions into the attack. With 19 goals in all competitions, Dowie was the FAWSL’s Golden Boot winner and was also crowned Liverpool supporters Player of the Year (both on the official website and this blog) and scooped Players’ Player of the Year in the FA Women’s Football Awards.

 This season Natasha has once again been the reds top scorer, with 9 goals. With the team facing an extraordinary injury crisis Dowie has been an ever-present with 19 appearances, which means alongside Fara Williams she is the only Liverpool player to appear in every game this season and last. Natasha continues to create goals for the rest of her team mates, most recently brilliantly setting up strike partner Kate Longhurst who put the reds back in front in the September derby. With 2 games left this campaign, no doubt Natasha Dowie will be looking to send her goal tally into double figures for the second season running.

 Performance of the Season:

 Scoring goals for fun throughout the season, Natasha Dowie’s most memorable performance from the 2013 season came in the 4-2 derby win. With the game being the penultimate match of the campaign, Liverpool needed to take all 3 points to take the title down to the final day and Dowie was on fire to put them in pole position netting a hat trick from a variety of positions. Including an audacious chip over incoming Everton keeper Rachael Brown, a sliding finish from a Corina Schroder cross and completing her hat-trick with a header. Watch the derby trio from 1:25 in the video compilation below.

Natasha Dowie goals

 On the bench:

 24. Sarah Quantrill

 Starting the season as the reds first choice keeper, Sarah picked up an injury prior to June’s derby win which saw the arrival of Rachael Laws as an emergency loan signing. Prior to her injury Quantrill put in an impressive shift during the 4-0 away win over Arsenal at the Emirates and kept 5 clean sheets in 11 starts.

 This season Sarah has been playing for Millwall Lionesses in WSL2, alongside another former LFC player Lillie Fenlon-Billson and has made 16 starts. Millwall currently sit in 8th place.

Liverpool Ladies 2013

 21. Sarah Gregorius

 Sarah Gregorius was one of 4 mid-season signings, offering Matt Beard a different attacking option. Sarah made just the one start for Liverpool, with 6 appearances from the bench. During the title-winning game at the end of the season, Gregorius came on for Fors as the reds comfortably seen out the win.

 In the year since Sarah Gregorius received her 50th cap for New Zealand during a Cyprus Cup clash with Finland, marking the occasion with the winning goal! Gregorius now plays her club football in Japan’s Nadeshiko League for AS Eflen Saitama.

 20. Katie Zelem

 The second of 4 summer signings, Katie Zelem joined Liverpool Ladies from Manchester United’s Centre of Excellence. Although a named substitute on 6 occasions, Katie did not feature for the first team in 2013. When the WSL season ended Zelem joined up with the development squad, scoring 4 times before returning to the senior team for pre-season.

 In the week before the 2014 season began, a broken collarbone suffered whilst playing for England U19s ruled her out for the first half of the season. On her return Zelem netted a double in the 7-1 cup win away at Durham WFC and also scored a vital winning goal after coming off the bench against Notts County.

 15. Jess Holbrook

 In 2013 Jess made 10 appearances overall for Liverpool Ladies, coming off the bench on 7 occasions and making 3 starts. Mid-season Holbrook found herself in the starting 11, following injury to Katrin Omarsdottir, fitting in well during big wins over Birmingham City and Everton Ladies. Almost grabbed her first and only goal in a red shirt against Birmingham, only to see her thunderous effort crash off the bar.

 Over the winter break WSL newcomers Manchester City announced the signing of the former England youth international, Jess made 8 appearances for City – starting 7 times – however left the club in the summer for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers.

Becky Easton shows off the WSL trophy

 12. Becky Easton

 Becky Easton was one of a quartet of signings that arrived before the beginning of the season from Merseyside rivals Everton Ladies. In a team in which the majority of players were as yet unfamiliar with each other, Becky brought a wealth of experience from a varied football career. A Liverpool supporter who fulfilled every reds fans dream by lifting a league trophy in front of the Kop, when the team paraded it at Anfield the following week.

 This season Easton has been nothing short of outstanding for Liverpool, playing at both right back and as part of a centre-back trio in a 3-5-2 formation. Voted fans Player of the Season at the midway stage, her no nonsense, tough tackling is a rarity now in all kinds of football and she has saved the reds on a number of occasions with a last-ditch sliding challenge to prevent a goal bound strike.

 7. Kate Longhurst

 Kate Longhurst arrived mid-season from Chelsea Ladies, taking the no.7 shirt. Kate made 7 appearances in a red shirt in 2013 and scored her first Liverpool goal in the 9-0 mauling of Doncaster Belles, the 9-0 win coming at a crucial point during the campaign and giving the reds a far superior goal difference than their title rivals.

Kate Longhurst scores vs Everton

 In 2014 Longhurst has become a vital part of Liverpool’s starting 11 with an impressive work-rate during games, despite missing 5 through injury the forward has made 12 starts and scored twice. Kate joined a long list of derby heroes at Liverpool after bagging the winner in a 1-0 win over the blues in July and doubled her Everton goals tally after also scoring in the 2-2 draw in September.

 2. Sam Chappell

 Prior to the 2013 season Sam Chappell was one of just four Liverpool players who had featured for the reds in every competitive fixture since the inception of the Women’s Super League. With the arrival of new players, the added competition for places meant although a named substitute on 8 occasions Chappell did not appear throughout the senior team campaign. Alongside team mate Danielle Gibbons and future team mate Bethany Donoghue, Chappell won a gold medal at the World University Games during the summer.

 At the end of the campaign Sam featured for the development squad, playing a number of games before signing for WSL2 side London Bees – quickly becoming an important first team player. Chappell has made 19 appearances so far this season, second to only to fellow defender Billie Brooks who has played one more game.

 Season Review: 2013

 Thanks for reading!

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