A history of three penalties provided the biggest shock of the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League as reigning champions Chelsea were beaten 2-1 by newly promoted Liverpool.
The Reds were barely a minute after their return to the top flight when Gilly Flaherty Guro riding instead of the ball gave Chelsea a penalty which Fran Kirby converted.
But while previous Liverpool teams may have collapsed, Matt Beard’s side did the opposite. They worked tirelessly to prevent Chelsea from scoring a second before the Blues repaid the Reds’ earlier generosity with a penalty of their own. Millie Bright handled in the penalty area and Katie Stengel equalized.
Instead of trying to close shop, Liverpool attacked and were rewarded when Stengel won, scoring a second penalty in the 87th minute. Matt Beard’s side then suffered seven minutes of stoppage time but held their ground to claim a big win and end Chelsea’s nine-consecutive league win streak.
The Reds’ main goal this season is to stay in the WSL, and based on this evidence, they will easily do so. “There shouldn’t be any more hesitation, we should be in a position where we know we can compete at this level,” Beard said. “We frustrated Chelsea today, one of the best teams in club football. We could have folded after being 1-0 down. So many good things came out today, but the biggest thing for me is that the players have the faith and trust in what we’re asking of them.
After the first week, Arsenal have the advantage in the title race, but Chelsea won’t worry too much. Last season, they were beaten by the Gunners on opening day and spent most of the season chasing before eventually overtaking their rivals. They should have had enough to beat Liverpool but were punished for not converting possession into goals.
“I didn’t think our execution in the last third was nearly good enough,” Hayes said. “Our crossing was erratic, it was out of bounds, we didn’t bother the goalkeeper like we did. If I were to turn around and say who played well for us, I don’t think that would be a high number category.
Hayes’ side sorely missed Pernille Harder, who retired from the starting XI with an injury in warm-up. But Kirby’s early goal gave them the perfect start as she sent Rachael Laws the wrong way to open the scoring in the third minute.
Liverpool could have equalized shortly after, but Emma Koivisto was only able to bundle the ball over the bar at the back post.
A narrow offside then prevented what would have been an early goal from Chelsea striker Sam Kerr’s season contender, the Australian volleying into the top corner for the first time before the assistant referee’s flag was raised. Hayes insisted it should have stood.
“We scored a goal that was rightly on the side, I looked back at it which is frustrating,” Hayes said. I told the fourth [official] back then. It’s frustrating that someone is as quick as Sam [Kerr] will be penalized because we don’t have a VAR. I think if we had taken a 2-0 lead it would have been a different game.”
Liverpool lost last season’s top scorer Leanne Kiernan in the second half to what appeared to be a serious ankle injury, but their substitute Megan Campbell made an immediate impression. Campbell is known for her Rory Delap-style throws and her first involvement was throwing the ball into the Chelsea box. It caused chaos when Nimah Charles missed her free-kick and the ball was smashed into Bright from close range. Stengel calmly converted to the bottom right corner to the delight of a record crowd of 3,006 home spectators.
Then came the third and decisive penalty. Stengel caught a loose ball and suddenly found his way through to the goal. Kadeisha Buchanan desperately slipped in and brought down the striker right in the box. Once again, the American converted, sending Musovic the wrong way for the second time.