Liverpool sprung the biggest shock of the opening weekend of the new WSL season, putting three-time back-to-back reigning champions Chelsea to the sword at Prenton Park.
All three goals came from the same penalty spot, with Fran Kirby converting almost immediately after the first kick-off, before Katie Stengel netted twice from 12 yards for Liverpool in the second half to complete an unexpected comeback.
Liverpool debutant Gilly Flaherty, once of Chelsea, had a nightmare start against her old team when she connected with Guro Reiten instead of the ball when attempting to clear… 58 seconds on the clock and a penalty for the Blues. Kirby subsequently did Rachael Laws with her eyes and calmly stroked the ball into the opposite corner from the spot.
Sam Kerr finished last season with two screamers and was only denied another stunner 20 minutes into this contest by a questionable offside flag after Kirby’s through ball. Erin Cuthbert also narrowly missed the target with a similar dipping half volley soon after.
It was a shame that Liverpool had gifted Chelsea the lead in such fashion because they did settle into a good rhythm and were even left ruing a decent early chance missed when new wing-back Emma Koivisto couldn’t direct a rebound at goal after a nervous parry from Zecira Musovic.
Chelsea put together a really good team move in the closing stages of the first half, but Liverpool’s determination to stay in the game was clear when Ceri Holland and Missy Bo Kearns both threw themselves in front of Kirby’s eventual shot.
Liverpool were dealt a major blow early in the second half when the hard working Leanne Kiernan was forced off through injury. But the Reds still refused to give in and were arguably worth the equaliser when it came. Flaherty, having giving away the earlier spot kick, won this one by flicking the ball that struck the outstretched arm of Millie Bright. Stengel converted well.
As the game reached the final 10 minutes, Liverpool were on an equal footing that would never have been expected given the gul in class at the start of the game. Substitute Megan Campbell’s long throws were causing problems and the second penalty was the result of Stengel’s driving run.
Kadeisha Buchanan couldn’t catch her and a hooked leg brought the American down before taking the ball. She dusted herself off and took it herself, showing ice cold composure to give Liverpool the lead and put the home crowd into dreamland.
Liverpool vs Chelsea: Player ratings - WSL
1. Liverpool (3-4-3)
GK: Rachael Laws - 8/10 - Sold herself too easily for the opening goal but was otherwise sharp off her line.
CB: Gilly Flaherty - 6/10 - Lacked awareness of her surroundings when a swinging leg felled Reiten. Made up for it by winning a penalty later on.
CB: Niamh Fahey (c) - 8/10 - Made a number of good headers and clearances, plus a big late intervention in stoppage time. Showed good experience, which was vital.
CB: Jasmine Matthews - 7/10 - Stood up to be counted.
RWB: Emma Koivisto - 7/10 - Guilty of a poor clearance in the immediate build up to the early penalty. Got forward pretty well.
CM: Missy Bo Kearns - 7/10 - Put herself about to try and compete.
CM: Ceri Holland - 7/10 - Picked up an early booking but worked so hard to try and limit what Chelsea could do.
LWB: Taylor Hinds - 7/10 - A hard working performance that limited Chelsea's output down her flank.
RF: Leanne Kiernan - 6/10 - Covered a lot of ground all across the front. Looked in a lot of pain when she was with withdrawn injured.
ST: Katie Stengel - 8/10 - Seemed to relish the physical battle with Buchanan. Didn't see too much of the ball from open play but was rewarded for perseverance with her two goals from the spot.
LF: Melissa Lawley - 5/10 - Worked hard but the least effective of the starting front three.
SUB: Megan Campbell (57' for Kiernan) - 7/10
SUB: Rhiannon Roberts (71' for Koivisto) - 6/10
SUB: Rachel Furness (72' for Kearns) - 6/10
SUB: Yana Daniels (72' for Lawley) - 6/10
SUB: Carla Humphrey (90+5 for Stengel) - N/A
Manager: Matt Beard - 9/10 - Got everything right from a tactical perspective and his players were clearly well up for it.
2. Chelsea (4-1-4-1)
GK: Zecira Musovic - 5/10 - Looked shaky in the first half.
RB: Millie Bright - 5/10 - Probably knew very little about the penalty awarded against her but can equally have few arguments. Her arm was out.
CB: Kadeisha Buchanan - 5/10 - Couldn't catch Stengel and gave away the crucial second penalty trying to do so.
CB: Magdalena Eriksson (c) - 5/10 - Nothing wrong with she did on the ball but suffered when Liverpool got more physical in the second half.
LB: Niamh Charles - 7/10 - Positioned herself high up the left flank but also had to make sure she tracked Koivisto.
DM: Sophie Ingle - 6/10 - Late addition to the starting lineup after Pernille Harder pulled out though injury.
RM: Lauren James - 6/10 - Effortless quality was obvious, but not enough in areas to properly hurt Liverpool.
CM: Erin Cuthbert - 6/10 - Decent in possession but couldn't make a telling impact into the final third.
CM: Fran Kirby - 7/10 - Scored one of the calmest penalties you're likely to see and was pulling the creative strings from central areas. Not quite on the same wavelength as her teammates though.
LM: Guro Reiten - 6/10 - Sharp in the opening minute to win Chelsea's penalty. Played quite close to Kerr to give Charles more room.
ST: Sam Kerr - 5/10 - Clever movement but it wasn't her day overall.
SUB: Eve Perisset (70' for Bright) - 5/10
SUB: Johanna Rytting Kyneryrd (70' for Reiten) - 5/10
SUB: Jelena Cankovic (80' for Ingle) - N/A
SUB: Bethany England (85' for James) - N/A
Manager: Emma Hayes - 6/10 - Had to contend with a last minute reshuffle and things looked okay, but she couldn't get the better of Beard.