Two second-half penalties from Katie Stengel earned Liverpool a shock 2-1 win over title holders Chelsea on their WSL return in front of a record-breaking crowd at Prenton Park.
The champions looked set for a routine evening when they were awarded the first penalty of the game within two minutes. Gilly Flaherty’s clumsy challenge on Guro Reiten saw referee Emily Heaslip point to the spot. Euro 2022 winner Fran Kirby then converted on her first appearance for Chelsea since February.
But the Blues were guilty of not taking their chances, with Sam Kerr, in particular, cutting a frustrated figure up front, as manager Emma Hayes told Sky Sports after the game: “For us going forward, I didn’t think we could hit a barn door today.”
Liverpool stepped up their game in the second half in front of 3,006 fans – the highest ever attendance for a Liverpool Women’s match at Prenton Park.
Flaherty redeemed herself from the first half when she helped win Liverpool’s first penalty. Her flick-on from a long Megan Campbell throw hit Millie Bright on the arm and she was penalized for handball. Stengel – making her WSL debut – stepped up and easily dispatched Zecira Musovic.
Stengel then won the second penalty, fouled by Chelsea debutant Kadeisha Buchanan inside the area. The American forward kept her composure once again and it proved to be the winner, with the Blues unable to find a reply to Liverpool’s spirited display.
Discussing her penalties, Stengel told Sky Sports: “I told myself, ‘Don’t miss, please don’t miss, all of these people will make fun of me if I miss.’ I decided I had to change it up and I got lucky I guess.
“When I step up for a penalty I have to decide before I take it which way I’m going, take a breath and if the goalkeeper moves early I can adjust but otherwise just stick with what I decided to do.”
There were jubilant scenes among the Reds at full-time, inflicting Chelsea’s first defeat in 2022. The WSL title holders have now lost four of their last five season openers.
How Liverpool stunned Chelsea
While Liverpool did have the nightmare start on their WSL return, they rallied well and could have equalized mere minutes later. After some great play from Ceri Holland, her shot was stopped but largely fumbled by Musovic. Reds debutant Emma Koivisto was waiting, but fired her effort over from a few yards out.
Chelsea should have doubled their lead in the 20th minute. Kerr latched onto Kirby’s diagonal ball before lashing past Rachael Laws. But the offside flag was raised and the goal ruled out, despite replays showing she was on.
The Blues continued to see chances fall their way, despite some impressive play from Liverpool. Erin Cuthbert’s half-volley just dipped past the post with Kerr nodding another effort wide towards the end of the first half.
It was a quieter start to the second period, although Liverpool suffered another blow when Leanne Kiernan was injured just before the hour mark. After a tackle from Buchanan, she landed awkwardly and eventually hobbled off with the aid of two Liverpool physios. They helped her to keep any weight off her right ankle as she was carried down the tunnel.
But a record-breaking Prenton Park ignited when Liverpool were awarded the second penalty of the game, which was expertly dispatched by Stengel. However, Chelsea could have gone back ahead soon after a poor touch from Koivisto saw the ball at Reiten’s feet. But her eventual effort, having failed to round Flaherty, was a weak shot straight at Laws.
Liverpool began to increase the tempo and the now well-worn penalty spot was in action again late on as Stengel was fouled by Buchanan, with the striker stepping up again to ultimately win the game for his side.
Chelsea could have snatched a point late on as Kerr flicked the ball on for Bethany England, who was lurking in the six-yard box. However, Liverpool captain Niamh Fahey was there to nip in and see the ball away as the Reds completed a stunning victory.
Hayes: I didn’t think we could hit a barn door today
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told Sky Sports:
“They play a 4-5-1 and they don’t come out so you’ve got to be patient to break them down. They scored from a throw-in that was a penalty and the second was a transition that was another penalty It’s not like in open play they’ve had multiple shots – they’ve just maximized the situations.
“For us going forward, I didn’t think we could hit a barn door today.
“I just think we played poorly in the first half. I think sometimes we want to win things by bigger margins when we should just follow the process and keep passing the football.
“I thought in the second half it got a little bit stretched for us. We’ve still got new players coming in and they’re still learning the system. There’s big responsibilities on them. But we just chalk it off and we go again .
“What’s to be worried about in losing a football match? I’m not emotional about it. I think we have to reflect, watch it back and next week’s a new week.”
Beard gives tactical insight to Liverpool win
Liverpool manager Matt Beard told Sky Sports:
“It’s just the first game. I felt over the course of the game we deserved it. Especially with the tactical changes we made at half-time, we’ve started with three points at home.
“This was a fortress for us last season, and we’ve made it uncomfortable and difficult for Chelsea today.
“Over pre-season we’ve tested ourselves against good WSL sides, we’ve started slowly in terms of not stepping out when we can and putting them under pressure, and it just took a little bit of time.
Matt Beard on Van de Sanden and Kiernan injuries
“Shanice [van de Sanden] has had an Achilles problem for a while, she broke down on Friday afternoon in training. Leanne I don’t know yet, she’s in a boot, and I’m assuming we’ll get a scan or an X-ray in the coming days.”
“We just dropped Katie in on Sophie Ingle, to be a little bit more compact centrally, because Chelsea like to play through and then round.
“We stopped that happening, and we knew we could hurt them on the counter-attack. The goals they conceded last season were either from a cross or a counter. We knew we could hurt them, and lucky enough for us today it paid off .
“Whenever we pick a team to play a game, we’ve always got changes in mind. When you looked at the players who came on, we were physically a lot bigger.
“Chelsea play with a high line and are quite expansive, so we wanted to go with Leanne and Mel at the base. It didn’t quite work for us, but we changed it and got our rewards for that.”
Pundits: Liverpool absolutely deserve it
Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:
“To come back in the manner they have, you always felt at half-time, the score 1-0, the belief and the manager, there’s something about him.
“He always gets the best out of his players, and in the second half they were brilliant. Chelsea were nowhere near good enough, especially in the final third.
“Liverpool absolutely deserve it, there were two brilliant penalties but it’s all about the manager. He’s achieved something special at that club.”
Former Arsenal striker Kelly Smith on Sky Sports:
“They were superb, organized, combative, they believed in each other.
“Furness, Daniels and Roberts came on and had a real impact with their energy and work rate to get back.
“It was all about teamwork tonight, getting together, believing in yourself, and stifling Chelsea and they did that in the second half.”
Both teams have big WSL matches next weekend. Liverpool take on Everton in the first Merseyside derby of the season at Anfield next Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 6.45pm. Chelsea also host Man City on the same day; kick-off 4pm.