New ground, statement signings - Everton's WSL ambition is putting Liverpool to shame

Dan Turner Everton Women 2019
Jurgen Klopp's men may be world champions, but when the Merseyside rivals meet at Goodison Park on Sunday, the Reds are battling to survive

You have to go back 21 years since Everton’s men won at Anfield.

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard wasn’t in the starting XI, Kevin Campbell scored the only goal of the game and the camera phone hadn’t even been invented yet.

But Willie Kirk’s women were comfortable in their win at the famous ground in November – and, on Sunday at Goodison Park, they have a huge chance of doing the double over their local rivals.

It’s 10 years since Everton won a Merseyside derby at Goodison, and the last time the men did a league double over Liverpool was the 1984-85 season.

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It’s best to avoid comparing and combining the men’s and women’s game, but these facts help to paint a picture of just how different things are in the latter on Merseyside.

While Jurgen Klopp’s men are world champions, Vicky Jepson’s women are battling relegation and struggling to play a home game, such is the state of the Prenton Park pitch that they share with League One club Tranmere Rovers.

At the other side of Stanley Park, Carlo Ancelotti’s men aren't setting the Premier League alight, but the club's support of Kirk’s side, who will move into a newly-upgraded ground at Walton Hall Park later this month, is impeccable.

“Regardless of the men’s team doing well or not well, regardless of who the manager is, the support for the women’s team has never wavered. It’s always been really strong since I’ve come in here,” Kirk, who left his position as Manchester United’s assistant to join the club in December 2018, tells Goal.

He’s speaking at Finch Farm, the training home for both Everton’s men’s and women’s teams. Ancelotti was pictured delivering Kirk's team some good luck ahead of Sunday here recently, and the Scotsman describes the togetherness and respect between the teams as very much a “two-way thing”.

“The Goodison game shows the support the club are giving [us], they think it’s the right thing to do at the right time.”

Of course, Liverpool’s women hosted the reverse at Anfield, with Klopp wishing them the best ahead of the fixture.

But when you scratch beneath the surface, the difference in support is clear. It can be seen in the Women’s Super League standings alone, in which Liverpool sit second-from-bottom, and the winter transfer window emphasised it further.

“It was a good one,” Kirk says with a wry smile. “A very good one.”

His grin comes as a consequence of three brilliant signings for Everton: goalkeeper Sandy MacIver, who he describes as a future England No.1; Izzy Christiansen, who signs from six-time European champions Lyon; and Australia star Hayley Raso, who will link up with the squad later this month after Olympic qualifying.

“I think we’ve caught everybody out with that,” Kirk says.

“It’s made a statement. The league’s probably gone, ‘Woah’.”

“Obviously, we had a good first half of the season, everybody was praising us for that.

“We just wanted to go strengthen when we were doing well, which I think is the best time to strengthen.”

It’s certainly a statement to improve the squad so significantly while already sitting pretty in fifth.

Liverpool, meanwhile, went into the New Year at the very bottom of the WSL standings. For a club of their stature – a club who won WSL titles in 2013 and 2014 – there is a constant feeling that they should be doing so much better, in many aspects.

Their struggles are felt outside of the club, too. Man United boss Casey Stoney said earlier this season that, despite the rivalry between the two clubs, she would not want to see Liverpool relegated. Kirk feels the same.

“Some people are talking about wanting Liverpool relegated – that is the last thing I want,” he says.

“That takes two massive games away from you. I get the rivalry, but certainly, as a head coach, I do not want to lose two of the biggest games of the season.”

For now, Liverpool’s presence in the top-flight gives Everton the chance to claim bragging rights – and Sunday’s game is the most exciting chance to do that yet.

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“It’s a great experience for us,” defender Gabby George, who has been at the club for six years now, adds.

“It’s great to get the families out, get the Evertonians out and give them a good experience, to showcase what women’s football is about.

“[Anfield] was a great day, a great occasion.

“Our performance wasn’t what we wanted it to be, so hopefully we can go to Goodison, take the three points and perform well as well.

“That’d be a great day in the office.”

But it’s about more than just this game at Everton. This is a club in it for the long haul with huge ambitions and the ability to achieve that.

“The club are massively behind us,” Kirk adds.

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“It’s a long-term project with long-term achievements, whatever those achievements look like.

“Finishing [in the] top half of the table is an achievement this year. Next year, we might be unhappy for outside the top four, and we just need to keep pushing and pushing.”

It's something that their rivals could learn from.