Most women’s football fans would agree that it has not been a happy few years for Liverpool Women and their supporters. The former WSL champions were relegated from the top flight when the 2019/2020 season was abruptly ended and then missed out on promotion from the Women’s Championship last season, as Leicester City Women stormed to the title.
However, there are signs this season that they could make a return to the WSL, with some astute summer additions giving them plenty of quality in all areas of the team. One player who has really stood out is Liverpool-born midfielder Missy Bo Kearns, who came through the academy and is now arguably the most important player in the team. This tactical analysis will examine in closer detail her positioning, her ability to find spaces and create options for the team, and her defensive qualities, seeing why she has been so vital for them.
The first section of this analysis will focus on Missy Bo Kearns’ positioning. This is an important aspect of Liverpool Women’s tactics as head coach Matt Beard, who returned to the club in the summer after spells at West Ham United Women and Bristol City Women, likes his teams to move the ball through the thirds when going from defence to attack.
Kearns has proven to be essential to that and this image shows her receiving the ball with her back to the Crystal Palace Women players. This allows her to see the majority of the pitch, meaning she can pass the ball to the right player, in this case, right-back Charlotte Wardlaw, and keep her team’s attack alive. Crystal Palace have tried to keep Liverpool as far away from their goal as possible but Kearns has allowed her side to find a way through by her positioning and ball control, as it has given Liverpool a pivot that they can play off of.
Liverpool have tried to increase their possession per game this season, with their average going from 58.84% in the last campaign to 59.62% in this one, whilst their passing accuracy has also increased to 78.1% from 76.6%. This has all been in aid of them creating more opportunities in the final third and the midfield has been an essential part of that with Kearns’ clever positioning in situations like this a key factor in their good form so far.
However, she doesn’t only take up central positions, as this image shows her on the wing, crossing the ball into the box. There are several things to note here, the first of which is that her movement towards the wing has ensured her teammate in that area (out of picture) has support, which is important as Crystal Palace have come out to close that player down. This again helps Liverpool to maintain possession and keep their attack alive. Secondly, Kearns’ role here demonstrates her versatility, which gives her team tactical options during games. It should be pointed out that her crossing accuracy this season is just 16.7% but this comes from her not playing in this role very often, as she has only made six crosses in Liverpool’s seven games so far.
However, arguably the biggest way that Kearns’ positioning has benefitted Liverpool is through her ability to run behind opposing defences. Bristol have left space open behind them here, allowing Kearns to provide a target in that area for her teammates. Liverpool have two full-backs who like to advance up the pitch, with Wardlaw, who is on loan from Chelsea Women, and Taylor Hinds tasked with controlling the wings and allowing the midfielders and forwards to work together more in the central areas. Therefore, what they need when they do get into the opposing half is a target behind the opposing defence, allowing them to keep playing forwards and Kearns has shown here that she can be that player.
Having a good positional ability allows Missy Bo Kearns to find spaces. We have seen already that she can operate in different roles, which helps her team to play free-flowing football, but her spatial awareness is just as important in this.
Despite being just 20 years old, Kearns likes to control her team’s play and shows her teammates where to play the ball. Her style of play is much like Arsenal Women and England star Jordan Nobbs, in that she is a midfielder who tends to play behind the striker and runs forward to play as a false nine when needed. As Nobbs has made a success of playing in this way, Liverpool will undoubtedly benefit from having a player in the same mould.
In this image, Watford Women have left an enormous hole open between their players, which Kearns has seen and wants New Zealand defender Meikayla Moore to play the ball into. Watford have struggled in their first season in the Championship and are yet to win a game; players like Kearns who have good vision have exposed their weaknesses. Without her on the field, Liverpool Women would have likely passed back across the field, relieving the pressure on Watford and that is the difference that Kearns’ inclusion makes to their play.
In the last image, Kearns was in front of the ball, making it easier for her teammates to see where she was going. However, here she is behind it, although her movement is just as critical to them sustaining their attack. She sees that Lawley and former West Ham striker Leanne Kiernan are making runs behind the defence and so adapts her individual movement and runs diagonally, as the red arrow shows, taking up a position in the open space behind the ball. This gives Liverpool a passing option behind, which will be important if Coventry United close off their main route into the box. Therefore, again, Kearns’ awareness and ability to find space has given her team a way of continuing their attack.
Kearns finds space in other ways too. Here, it is not her movement that is key, but her ability on the ball, as she again has her head up and is looking for her teammates’ positions. Passing with the right weight and speed is one of her key qualities, as indicated by her 80.1% accuracy so far this season, which is up from 77.8% for 2020/2021, whilst her accuracy of passes to the final third in the current campaign is 67.7%. In fact, Liverpool as a team have improved their progressive pass accuracy, with 68.1% finding their target, compared to 66.5% from last season. Both Kearns’ and Liverpool’s improvements this season are intertwined, with the midfielder being a key figure in their passing tactics this season and that further demonstrates why she is an essential part of the team.
We have so far analysed two of Missy Bo Kearns’ key qualities and have found several reasons why she has been essential for Liverpool Women this season. However, a third way that she helps them is by creating options for teammates around the pitch, which is the result of her good positioning and ability to find spaces.
Here, Coventry have focused on the ball’s position, turning their backs to the goal, which means that they are no longer aware of what is going on behind them. As a result, Kearns has run into the goal area virtually undetected and has now given Liverpool a passing option in the box. She is the only one to see this space and if she hadn’t run into the box here, Liverpool would have likely been closed down by Coventry and lost possession. Kearns, therefore, keeps Liverpool in control of this situation and ensures that they have a way of turning their attack into something promising.
When there are other attackers in the box, Kearns tends to position herself on the edge of the goal area instead. In doing so, she gives Melissa Lawley, in the yellow circle here, a passing option, although Lawley doesn’t see her and instead shoots herself, with Bristol easily blocking the effort. However, getting into these spaces is important for Kearns, as it gives her individual options as well as helping the team. We have seen her take shots at goal from this distance and she has got 30% of her shots on target this season (a slight increase on the 29.2% on target last season), whilst she has passed into the area from these areas too. Therefore, by having her in this area, Liverpool again have different ways to build their attack.
Arguably the biggest way that Kearns has helped Liverpool to create options is through their team structure. Here, she is again on the wing, following the ball, but the key player to look at is Lawley, in the yellow circle, who is in a more central role and not forced to stay close to the sideline. The former Manchester City Women winger’s increased freedom this season has led to her having arguably her best campaign in a Liverpool shirt, creating plenty of chances and becoming a key player in the final third and she is not the only one who has looked more confident and had more of an influence on games.
This improvement all comes from Kearns drifting out to the wing at times and it is something that Matt Beard has clearly looked at and improved, with the reward being that Liverpool have lost just one game this season, which was their opener against a resurgent London City Lionesses. Therefore, we can attribute their improved results to their change in tactics, of which Kearns has played a key part.
We have so far focused on Missy Bo Kearns’ attacking qualities but she also contributes to Liverpool Women’s defensive play and has helped them to be harder to beat this season.
Here, in the recent Continental Cup clash against Aston Villa Women, the WSL side have got into Liverpool’s third and are looking to move the ball into the box. The Liverpool defence is sitting back to make this more difficult for them but Kearns has dropped back to offer an extra layer of protection, positioning herself in front of the centre-backs. This means that there is even less of a chance for Aston Villa to score here because they will find it more difficult to get a player into the middle to meet the ball.
This is further helped by Kearns looking around as she gets into position, seeing where the dangers are and where her passing options are if she does win the ball. Her positioning here also allows more Liverpool defenders to go out and close the ball down, as they don’t have to worry about leaving the gaps open behind them now that Kearns is there. Therefore, again, we see how Kearns’ presence has influenced their play.
That theme of Kearns seeing danger and being alive to her surroundings can be seen in this image too, as she gets across the Aston Villa attacker and blocks off their run into the box. Again, this makes it harder for Aston Villa, who have been a better attacking side this season, to get into the box and score. It is worth noting that Kearns has won a lot of her defensive duel attempts this season, 65.1% to be exact, and this is another reason for her confidence when making runs towards her goal and getting tight to opponents.
The percentage of defensive duels she has won is down from 66.7% in the last campaign but this is not a reflection on her abilities and more on the fact that Liverpool now have centre-backs in skipper Niamh Fahey and ex-Bristol captain Jasmine Matthews who can win the ball on more occasions. Therefore, Kearns doesn’t need to be as involved at the back this season, which has led to her increased role in their attacking play.
It isn’t just in her own third that Kearns closes players down. As a midfielder, she likes to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible and has got tight to Sheffield United Women here, preventing them from playing the ball forwards. Sheffield United, currently managed by ex-Liverpool Women, Doncaster Belles and EFL manager Neil Redfearn, have shown plenty of attacking firepower this season, with former Liverpool forwards Jess Clarke and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk looking dangerous in front of goal, whilst Lucy Watson has been one of the most creative players in the Championship. Liverpool, therefore, needed a player in this game who could end their threat early and who was confident at disrupting their play. The fact that Liverpool won 2-0 demonstrates how Kearns’ midfield qualities when they were out of possession were essential to that.
This scout report has looked at the impact that Missy Bo Kearns has had on Liverpool Women, her hometown club, this season. We have looked at several different aspects of her game but the key points to draw from the article are that she is always available for her team, ensuring they can keep possession even when opposing players are closing down their options, and she is just as important in defence as she is in attack.
When we consider all of this, it is easy to see why she won the Fan’s Player and Club Player of the Season for 2020/2021 and keeping her fit will be essential to Liverpool’s hopes of promotion back to the WSL. At the time of writing, they sit second in the Women’s Championship with four wins, one draw and one loss, and are just two points behind leaders Durham Women, so they have shown good form so far and Kearns has been a key part of that.