KATIE Zelem’s opening goal within the first minute gave Liverpool the best possible start away at Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.
The reigning champions then showing their ruthless streak as Karen Carney’s equaliser was followed by goals from Fran Kirby, Drew Spence and Eni Aluko, ensuring the Blues went in 4-1 up at half-time.
Liverpool almost turned it around in the second half with Caroline Weir converting a free kick and substitute Emma Lundh further reducing the deficit. But Kirby and Spence both netted their second of the game for the game to finish 6-3 to Chelsea.
The scoreline equalled the all-time WSL record for most goals scored in a single game, matching Liverpool’s 9-0 victory over Doncaster in 2013.
Laura Coombs was once again unavailable to play against parent club Chelsea, Kate Longhurst replacing her in the line-up and playing on the right of a back four consisting of the returning Alex Greenwood at left-back, centre back duo Gemma Bonner and Mandy Van Den Berg, and Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Coombs was the only change to the side defeated at Notts County last week, Natasha Harding back playing in the more familiar position of left wing, Shanice Van De Sanden on the right and Sophie Ingle, Katie Zelem, Caroline Weir and Rosie White completing the side.
Zelem had scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the previous league game and picked up where she left off, a wonderful move from Liverpool seeing them move the ball quickly up the pitch, setting the pace for what would come to be a high-tempo game.
Starting with Van Den Berg at the back and ending with Harding teeing up Zelem to let fly, the long-range hit gave Chelsea goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl no chance and put Liverpool in the lead after just 57 seconds. However, a bright start from Liverpool was followed by a tough 44 minutes with the Reds coming under heavy pressure from Chelsea’s attackers.
Some last-ditch defending denied the Londoners, but Liverpool’s defence eventually buckled, the Reds holding their lead for eight minutes before Kirby put Carney through to round Chamberlain and slot the ball over the line.
Liverpool, though, had chances to retake the lead. A charging run by Harding down the left won a corner which fell to Ingle — her volley closed down and blocked.
Then another fast move saw several Reds shirts close on the Chelsea goal, with Van De Sanden, White and Weir moving the ball across the pitch with ease. In the end, Weir was unlucky to watch as her superb strike was tipped over the crossbar.
Chelsea’s counter attacking football was causing the Reds trouble at the other end of the pitch and Chamberlain was called upon three times to keep Liverpool in it, gathering efforts from Ji So-Yun and Carney, and also wise to a clever pass to prevent Aluko finding the run of Katie Chapman.
Liverpool almost created a chance from a counter attack when Bonner headed to Longhurst, out to Weir, onto Van De Sanden but Harding — who was in a good position in the box — was closed down and couldn’t connect with the final ball.
Shortly after, Chelsea went ahead, Kirby’s completing a solo move after dribbling past several Red shirts to score her first. Thereafter until the end of the first half it continued to be the Blues who looked the more threatening.
Kirby was again the provider this time for Drew Spence to score after making a run from deep, and Aluko latched onto Carney’s through ball to make it four.
In the second half, the pace of the game was maintained despite the intense heat.
Ten minutes in and Scott Rogers made a double substitution, Emma Lundh and Maz Pacheco replacing Harding and Greenwood with duo coming as Liverpool were setting up to take a free kick won by Van De Sanden. Weir struck the set piece sweetly with her left foot, the ball worming its way through the mass of bodies in the box to end up in the back of the net.
A minute later Lundh further reduced the deficit, Liverpool this time capitalising on Chelsea’s failure to clear their lines and the number nine smashing the ball past Lindahl to make it 4-3 — her first league goal for the club.
The Reds now had hope and were back in the game and in search of an equaliser with over half an hour still to play.
Van De Sanden and Weir were the stand outs, the latter at one stage displaying excellent close control to get the ball up the line to the overlapping Pacheco. Pacheco bombed on, her cross snuffed out at the edge of the box.
Another set of quick-fire goals would follow, Kirby and Spence both scoring their second to put Chelsea back in control.
Blundell had won the ball high up the pitch, carrying it forward and seeing her cross take a lucky deflection into the path of Kirby to score Chelsea’s fifth. Kirby made it a hat-trick of assists to set Spence up for the final goal.
From here on Liverpool had to be alert to prevent conceding another as the chances continued to flow.
Bonner cutted out a Carney cross intended for Kirby, Chamberlain reacted well to stop Chapman’s header crossing the line as the Blues captain headed Carney’s rebound off the crossbar back towards goal and substitute Ashley Hodson, who had not long replaced White, cleared off the line.
In recent days the Reds have been praised for their never-say-die spirit and this was evident here as Van De Sanden had shots blocked from successive corners.
In injury time another blazing run by Van De Sanden saw the Dutch winger find Lundh, who tried to turn and was quickly closed down by Gilly Flaherty.
Another disappointing afternoon for Liverpool, who can perhaps take heart from the fact they are the first team to put 3 past Chelsea at home in almost 2 years. The side punished by defensive errors, which a side as good as Chelsea will use to their advantage.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Longhurst, Bonner ©, Van Den Berg, Greenwood (Pacheco 55), Ingle, Zelem, White (Hodson 71), Harding (Lundh 55), Weir, Van De Sanden
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Van De Sanden