Matt Beard: Liverpool aim for highest finish in the WSL since 2014 as they prepare to take on Man City

Liverpool’s development this season under Matt Beard sees them 10 points better off than at this time last season.

Matt Beard: Liverpool aim for highest finish in the WSL since 2014 as they prepare to take on Man City

Liverpool are on course for their highest WSL finish since 2014 under Matt Beard. It comes with a mix of managerial experience, talented recruitment and a unique synergy between club and coach.

Only Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has managed more matches in the league than Beard. A serial winner who is keeping the Blues on track for another multi-trophy campaign, Beard's career has been more varied and with his own impressive achievements.

Reflecting on his managerial career thus far, Beard said: "Over the time, you have highs and lows. I've been to cup finals, I've won and lost some. Some managers and players go through their whole career and not win anything so I've been quite fortunate."

Later, in an exclusive interview, Beard said: "It's my job first and foremost and I'm lucky to do what I do, but I never try to make it about myself. I have a good team of staff around me and I've worked with numerous players over the years.

His first WSL coaching job preceded Hayes at Chelsea before moving to Liverpool for his first spell in 2012. The Reds were then one of the dominant forces in the women's game, winning league titles in 2013 and 2014.

It was his second title at Liverpool that remains one of his proudest career moments.

Reminiscing on a dramatic final day, Beard told Hooper: "We had Bristol City, Chelsea had Manchester City and Birmingham had Notts County, and we weren't expecting to win the league that day.

"I remember seeing Manchester City's teamsheet. They had the cup final in midweek and Nick [Cushing] had put out a weakened team, so I wasn't very happy at that point, but it just goes to show what pressure does to you. Chelsea, unfortunately, never turned up that day, which was good for us.

"I felt we would make the Champions League, but to win it again and the way it all happened is something that will stick with me. It wasn't in our control, whereas the year before, it was.

"To win it back-to-back [titles] is tough to do and the way we won it, it was a good day."

After a spell in the USA - "I wanted to try something different, test myself in a different country", Beard told Sky Sports in 2022 - the 46-year-old returned to the UK at West Ham in 2018.

It was a season of firsts - West Ham's first in the WSL and their first FA Cup final at Wembley. They ultimately lost to Manchester City in the showpiece match, and what seems to be a Beard trademark, finished seventh in the league with 23 points.

The spotlight was on West Ham too, and not just because of their on-field achievements. The club were being filmed for a BBC documentary, following the then-teenaged Jack Sullivan - son of West Ham owner, David Sullivan - as the managing director of the women's team.

"I've got so many highlights - taking West Ham United to Wembley I guess was written in the stars with the documentary that was happening," Beard reflected on Thursday.

"I've got so many learning experiences. Jack Sullivan was 18 or 19 at the time, but was really good at what he did."

It was perhaps a spell at Bristol City where Beard faced his toughest challenge to date, replacing Tanya Oxtoby on an interim basis with the club fighting to stay in the WSL.

The Robins ultimately were relegated, adding another layer of experience to Beard's repertoire, who explained: "When I look back to working with younger players [at Bristol City] and the talent pool for these young players - I've played young players wherever I've been, but it was eye opening.

"That within itself was a fantastic achievement if you look at where we were when I went in and some of the performance levels we produced. We never quite got there and it was a tough challenge."

It was a drop into the Championship that saw Beard return to Liverpool, adding another trophy to his tally with the Reds as the club stormed to the league title and back into the WSL for the 2022/23 season.

At the time, it took Beard's tally to three titles in four seasons at Liverpool. Even now, it remains three titles in five and a half seasons - an impressive return.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool's first season back in the WSL, Beard said of his success with the club: "I don't think there's any magic answer. We just work hard, we enjoy ourselves as well, which is a big thing.

"I love the city, love the fans and what the club means to the city. It just feels like home for me."

A first season back in the WSL is always about consolidation and, as history repeated itself for Beard, Liverpool finished seventh on 23 points. There were also standout victories, including an opening-weekend win against Chelsea.

This season, Beard has somewhat quietly gone about Liverpool's business. While the spotlight has been on the excitement of a title race, the Reds now find themselves in fourth - the best of the rest, if you will. They are 10 points better off than they were at this stage last season.

As Beard says himself, his experiences over decades have shaped how he works now. That comes not only with winning games, but also the creation and curation of a squad who can cope with the demands of the league.

Last summer, we saw the beginnings of that. Four of the seven players who have played in 15 or more of the Liverpool's 17 WSL games this season were summer arrivals.

Their leading scorers too - Sophie Roman Haug (5) and Marie Hobinger (4) - are among those players, while the likes of Liverpool Women's record appearance holder Gemma Bonner, Fuka Nagano, Ceri Holland and Missy-Bo Kearns also remain vitally important to Liverpool's success.

"I know we've got a talented squad," Beard told Sky Sports. "We have a young squad so we anticipated that there would be ups and downs.

"But what's really surprised me and what has been really pleasing is the response when we've had after a negative result. We've always moved on and picked up points.

"We've got everything here - we've got some young talent, some great experience to help them and a great group of staff. Everyone works so hard on and off the pitch and it means that we've got a good environment. Melwood has been a big part of that because we've got everything we need to prepare the team."

Liverpool's defence has been one of their bedrocks of success. Grace Fisk and Jenna Clark - summer signings, lining up alongside Bonner in a back three - needed no time to adapt, while Rachael Laws provides solidity in goal.

Overall, Liverpool have conceded just 21 goals this season - the fourth best in the WSL - while Laws has only had to make 42 saves, ranking her in 11th. It is testament to the performances of those in front of her.

In the 2022/23 season, the Reds conceded 39 goals - funnily enough, the seventh lowest in the league - and are on course to reduce that this time around. And teams should not expect to score many headed goals against Liverpool either - they rank high for aerial dominance too.

Beard also offered an insight into how Liverpool have improved their attacking play too, explaining to Hooper: "Eighty-two per cent of goals scored in the 18-yard box are with two touches or less so little things like that, we design our finishing drills around it.

"Most scored goals are crosses or transitions so we work on those moments in training so when we attack the opposition, we give ourselves the opportunity of scoring.

"When we look at recruitment, we look at players to fit the bill for that and on top of that, we've bought players in that can score goals and we wanted that all around the team."

It has all coincided with an unbeaten run of five WSL games - three wins and two draws - including two clean sheets. They have been points taken from teams around them too, which is a good marker of how well a team is performing.

But Liverpool will need to harness all the talent and experience they possess in the dugout and on the pitch when they take on title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday.

Facing Gareth Taylor's title-chasing side two months ago saw Liverpool beaten 5-1 - accounting for around 24 per cent of their entire conceded goals tally this season - and Manchester City have won their last 11 WSL games.

However, it was likely a poor bet to back a Liverpool win in last season's meeting at Prenton Park, but the Reds came away with a famous 2-1 victory. Manchester City will be the favourites again this weekend, live on Sky Sports, but Liverpool know how to spring a surprise.

And for a manager who has, for much of his 163 WSL appearances, been at the helm of an 'underdog', there would be no more fitting tribute to his career than a win against the favourites.

But whatever the outcome on Saturday, Beard already has a team and a season to be proud of, continuing to be a integral part of the growth of the women's game.