We look ahead to Saturday morning’s kick-off between Everton and Birmingham City (11.30am KO, Walton Hall Park, live on Sky Sports Premier):
Both sides are still without a point but Everton boss Willie Kirk is honest and pragmatic about their two sobering defeats which opened the season, says he used the international break to analyse and reflect, and remains undeterred about striving to achieve their collective ambition to make an impression on the FAWSL.
Willie Kirk spoke to the media in his pre-match presser on Thursday and including team news and how they are ‘stripping’ things back a little to go back to the basics, this is some of what he had to say…
On how much of a surprise the first two results were given the work done in the summer and also how much it emphasised what he already knew in terms of how much work would be needed to challenge for a top three spot?
We knew there was a lot of the work required. We’d done a lot of work over the in terms of recruitment. I think I was surprised, disappointed, a little bit shocked at the time. On reflection, and the international has been excellent for that for me, it’s probably not a huge surprise, though still disappointing. We know some of the reasons for it. Some of those reasons we can remedy straight away and some we just need to be patient.
On what in particular they looked at and have learned from analysing those opening two performances:
We analysed our performance in terms of what we’re doing and what we intended to do, set out to do, and what went right and what didn’t. And we’ve looked back over preseason and, and how we manage preseason, some of the changes that we need to be patient with, for example, the way we changed the working week. There was always going to be a bedding in time, I suppose. About how that affects the players in terms of fatigue and, and the long term benefits we get out of that. And then just looking at the way we probably tried to do too much too soon. We brought in eight new players and as well as trying to bed in eight new players, we tried to make a big changes to the system and some of the ways we go about our business on the park – and that’s probably been too many changes too quickly. So we’ve been stripping some of that back to basics, going back to a system that we know very well and making sure we bed things in properly before we move forward again.
On where the last few weeks rank in his career, in terms of how difficult they’ve been, how hard he has been on himself and what they’ve learned:
I’ve not really thought about it in that context. I’m hard on myself every week, even when we win, continue to assess what we could’ve done better and how we can strive for that perfect performance, which, as managers we know we will never get but we’re always striving to try and achieve it. Obviously, the international break is a good time to reflect at any stage in the season, but especially when we’ve changed so many things, in terms of working practices, additions to the squad, how we went about preseason, what went well, what could have been better. So yeah, I think it was a normal international break in terms of that, but there was probably a lot more to analyse. I’ve not really ranked it in terms of my career but it certainly wasn’t a nice couple of weeks.
On whether that is partly the price you pay when you have the ambition to keep on achieving and progressing:
Yeah, it’s good. I’m certainly not going to stop being ambitious, just because we’ve taken a couple of knocks, and it doesn’t matter if it’s my Everton career or my own career, in 15 years’ time, I’ll still be ambitious – that’s just part of my makeup. That ambition, I suppose adds a little bit of pressure at times, and we want to be living under pressure, we want to have that spotlight on us, we want to be seen as a top team. The exposure we’ve been crying out for and we’ve finally got it, so I certainly don’t think we can start crying about extra scrutiny, which there’s certainly been in the last couple of weeks. You just have to get on with it and I think it’s a testament to the players that have not been on international break, how hard they’ve worked over that period of time.
On the status of the squad in terms of fitness and availability going into the game tomorrow:
We still have a bit of uncertainty because the players all travelled on Wednesday. I’ve just had a report on a couple of illnesses, we just need to monitor that over the next 24 hours. There are two players who will miss training today [Thursday] because of feeling poorly and we think it would be unwise for us to force them to train today. So that’s not helpful.
There’s a couple of players who have slight knocks from the international break, but we’ll assess them this morning before training this afternoon.
Some good news is Simone Magill is getting closer and closer to a comeback, she missed the Northern Ireland international break and she won’t be available this weekend, but hopefully next weekend.
Leo Maier, who missed the international break with Germany and has not been able to make her debut yet, will be in the matchday squad. She is a top player and I’m excited to see her in an Everton jersey.
Lucy Graham, we pulled her out of the Chelsea game, she had a recurrence of a back injury that she had in pre-season, she missed Scotland’s international games and she remains out, so that’s frustrating.
Other than that we hope everyone is available.
On Birmingham City and his counterpart, fellow Scot Scott Booth, in the opposite dugout, for Saturday’s game:
I think every week you will see improvement, Scott is a top coach, top manager and is very meticulous in his work and the detail he works with. Birmingham will improve with every week I’m sure. They’ve not had the start they would have wanted, neither have we, so both teams are probably going into the game with similar mindset, that we must do better. He’ll be looking to pick up points as quickly as possible, as we are. I think on paper, it’s obvious to see we have a lot of quality there. Scott has had to continue to recruit up to the last minute, and I’m sure he’s not finished recruiting. He’s got a really honest group of players there, a lot of them I know, and I think he’s recruited probably as good as he could have in the time he has had.
On how excited everyone is for Saturday’s fixture – how it feels like starting again:
It does, actually, I think because the international break comes so quickly into the season. And because we were still introducing new signings into the squad up until, you know, a week and a half before the season started. It does feel almost like a restart. And we’ll certainly be treating Birmingham in terms that enthusiasm that you have, at the start of the season – it almost feels like that enthusiasm again. So, the players are looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to it, and we’re looking to get back on the pitch and especially on that new playing surface at Walton Hall Park.
On how the early kick-off presents the opportunity to watch the women and then head to Goodison to see the men in action, in a Toffees-style doubleheader:
Yes. It’s only a mile away, the kick-off times work quite well. If you’re planning to go to Goodison and you can get along a few hours earlier, it would be great to add your voices to the support you will get. The supporters were fantastic against Man City at Goodison and we feel we’re due them something back, and we plan for that to be this weekend. So as many of those numbers that can come along, it will be as helpful as possible.
On whether the opening two games and results have led to any reassessment in terms of their overall ambitions for the season:
Not from me, not from the players. We just need to make sure that those lofty ambitions and really ambitious targets are brought back always to the short-term, which is always the 90 minutes in front of us, and I think that is really important going forward, that we don’t think too far ahead, because I think that is when you get caught out. So all the focus is on Birmingham.
On the Spurs v Man City result before the international break and whether we will see more surprise results like that across this, perhaps the most open WSL season for some years:
I think we saw some of those results last year as well, so nothing really shocks me anymore. When Brighton beat Chelsea, that was a shock last season. So Tottenham beating Man City is probably on a similar level. Brighton went on to have a really good season and Spurs might do the same. So, I think the level of player, level of coach, level of everything now in the WSL means those results, although deemed as shocks, should probably not surprise anyone, anymore. And that’s a good think because it shows the strength of the league now.