Carla Ward: ‘No-one gave us a chance after five games’ but we’ve got eyes on the top six ahead of Liverpool test

It is no secret that Carla Ward’s Aston Villa endured a testing start to the 2023/24 Barclays Women’s Super League season. Billed as the next big thing and the likeliest team to break into the race for European qualification, the Villans lost their first five games in the league – but as they prepare to face Liverpool on Sunday, Ward is full of optimism that her side can complete a dramatic rise into the top half of the standings.

Three points at the Poundland Bescot Stadium could see Aston Villa rise into sixth-place, dependent on other results across the league, and Ward explained in her pre-match press conference that it is ‘absolutely huge’ for the club.

‘I think I touched on it after the Tottenham game: no-one gave us a chance after five games and all of a sudden we’re within touching distance, but we’re also just a couple of defeats away from being in the mix at the bottom so I think our feet are firmly on the ground.’

‘The group want top six and that’s what we’re going to go after,’ she added.

But while Sunday’s match could have a monumental impact on the Villans season, they also have a Conti Cup semifinal ahead of them – against high-flying Arsenal at Meadow Park on Wednesday. Despite that, Ward insists that ‘nobody’s even discussed it.’

‘There’s no talk of Wednesday, the only talk right now is how important this weekend is. I don’t think there’s a single person that’s mentioned Wednesday and that’s the way it’ll stay. The focus is very much on Liverpool and only Liverpool,’ she told reporters.

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Ward was full of praise for her managerial opponent, who she expressed has done ‘a wonderful job in his second stint on Merseyside.

‘I think [Matt Beard] has done a great job, he’s got them playing some of the best football they have in a long time. They’re resolute, organised – I’ve got a lot of admiration for Matt as a manager and as a person. I’ve got a good relationship with him off the pitch, as well as I have on the pitch but for ninety minutes, we won’t be friends for sure!’

‘The job he’s done professionally has been outstanding but he’s one of the most experienced in the division. He knows it like the back of his hand, he’s a difficult opponent but Liverpool are where they are because they’ve got a lot of quality and they deserve to be where they are, so it’s going to be a tough afternoon.’

Ward was also asked for her thoughts on the correlation between the traditional Premier League ‘Big Six’ and the current top six teams in the Barclays Women’s Super League. Thinking pensively about her word choice, she offered: ‘It’s probably reflective, I think there’s a reason there’s a top six in the men’s game and it’s probably the same reason there’s a top six in the women’s game – that’d be the best way of putting it.’

‘There are a lot of components that play a part and I think I had this conversation about Reading. Reading punched above their weight for many years, and I know the game’s changed but now you need an influx of investment, infrastructure – you need all of those elements and that’s important. You can only do so much with what you’ve got.’

‘Anyone that thinks that everyone is on a level playing field is wrong. There’s a massive difference in wages from top to bottom, there’s a massive difference in budgets from top to bottom and I think the gap probably needs closing. How that happens, I’m not sure.’