FA WSL Preview – Chelsea

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 5th / 6th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. Last year we went alphabetical in presenting the teams, but this year we’ve plumped for reverse order of where each club was placed when the league was finally abandoned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having looked at Manchester City in the previous article now we turn our attention to Chelsea who were awarded the WSL title on a points-per-game basis with a quarter of the season left due to the Coronavirus…

Chelsea Football Club Women

Chelsea Manager Emma Hayes – anticipating the toughest WSL season yet…

Last Season: 1st of 12

Nickname: The Blues

Founded: 1992

Home Ground: Kingsmeadow, (capacity 4,850 – 2,265 seated)

“You have to remember I’ve been here nine years. This hasn’t just happened, I haven’t just assembled a team overnight. This has taken some time to build a quality team, and I am so lucky to be given the chance to manage at Chelsea and be given the trust by the club to build players that have stuck with me.”

Emma Hayes, Manager, via SkySports.com 30/8/2020

Records of the 2019/20 season will always have the proverbial asterix* next to them and some accompanying text to the effect of ‘title decided on a points-per-game (PPG) basis’.

COVID-19 decimated the sporting calendar from March onwards and the FA were left with two choices on what to do when they eventually abandoned Women’s Super League fixture programme: null and void all results in line with the lower level National Leagues; or award the title against an acceptable sporting-based metric. FA Director of the Women’s Game, Kelly Simmons, and her colleagues plumped for the latter and Chelsea had secured their third WSL title (Spring Series notwithstanding).

It wasn’t a wholly popular decision – just ask Manchester City and Liverpool fans – but in just about every way you could slice it, the Blues were looking the best team in the division.

They were the only side to go unbeaten the entire season – including the Continental Cup (which they won) and the FA Women’s Cup. They had a 100% record at home. They were the division’s top scorers (bearing in mind they had played one game less than City).  And, crucially, they had taken ten points from a possible twelve in fixtures against their Sky Blue rivals and title holders Arsenal.

So, while the PPG decision was polarizing, it would be disingenuous to claim that Chelsea didn’t deserve the trophy once a trophy was actually made available to be deserving of.

Four players left after the season officially ended, the most eyebrow raising being Swiss international Ramona Bachmann – although in truth the 29-year old attacker was being utilized more as a game-changer from the bench than a starter last year.

Similar to the previous summer, manager Emma Hayes played her cards close to her chest with transfer activity limited. She brought in promising young winger Niamh Charles from Liverpool and Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming – who at just 22-years old had already earned 77 senior international caps for her country. Nonetheless, on the face of it these signings looked like future-proofing rather than bolstering the starting eleven. 

And that seemed to be that – bearing in mind that Australian super striker Sam Kerr had joined midway through the title winning campaign and German midfielder Melanie Leupolz arrived at Kingsmeadow around 20 minutes before COVID-19 shut the place down.

Both of these players featured in Chelsea’s 2-0 Community Shield win versus Manchester City last weekend with varying degrees of success. Leupolz, a gold medallist with her national team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, ran the show with Sophie Ingle and Ji in the middle of the park. Kerr, meanwhile, was presented with multiple goal scoring opportunities but fluffed her lines over and over – don’t expect that to continue.

Then, during the build up to the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final between Lyon and Wolfsburg, a rumour emerged that Danish hotshot Pernille Harder was heading to Chelsea. While Harder politely tried to play it down following her team’s defeat, the story had already gained traction and – coupling in the fact that she is the life partner of Blues’ Captain Magda Eriksson – it all made perfect sense and was confirmed two days later with a big unveiling.

Pernille Harder – In England to give WSL defenders nightmares and Emma Hayes selection headaches.

Harder is regarded as one of the best attacking players in Europe. She has scored 61 times in 118 caps for her country and was a driving force in getting Denmark to the final of Euro 2017. For her various clubs she has amassed 163 strikes in 195 appearances.

The 27-year old can play as an out-and-out striker, as a link between the forward line and midfield or as a completely free role ‘10’. She’s always on the move, can run with the ball at pace, take opponents on, play between the lines, ghost into the box untracked, shoot comfortably off either foot from distance, oh and score with her head. She brings a commensurate level of quality to Chelsea’s ranks as City’s American arrivals have, and ramps up the competition for attacking places.

Like City, then, Chelsea have to figure out how to keep all their star players happy.

Last season forward Bethany England was on another level. Strong, quick and cunning, England looked one of the best players in the division accumulating 21 strikes in 23 league and cup games. It will be impossible to bench her if she keeps that up. Skillful Norwegian winger Guro Reiten smashed it in her first season with 5 goals and 8 assists. Ji has been a top drawer WSL player for years and manager Emma Hayes believes that Team GB should build their team around Welsh ball-winning midfielder Sophie Ingle.

Beth England (9), Ji So-yun and Sophie Ingle (5) (Photo by Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC/

Popular forward Fran Kirby is back, influencing Chelsea’s Community Shield victory last Sunday on the right flank of the attack. Kirby’s 2019 season was severely disrupted from November onwards and she was eventually diagnosed with pericarditis (inflammation of the fibrous sac that surrounds the heart), a condition which also reportedly impacted on her mental health to the point where she even considered walking away from the game.

The Blues’ back line is settled and well organised. Lionesses’ centre-back Millie Bright was in the form of her life alongside Magda Eriksson. Norway Captain Maren Mjelde made the right back slot her own (but can also glide around central midfield or play at centre-half).  Jonna Andersson flies below the radar as an attacking left back but was only benched once in the league and has forged a formidable partnership with Reiten, contributing four goal assists in the bargain.

“Being in this environment, it’s not okay to ease off. You’ve got to be at your very best every day if you want to keep progressing and keep playing for the club. You’ve got to have standards that are adhered to and everyone is driving towards that. That’s in place, but I think I have a great group of people who are growing together. Because of that, the expectations they have for each other are so high that it’s the reason why we are in the position we are in.”

Emma Haynes, Manager, via Goal.com 29/8/2020

Two-thirds of the current squad are in or entering their prime years (26-29). So, there is a lot of experience and know-how to go with the talent on display. If you look at how that manifested last season, despite being prone to conceding first in matches – it happened eight times in the league – Chelsea were able to get points from losing positions every time. They were extremely resilient – that mental strength is what gave them the edge.

The Community Shield win at Wembley will be a small psychological boost for Hayes’ side but City will be riled and better prepared next time. Plus just about every other team in the division is looking a tougher proposition. Chelsea also have the Champions League to contend with – they didn’t last season. The Blues will be in the mix again for sure, but if they can’t retain their WSL title it won’t be for a lack of ‘steel’ or fire power.

Departures

  • Adelina Engman, Forward
  • Deanna Cooper, Defender
  • Anita Asante, Defender
  • Ramona Bachmann, Forward
  • Jamie-Lee Napier, Midfielder (loan, after original article)

Arrivals          

  • Niamh Charles, Winger
  • Jessie Fleming, Midfielder
  • Pernille Harder, Forward

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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