The (Chelsea FC Women) Euro 2022 Knockout Stage Review

A tournament they fulfilled all expectations.

Record crowds, quality football, and gripping drama.

A true success on and off the pitch

And a tournament that means Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Jess Carter and Bethany England will return to Kingsmeadow as European Champions – but one that overall with mixed fortunes for the Blues representing their nations..

The following review focuses on the Chelsea players involved in the business end of the official biggest ever Women’s Euros – appraising how they and their nations fared, as the record-breaking tournament came to its spectacular conclusion at Wembley on Sunday evening, in front of over 87,000 fans of women’s football.

As a refresher, the review of the group stage can be found here.

Quarter-finals 

Sixteen teams had been reduced to eight, but there was set to be Chelsea FC Women involvement in each of the quarter-finals of Euro 2022, as the knockout stage began.

Germany, England and France had won the most plaudits following the opening round of games. Two of the pre-tournament favourites in Sweden and Spain had slightly underwhelmed expectations – in terms of performances, if not results – and the defending champions, the Netherlands, had looked short of the side who upset the odds to win in 2017. 

Denmark, Norway and Italy were some of the early casualties – with the quarter-final line up instead completed by the more unfancied Austria and Belgium. 

England 2-1 Spain (AET)

England came from one goal down against a Spain team who had frankly been the better side for most of the game, to avoid an embarrassing early exit at the Lionesses’ home tournament.

Spain had not been at their best in the knockout stages, and were clearly missing star players Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso, as they failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype.

La Roja finally turned up in Brighton though – dominating the midfield and possession, to give England by far their most difficult game of the tournament.

Fran Kirby in the midfield was suffocated by the Spaniards, and did not have the best of games, being substituted in the second half.

Millie Bright meanwhile, was outstanding – and eventually named Player of the Match, furthering her claim as the best centre half at this tournament.

England had equalised late in the 90 through Ella Toone – brought on for Kirby – and then won it in extra time with a Georgia Stanway wonder goal.

Jess Carter and Beth England again did not feature.

Germany 2-0 Austria

Ann-Katrin Berger again did not make an appearance for Germany – having not played a minute yet at the tournament, as firm second choice to number 1 goalkeeper Merle Frohms.

Austria have proven themselves with their performances at this tournament to be a very capable and well-organised team – and did pose a challenge to Germany. The game was slightly less straightforward than the scoreline looks – with a late mistake from Austrian keeper Manuela Zinsberger putting a 2-0 gloss on the game, which belied how close the game was in stages.

However, aside from an opening spell where the Austrians hit the post, the Germans never looked in true danger of going out – and so dutifully marched on to the semi-finals.

Sweden 1-0 Belgium

Magda Eriksson did not have much defending to do in a game in which Sweden eventually scored with their 34th attempt, in the 92nd minute.

Belgium had adopted a very low (and successful) block – and the game was a case of challenging Sweden to batter down the barricade.

It was not the best performance from the pre-tournament favourites – but they did what they needed to do.

Again, Zecira Musovic did not play, with Hedvig Lindahl still preferred as first choice goalkeeper. 

France 1-0 Netherlands (AET)

A match that the French should have won comfortably, given their dominance – but instead required extra time, and a penalty, to secure the victory and advance to what was their first semi-final at any tournament since the 2011 World Cup.

Eve Perisset, our new signing who turned many heads with her performances in the group stage, was again a standout in what was really an outstanding attacking display from France… aside from the goals.

This was thanks mainly to some heroic defending and even more heroic goalkeeping from breakout star of the tournament Daphne van Domselaar. The 22 year old was only introduced to the team due to the injury to Dutch veteran Sari van Veenendaal in the opening game. Van Domselaar looks to have made the place firmly her own with her performance – and her senior colleague has since announced her retirement https://www.espn.com/soccer/netherlands-nedw/story/4708700/netherlands-captainpsv-goalkeeper-sari-van-veenendaal-retires-at-32, signifying the beginning of a true changing of the guard for the Dutch.

After much toil, it was Chelsea’s Perisset who eventually proved the goal hero for the French – scoring the decisive penalty in extra time.

Aniek Nouwen was a late substitute for the Dutch, in extra time – and could really do little to affect the game. Nouwen will leave the tournament disappointed with the result for her team, but with more valuable experience of a major international tournament – Anieuk is still only 23, and likely has a long career for her national team ahead of her, especially as the Netherlands are a side transitioning to a new era 

Semi-finals

With the quarter-finals complete, there remained Chelsea representatives in each of the four countries left standing – meaning we still had eight players still in with a chance of becoming European champions.

England 4-0 Sweden

Sweden had been the bookies’ favourites heading into the tournament – but had not really played like it. As in the quarter-final vs Spain, England discovered that it was to be the game against them that their opposition finally turned up in – and were thoroughly under the cosh in the opening 25 minutes.

Millie Bright stood up admirably in defence, as she has done all tournament – and helped England to survive the onslaught.

The game was to completely change shortly before half time, when Arsenal’s Beth Mead finished superbly from England’s first real chance of the game to put the Lionesses into a 1-0 lead that was slightly against the run of play.

But nobody could have predicted the second half.

England stepped it up to their brilliant best – and the Swedes folded, with echoes of England’s thrashing of another Scandinavian nation earlier in the tournament, when they demolished Denmark 8-0.

Magda Eriksson was amongst a Sweden defence that crumbled as England scored three second half goals. Fran Kirby, starting her fifth consecutive game created the third goal – an absolutely stunning and never-to-be-forgotten backheel nutmeg from Alessia Russo. Kirby then put the icing on the cake with England’s fourth – an audacious chip past the hapless former Chelsea goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, who had had a torrid time in the second half.

Zerica Musovic, Jess Carter and Beth England again did not feature.

The Swedes exited very disappointed, given their expectations pre-tournament, and status as the highest ranked European country in the FIFA rankings. With an ageing side, it may well have been the last chance for this generation of Swedish players to win silverware.

England, meanwhile, advanced on to a Wembley final at their home tournament – and celebrated their success with a raucous crowd at Bramall Lane, amongst scenes of utter delight and rapture.
Wembley awaits, England expects.

Germany 2-1 France

Ann-Katrin Berger was again an unused substitute, although the Germans did concede their first goal of the tournament in this game – an unfortunate rebound off of number one Merle Frohms. Nonetheless, Frohms’ place remained entirely safe for the subsequent final, after the Germans won a deserved victory against a spirited France side.

An Alexandra Popp brace either side of Frohms’ error won the game for Germany – who advanced to their ninth final, having won all eight finals they have previously contested. 

Germany legend Popp has been one of the stories of the tournament, having scored in her fifth consecutive game after having never before featured at a Euros, missing the previous two with injury.

Eve Perisset overall had an excellent tournament – and France proved a point to onlookers, who doubted their credentials due to their constant dressing room drama (much of which is attributed to manager Corinne Diacre). Their so-called ‘quarter final curse’ has been broken with their first ever Euros semi-final – and that must be taken as a success for Les Bleus.

The final

The stage was set, with 87,000 in attendance at Wembley – a new crowd record for both men’s and women’s matches at the Euros. It was a showpiece occasion to round off what had been a seismic tournament for women’s football in England, and by extension the game at large.

In a final that seemed destined from the early days of the group stages, host nation England were to play Germany in the latest iteration of a truly historic footballing rivalry.

England had never won a Euros – having lost 6-2 to Germany in the 2009 final, at a time when England were at best semi-pro, and Germany set the standard in the women’s game. England have since caught up, on the back of real investment and support – but were yet to have the breakthrough of winning a major tournament, which would mean they had truly broken through as a genuine powerhouse of the women’s game.


The Lionesses were riding a wave of momentum and public support at their home Euros – but Germany were riding the history of being the country that owns this tournament, having won it eight times, and never lost a final.

All agreed these were the two best countries at the tournament – and hence this was to be a fitting match-up to determine the champions.

England 2-1 Germany (AET)

Sarina Wiegman set a new Euros record, in naming an unchanged XI for the sixth game – meaning Millie Bright and Fran Kirby started again for the Lionesses.

All three of Jess Carter, Beth England and Ann-Katrin Berger were not to feature – meaning the latter two did not play a minute at this tournament, and Carter was limited to only a cameo role against Northern Ireland in a dead rubber.

But that will have mattered little to the two Englishwomen, who celebrated England’s Euros win with all of the enthusiasm that it deserved – Beth England even being one of the first to lift Sarina Wiegman into the sky in jubilation

Millie Bright was again a rock in defence for England – especially in the nervous extra time minutes when Engalnd had to defend a lead for the second time, after having been pegged back in the second half by Germany.

Fran Kirby had looked sharp early on, and created an excellent chance for Ellen White – but was soon taken out of the game by the oppressive Lena Oberdorf in Germany’s midfield, and was substituted around the hour mark.

The details paled into significance at full time for all of Chelsea’s Lionesses though, who are now part of history for their nation.

To round it off, Emma Hayes was spotted crying on the touchline. She surely would have been immensely proud of her players – who it is fair to say, would likely not be performing at this level without the influence of their club manager.

Summary

They think it’s all over… et cetera.

The team with the most Chelsea representatives are the one who have won the Euros – meaning Bright, Kirby, Carter and England now have some fresh winners’ medals to add to their extensive collection of club honours.

The best-performing Chelsea player outside of the Lionesses was easily new signing Eve Perisset – whose performances for France should have many Blues fans excited about seeing her at Kingsmeadow come September

The other Chelsea players involved were mainly left disappointed.

Of those who did feature for their nations, Pernille Harder suffered a disappointing group stage exit in a poor showing from the Danes, despite her own individual performances being the best thing about Denmark at this tournament. 

Guro Reiten will be even more disappointed after a disastrous group stage failure for Norway – despite her free kick in their 3-1 opening win against Northern Ireland, which had helped get their tournament off to a good start. 

Aniek Nouwen’s Netherlands also underwhelmed and were knocked out in the quarter-finals – with Nouwen having had a mixed and injury-hit tournament. 

Magda Eriksson performed definitively “alright” for Sweden – who look to have reached the end of their current cycle, and are left without a trophy to show for it despite so many impressive performances at major tournaments in recent years. 

Pre-season is already underway at Kingsmeadow for the non-international players. The players involved at the Euros will have a well-earned rest, before coming together again to leave the summer behind them, and start matters anew for Chelsea.

The (Chelsea FC Women) Euro 2022 Group Stage Review

The group stage at Euro 2022 is now complete – twelve days and twenty-four matches after it began, in what has been a real festival of football so far.

England’s 1-0 win against Austria at Old Trafford set a new record attendance for the Women’s Euros, as nearly 70,000 fans packed into the Theatre of Dreams to get the tournament off to the best of starts

Momentum has gathered since. More milestones were to be reached at Bramall Lane, Stadium MK, and then Bramall Lane again, as the record crowd for a group stage match not featuring the host nation was broken three times. The overall attendance throughout the completed group stage has smashed the record for total attendance set at Euro 2017 – and actually surpassed it with 15 group games still left to go.

The fans have come out in their numbers, and been rewarded with what has been an opening half to the tournament that has delivered the pre-tournament hype.

We have seen 78 goals across the 24 games – including a record 8-0 scoreline – and there has not been a single goalless draw.  

This tournament was touted to be the most competitive ever – and with the quarter-finalists now decided, the winner does not appear a huge amount clearer, with several countries still looking like potential champions.

As with the Kingsmeadow Chronicles’ preview of the tournament, this review of the group stages will focus on how the Chelsea players representing their nations have fared. Many of whom have been key characters in the narratives that have unfolded – and will hope to have more of a role to play in their quest to return to Kingsmeadow as European Champions.

Group A

Group A was won comfortably by England, with Austria finishing as surprise runners-up ahead of a hugely disappointing Norway. Northern Ireland on their tournament debut finished last – but as the lowest ranked team in the tournament by far, won praise with how they acquitted themselves. Captain Julie Nelson’s goal against Norway will go down in Northern Irish footballing history, as their first at a major tournament.  

England vs Norway was seen pre-tournament as the match of the group – but rather than a close group decider, it was instead arguably the most remarkable result of all-time in the Women’s Euros. England were ruthless, and Norway capitulant – adding up to a 8-0 defeat for the Scandinavaians, a record scoreline for the competition which sent shockwaves throughout the tournament. 

England’s attacking performance – which after the edgy start against Austria saw them score a total of 14 goals with none conceded (another record in the group stage for the Euros) – only amplified the building hype of them as potential tournament winners, on home soil.

Austria have proved themselves to be a genuinely decent team in their solid display against England, and wins against Northern Ireland and Norway – being especially impressive in the latter. Austria debuted at the Euros in 2017 and made a shock run to the semi-final – and in their second tournament, have upset the odds again to advance to the knockout stages.

It was a very disappointing tournament for Norway – who with the return of superstar Ada Hegerberg to the national team set up, were considered by many as dark horses… and were instead found to be utterly lame.

England

Millie Bright was arguably the standout player for England in their (slightly nervous) opening night win against Austria. Particularly so in the opening exchanges, where the Austrians played on the front foot and put the England defence under significant pressure. Rather than her centre back partner and captain, Leah Williamson, it was Bright who took control, and her commanding presence was central to England riding that storm. Her characteristic diagonal long balls were also key in England’s attacking system – and Bright earned widespread praise for her performance.

Bright had substantially less to do in England’s 8-0 demolition of Norway, which saw England progress as winners of Group A. 

Fran Kirby started both of England’s first two games alongside Bright – and it was her pass which created the goal for Beth Mead in England’s win against Austria, to get the Lionesses tournament underway. The assist was a real moment of magic from Kirby – the difference that Chelsea fans are used to seeing her providing, as a player who really can create something out of nothing.

Kirby contributed two assists to England’s thrashing of Norway, and was part of an irresistible attacking unit, in her role linking the midfield and attack.

Both Bright and Kirby started England’s final group game against Northern Ireland to make it three from three. Bright was subbed at half time, in the interest of rotation, ahead of the knockout stages. Kirby is showing no signs of the fatigue which so affected her during the domestic season – and got her first goal of the tournament to break the deadlock in this game, with a well-placed long range strike. It was the first 90 minutes Kirby has completed since January – and a positive indicator of her current fitness.

Jess Carter and Bethany England did not feature in England’s first two games – Carter was a second half sub in the win against Northern Ireland, to make her major tournament debut. England may consider herself unfortunate not to feature – and now seems unlikely to, with a clear pecking order established in which she is third behind fellow centre forwards Ellen White and Alessia Russo.

Norway

Guro Reiten impressed as one of Norway’s fearsome attacking trident alongside Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen in their 4-1 win against Northern Ireland, in their tournament opener – and got on the scoresheet with an excellent free kick. Alongside most of Norway’s team, she was a non-entity in the defeat to England.

There was not much to report about Norway’s captain Maren Mjelde in the aforementioned 4-1 win against Northern Ireland – although signs of a slightly shaky defence already seemed apparent. Mjelde was then unfortunate to be a member of the Norway defence that was torn apart by England – and arguably at fault for several goals. Former Chelsea player Maria Thorisdottir had an even more torrid time. 

Mjelde had a season last year decimated by injury, only featuring in four games for Chelsea – and playing just 56 minutes – and it showed here.

Mjelde and Reiten were then to be left bitterly disappointed by Norway’s 1-0 defeat to Austria, which saw them exit the tournament. It was another poor performance – and they were potentially affected by the hangover of the humiliation against England – although Austria have clearly proven themselves to be a solid outfit. 

It really was a disastrous showing for the Norwegians, all round.

Group B

The so-called Group of Death was dominated by the Germans, who have firmly established themselves as one of the favourites, after going slightly under the radar coming in. 

Germany won all three games with an aggregate score of 9-0 – and were joined in the quarter-finals by Spain, who had been shaken by the huge blow on the eve of the tournament of the loss of star player and Ballon d’Or winner, Alexia Putellas, to an ACL injury. 

Spain defeated Denmark 1-0 in the final group game to secure second place, having lost the crunch game of the group 2-0 to Germany in their previous fixture. 

Finland exited the tournament without a win – but had impressed with their performances, and the brilliant support from their travelling fans. 

Germany

Chelsea’s sole representative for Germany is goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger, who is firmly entrenched as a back up to number one Merle Frohms. Berger did not feature in any of Germany’s three group games, and is unlikely to – barring injury to Frohms, who is one of the best keepers in world football. 

Denmark

Much of Denmark’s hopes were likely to rest on the shoulders of their captain and star player, Pernille Harder. And so too it proved. Harder was completely shut down by a hugely impressive Germany in their 4-0 defeat of the Danes – and it was Harder who proved the hero in Denmark’s subsequent 1-0 win against Finland. Her late goal kept their hopes of progression alive, as part of a Player of the Match performance.

Sadly for Harder, her tournament ended at the hands of Spain, who beat Denmark 1-0 in their final group game to progress as runners-up. The consensus was that for all of Harder’s brilliance – which was especially evident in the games against Finland and Spain – she could only really take her team so far. 

Group C

Group C turned out to be the most closely contested, with all four teams in with a chance of qualifying heading into the final round of games.

Sweden’s 5-0 victory over Portugal – who had won many fans with their spirited attacking play – saw them progress as group winners on goal difference, ahead of the Netherlands, with Portugal and Switzerland going home.

Arguably, both Sweden and Netherlands slightly underwhelmed their pre-tournament expectations – although Sweden may now be fully firing, judging by their performance in their final group game. 

The Netherlands have looked shaky defensively – failing to keep a clean sheet in any game. They have also been affected by injury and COVID absences – and will be sweating on the fitness of star player Vivianne Miedema ahead of the quarter-finals, who missed their final two games with COVID.

Sweden

Magda Eriksson’s biggest contribution to Sweden’s 1-1 draw with the Netherlands was a brilliant goal-saving tackle, late on, and she continued to look in fine fettle without standing out hugely in their subsequent wins against Switzerland and Portugal.

As back-up keeper, Zerica Musovic did not feature in any of Sweden’s games – with Chelsea legend and former player Hedvig Lindahl starting ahead of her.

The Netherlands

Aniek Nouwen started against Sweden, but did not have a great game. She first got absolutely DONE with a brutal nutmeg from Kosovare Asllani for Sweden’s opener – and then forced off with injury following a clash with her own goalkeeper. She subsequently missed the Dutch’s dramatic 3-2 win vs Portugal.  

The 23-year-old returned to the starting XI for the Dutch’s decisive game against Switzerland – and although the defence looked slightly improved, overall remains looking vulnerable.

Group D

France were the clear favourites in this group, which also featured Italy, Belgium and Iceland. Les Bleus lived up to expectations, cantering to the top of the group with little difficulty. Their most impressive performance was their first – a 5-1 win against Italy, who many had pegged as dark horses ahead of the tournament.

A subsequent win on Bastille Day for the French, against Belgium, secured qualification to the quarter-finals as the group winner. Belgium were to advance in second place after beating Italy 1-0 in their final group game to eliminate both the Italians and the Icelanders, despite the latter’s dramatic late draw against France. 

The well-documented disharmony in the France camp – much of which centres around manager Corinne Diacre – had led to some question marks over their prospects ahead of the tournament, but thus far they have delivered on the pitch, and established themselves as one of the frontrunners.

France

Our sole representative in Group D is one who we have not yet seen on the pitch for Chelsea – summer signing Eve Perisset. For many Chelsea fans this tournament was therefore the first chance to really get a good look at the flying full back in action  – and most will have liked what they have seen so far. 

Perisset put in an impressive performance in France’s 5-1 win against Italy, being a key player in the French’s dominant attack. She started again against Belgium, where she was again most notable for her attacking contributions – which should make her fit in well at Kingsmeadow.

Perisset was one of five France players rested from the starting XI in their final group game against Iceland, as manager Corinne Diacre saw fit to rotate, with first place in the group already secured. France did not look at their best – and there was some serious late drama Iceland equalised with a VAR-assisted penalty in quite literally the last second to earn a well-deserved 1-1 draw. There was not even enough time to kick off again – which meant due to failing to match Belgium’s win, Iceland exited, despite not having lost a group game.

Looking ahead to the knock-out stage

The magic of international tournaments is that the football just keeps on coming. After a one day break, the quarter-finals are set to take place from this Wednesday through to Saturday, with the schedule as follows:

England vs Spain (Wednesday 20th July)

Germany vs Austria (Thursday 21st July)

Sweden vs Belgium (Friday 22nd July)

France vs Netherlands (Saturday 23rd July)

About those predictions…

To reiterate the caution expressed in the tournament preview… given the competitiveness of this tournament, and how many countries capable of winning are still in contention, it still seems foolish to call a champion. The group stage has given us some more information to speculate on, though.

Germany and England look like the two best sides. Both are yet to concede a goal, and won all three group games with ease. They have been flawless – and impenetrable – so far.

France are the other side highlighted as one of the favourites. Although their attack looks formidable, they appear less assured defensively than the English and the Germans – and failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their three group games, including a 1-1 draw against Iceland. 

Their 5-1 win against Italy to open their campaign earned much acclaim – especially with how they blew the Azzurri away in the first half – and was enough to make many observers (positively) re-appraise France’s chances. However, they have looked progressively less impressive in each game since, and are now missing star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto with an ACL injury, sustained in the win against Belgium.

Of the other quarter-finalists, Austria and Belgium look outside bets to progress any further – being well outmatched on paper by their respective opponents of Germany and Sweden.

Otherwise, Spain, the Netherlands, and Sweden have slightly underwhelmed. 

Spain had been hamstrung by the cruel loss of star player Alexia Putellas on the eve of the tournament to an ACL injury – and a 2-0 loss to Germany in the group stage may have been a reality check for their prospects. Much has been made of the quality of the players in their squad – but at the same time they have no real history of success at major international tournaments.

Both Sweden and the Dutch got the job done in Group C, but without hugely impressing. With their 5-0 win over Portugal to win the group on the final match day, Sweden may now be coming into form – and they are known to grow into tournaments. 

The Netherlands have missed several key players to injury and illness – but in truth even with that caveat they look a level below the side who won the 2017 Euros, and reached the 2019 World Cup Final. This is being recognised as a transitional moment for them, under new manager Mark Parsons.

If the quarter-finals go to form, the semi-finals will be contested between England and Sweden in the top half, and Germany and France in the bottom half – and the hosts will be very glad to be in that side of the draw.

Germany and England are now the favourites – but just as warned pre-tournament, there are several teams with the quality to take home the trophy on the 31st July. The knockout stage looks set to be a brilliant one, and is sure to break more attendance records and entertain us all, on our journey to finding out who will be crowned European Champions.

The (Chelsea FC Women) Euro 2022 Preview

Euro 2022 will kick off on Wednesday at Old Trafford – just a year later than originally planned (due to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course). 

It is finally, very nearly, here. This year’s tournament is arguably the most anticipated in the competition’s history. By every metric, women’s football is bigger than it has ever been, and European football boasts an impressive strength in depth – meaning the winner could be any of several teams. 

It will be the second time England have hosted the tournament, which will take place over three and a half weeks, and culminate in a showpiece final at Wembley on the 31st July (which is already sold out).

Amongst the many stars who will feature at the tournament are several Chelsea FC Women players – and there is a good chance we will be welcoming a European champion or two back to Kingsmeadow, in September… 

Read on for a preview of the tournament – but as with every article at the Kingsmeadow Chronicles, though a Blue-tinted lens. 

The Blues in action

A team with the quality of Chelsea will of course boast of many international standard players. Twelve Blues have been selected by their national teams, making Chelsea one of the best represented clubs at the tournament. 

For England, Millie Bright has been named as new manager Sarina Wiegman’s vice captain, and is a guaranteed starter at the heart of the Lionesses’ defence. 

Jess Carter was second only to Bright for minutes played last season for Chelsea, lining up as either a central defender in a back three, or as a right back in a four. Carter’s outstanding season was recognised with a return to the England fold back in November, when she made her first appearance in four years – and she has now been rewarded with a call up for her first international tournament. 

Carter’s versatility will stand her in good stead, but she is unlikely to start, as England having several quality players in her position to call upon – and none more so than Lucy Bronze. 

Another player who will likely feature mainly as a back-up is Beth England, who finds herself between the Lionesses’ all-time leading goalscorer Ellen White, in the pecking order. 

Wiegman did give Beth a good number of minutes in the warm-up friendlies – and she scored against Switzerland in the last of these. Beth is used to being used as a substitute for Chelsea in recent seasons – and may well contribute significantly in this role for England. 

One player whose inclusion was in doubt due to her battles with a fatigue issue that had sidelined her for most of 2022, is Fran Kirby. The forward did enough to convince Wiegman, and has notched up a lot of game time in the warm-ups – where she has looked very much like an important part of Wiegman’s plans. A player with the creativity of Kirby can be the difference maker at this level – and if she can play well, England’s chances of winning their home Euros will be much enhanced. 

For Norway, Guro Reiten is likely to be a key player. The winger has carried on her outstanding WSL form into the pre-tournament friendlies, and scored a game-winning brace against Denmark.. 

Even more significant for Reiten is some major news off the pitch. Guro recently took the decision to make her sexuality public, following the terrorist attack on a LGBT bar in Oslo (the capital of her home country) and has come out as gay.  

Maren Mjelde is the second Chelsea player who will feature for Norway. For many years Mjelde has been a stalwart of the side, and is likely to remain so despite a domestic season plagued by injury. Her experience and quality are invaluable in any team. 

One of Chelsea’s biggest stars also has the potential to also light up this tournament – and that is Denmark’s Pernille Harder. Harder has looked sharp pre-tournament, and is a player upon whom much of the hopes of her nation rest. The Dane has shown for Chelsea she thrives under pressure – so this is unlikely to put her off. 

Ann-Katrin Berger is however unlikely to feature for Germany, where she is a back-up goalkeeper behind number 1 Merle Frohms. Melanie Leupolz would likely have started in central midfield for the Germans, but due to her ongoing pregnancy is not available.

Aniek Nouwen featured more than expected for Chelsea this season, due to injuries in the defence – and the highly rated young central defender is likely to add to the 30 caps she has already earned for the Netherlands, at the age of just 23. 

One side with a heavy Chelsea (and ex-Chelsea) presence is Sweden, with our captain Magda Eriksson a key player in their defence. Zerica Musovic will be second fiddle to former Chelsea (and club legend) Hedvig Lindahl in goal – but as we know from her social media, no doubt a big presence in the dressing room. 

We cannot quite count her, but recently-departed Jonna Andersson is also a regular starter for Sweden – and we wish her the best, as one of our own. 

Eve Perisset is something of a technicality for inclusion in this preview – the 27 year old defender having only signed for the club three weeks ago, as our first summer transfer. She is a France regular, and is likely to start at right back for Les Bleus. 

The group stage draw (featuring the Blue-on-Blue action)

England as tournament hosts have been drawn into Group A, alongside Austria, Norway and Northern Ireland. 

This means there will be a heavy Chelsea interest in England vs Norway, on the 11th July in Brighton. 

Germany and Denmark will contest Group B with Spain and Finland (the ‘Group of Death’) – and face off on the 8th July in Brentford. As previously mentioned, it is unlikely to be Berger who is handed the task of stopping Harder, however.

Two Chelsea centre backs are likely to be in action in the Group C clash between the Netherlands and Sweden at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, on the 9th July – with Nouwen and Eriksson likely to start for their respective teams in what is one of the stand-out games of the group stage. They will be joined in Group C by Switzerland and Portugal. 

From a Chelsea perspective, there is only one team to look out for in Group D, with Eve Perisset’s France drawn alongside Belgium, Italy and Iceland in a group they are expected to comfortably win.

Prospects and predictions 

One of the most exciting things about this tournament is just how many different sides have a genuine chance to win it, such is the depth and breadth of talent across European football. This could be the most fiercely-contested Euros ever. The contenders (and pretenders) are subsequently summarised below.

England 

The hosts have only one goal – winning their home Euros, and securing England’s first ever major tournament title. 

Given the quality and depth of the England squad – and a manager in Sarina Wiegman who has already won a home Euros (for the Netherlands, in 2017) there is a genuine chance that football will be coming home… England expects.

What works against England is the uncertainty of never having won a tournament before – and the pressure of being the hosts, which has derailed many previous hopefuls.

England have looked impressive in their warm ups – with the headline result a 5-1 pasting of defending Euros champions, the Netherlands (who Wiegman left in 2021 to take the England job). They have the players and the manager, and as such have to be one of the favourites – but putting it all together for the first ever time will always be a big hurdle to overcome. 

Norway

The headline news for Norway is the return of Ada Hegerberg, after a five year absence. The former Ballon d’Or winner is one of the best players in the world, and could carry her nation far. She has recently returned to the squad, after reconciling her differences with the Norwegian FA over conditions for women’s players – and a nearly two-year injury absence.

However, Hegerberg has a very able supporting cast – especially in attack, where teammates include Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen and our very own Reiten. Norway play to these strengths, with an attacking style of play. 

That does mean they could be vulnerable to the stronger teams, defensively – and as such are unlikely winners (unless Hegerberg really catches on fire). They will likely be fun dark horses, instead. 

Their group stage game against England will be a good test of both sides’ credentials, and is one of the highlights of the group stage.  

Denmark 

Headlined by Harder, Denmark are unfortunate to have been drawn into the Group of Death, and as such reaching the quarter-finals would have to be seen as an achievement. 

Overall their chances of lifting the trophy are slim – they have outstanding individuals like Harder and Nadia Nadim, but lack the quality throughout the squad of the other contenders. 

Germany 

Germany OWN the Euros – winning six consecutive tournaments, before losing in the quarter-finals in 2017… and have won a record eight in total.

With that sort of record, you can never rule them out – but the past few years have been challenging for them, and they are not as strong and consistent a team as we are used to seeing. 

Notably, they have not had any major tournament success since the 2016 Olympics, where they won Gold – and as such several of this current squad are not the perennial winners of years gone by. Key player Dzsenifer Marozsán will miss the tournament with injury, which alongside Chelsea’s Leupolz is another big loss. 

Given all that, Germany are not quite amongst the outright favourites for this tournment – but you would be a fool to write them off, given their history. 

Netherlands

The defending champions seem unlikely to replicate their incredible performance in 2017, when they shocked the footballing world by winning their home Euros. 

A not-insignificant factor in the Dutch’s success was the immense support from their home fans, who came out in force to support the Oranje. 

That will be missing this time – as well as the manager who masterminded it all, in Sarina Wiegman, who is now in charge of England. 

This Dutch squad are one in transition – with Mark Parsons tasked with overseeing the introduction of a new generation to that side who won in 2017. However, they can also boast of experienced world class players like Lieke Martens, Vivianne Miedema, Danielle van der Donk – who have done it before on the biggest stage. 

Their preparations have not been ideal, though – including that damaging 5-1 defeat to England. 

It would not be the same level of surprise as it was five years ago, if the Netherlands do defend their title – but they look at a level below the favourites. 

Sweden 

The team that Chelsea manager Emma Hayes has highlighted as her one to watch – and therefore one everyone should pay attention to. 

Sweden have the quality personnel in the likes of Chelsea’s Erikkson, alongside other big names like Caroline Seger, Fridolina Rolfo, Stina Blackstenius and Kosovare Asllani.

Unlike many of the other contenders, Sweden also have the benefit of recent tournament success – having been arguably the standout team at the Olympics last summer, before losing the final to Canada on penalties. Their recent major tournament record is very impressive – having come third at the 2019 World Cup, and also taken silver at the 2016 Olympics. 

The Swedes seem to know how to perform when it matters – and if people aren’t already counting Sweden as amongst the favourites, then they should be. 

France 

The French are always a hugely tempting pick for any major tournament, such is the unbelievable amount of talent in their ranks – the core of which form the two dominant Ligue 1 sides, Lyon and PSG. 

However, France have consistently underachieved at tournaments – having not advanced beyond a quarter-final at any tournament since 2012. Despite their illustrious history in the game, they have never won the Euros. 

France are too often their own enemies, with off-field distractions undermining their prospects – and it is the case again this summer, as they come into the tournament surrounded by controversy. 

The deeply unfortunate situation at PSG with Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo, and its fallout, has caused a seismic rift in the France dressing room – with Hamraoui subsequently dropped from the squad. 

Other very questionable omissions by controversial manager Corinne Diacre include Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer – it is baffling to think France can call upon players of their quality, but have chosen not to. 

Despite the players left at home, on paper France remain very strong contenders – but the trouble off the pitch damages their chances of pulling together to win the tournament, meaning most have stopped short of calling them one of the favourites. 

Spain

The other major favourites – and one previously mentioned here, due to having no Chelsea players.

For many, the expectation is that this is the tournament where Spain truly come into their own as a nation competing for major honours – which is not a place they have traditionally occupied in the women’s game.

They have the world class players, mainly drawn from the outrageously dominant Barcelona team. If their manager can get them playing together, they are definitely capable of taking home the trophy.

Their pre-tournament results include an impressive 7-0 win over Australia, although it was a decidedly second string Aussie team. Nonetheless, results like that do show that as with Barcelona, when this Spain side are on form, they are simply formidable.

When you have the reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas in your ranks, anything is possible. Spain are coming into this tournament with a huge amount of hype – and that pressure (and relative lack of tournament experience) may be the only thing which can stop them. 

As for that prediction? Given how many teams stand a chance, I think I’ll pass… 

How to follow

No preview is complete without the essential details on how to follow the action. 

For UK viewers, the BBC will be broadcasting every single game live – and every England game will be on BBC One. This is in addition to daily podcasts and radio shows, and extensive digital coverage across all platforms. 

UEFA have also provided a list of all official broadcasters, for those in other countries around the world.

From 2005 to 2022 – two Euros, in two different worlds 

This Wednesday in Manchester, England will open the 2022 Women’s European Championships, against Austria.

A sell out crowd is expected at Old Trafford, one of the most iconic stadiums in world football. 

It will be the second time the Lionesses have hosted the tournament, 17 years after the first Euros in England, in 2005.

The landscape of the women’s game has changed immeasurably in this time – although we do our utmost to measure it. Part of being a growing sport is the fascination (borderline obsession) of those within it over the ticket sales, record crowds, and the growing economy of the game, often measured by player wages and transfer fees. 

The latter means that being a female professional footballer is a viable career in 2022. This is a contrast to 2005, where except from in a few continental European leagues and in America, the women’s game was a predominantly amateur pursuit, and therefore part-time for the players. 

It was only in 2009 – four years after the 2005 Euros – that central contracts were introduced for the core England internationals. This meant the best players in our game could be recompensed for their time away from other employment – meaning they could dedicate themselves to the sport without it having an adverse effect on their livelihood. 

That was only the case for the elite few (or 17), though – and the majority of female footballers in England remained part-time, juggling training sessions and matches alongside work, and often family. 

There are also less quantitative ways in which to measure the progress of the women’s game between these two tournament tent poles – and one metric is the change in experience and perception, from those within the game, but also those watching on. 

That is the perspective of the players, pundits, commentators and fans – as well as more neutral observers, or those without a prior interest in the women’s game. The investment of the casual fan is an important determinant of the broad appeal and interest of many sports, and impact in that domain means a sport is making waves in the mainstream oceans. 

Humanity is inherently inward-looking, and as such when considering the progress English women’s football has made since 2005, I cannot help but reflect on the modest journey I have made in the game, as a fan and a participant – and what can be drawn about the grander context of the game, from this.

In 2005, I was 11 years old, having just finished my first year playing for a youth team – where I became the first girl to play for the club. Not because I was any good, though. I was quite clearly someone who had never played organised football or received any formal coaching – such was the existence of a football-loving girl in the mid-2000s, who would only have the option to play netball in PE instead. 

I was the “first girl” because I was the first one who turned up to trials. 

Following a year playing with the boys’ team – where I dealt with being an oddity to my teammates, and a sight who opposition parents raised their eyebrows at – several girls’ age groups were established at my club, who I then moved across to play for. 

By that age, I had already fallen in love with the game. Brought into the football world by my Chelsea-supporting dad and brothers, I had been to see Zola’s testimonial at Stamford Bridge in 2003, as my first live game. I got up in the early hours to watch the 2002 World Cup with my brother. I snuck downstairs to watch England get knocked out on penalties against Portugal at the 2004 EuropeanChampionships. My hero was Frank Lampard, and drawings of him (carefully copied from the back pages of newspapers) adorned my bedroom walls. 

Playing the sport for a team was the next step on my journey – and it is one I am still on, 17 years later. 

In 2022, I am 28 years old. In the interim years, I captained my university team, gained an FA coaching qualification, and have watched football matches of every level up and down the country – and even travelled to the Netherlands, to watch England at the Euros, in 2017. 

I’ve been to stadiums like Wembley – and stadiums like Kenilworth Road. I’ve made the most important friendships and memories of my life through the game. I’ve seen my teams win countless trophies, and claim glories which 11 year old me would spend her days dreaming of. 

I currently play (and coach) at the grassroots level with a local team. This team – and the organisation behind it – fill a dual need in the city of providing women of all ages and ability an opportunity to play football, as well as raising money for local food banks. Both are needs we are proud to aspire to meet – although one we wish we did not have to. 

Football is the longest relationship of my life, outside of my family. It is my passion, and my daily life revolves around it more than it probably should – it has undeniably shaped the person I am today. 

Enough about me, though (for now). The above attests that by 2005, I was already pretty football-mad… so what were my memories of those Euros, the first time England had hosted them?

And that’s the thing – I have none. 

In a recent interview with The Athletic (which was also released as a free companion podcast), the England legend Rachel Yankey was asked about her recollections of that tournament, in 2005. 

To a certain generation, the winger was the definitive and most iconic women’s footballers – and held up as a poster woman of the sport. Even outside of those with a special interest, if you asked a random member of the population to name a female footballer, if they had an answer to give, it probably would have been one of Yankey or Kelly Smith. 

Yankey spoke of the impact that tournament had had – and how it had felt bigger than anything they had ever experienced before. Big strides had been made forward – they had new kit supplied for each game, England players were involved in advertising campaigns, people recognised them in the street, and 29,000 were at one of the England games. This was huge for the game at the time – and not to be underestimated. 

However, the effect of that tournament was short-lived – with as is often the case following a boost a major tournament brings, with interest quickly waning once the party moves out of town. 

We have seen this phenomenon in the years since – with the sport struggling to retain interest even after the much more impactful 2012 Olympics, 2015 and 2019 World Cups, but the sustained impact of 2005 Euros was still a drop in the ocean compared to those. 

After the 2005 Euros, league attendances quickly returned back to the few hundreds – whereas the WSL post 2015 and 2019 was more in the thousands. We have made orders of progress, by those quantitative measures, but there are still orders more to go.  

The minimal effect of the 2005 Euros is likely in part due to the staging of the tournament – which took place entirely in the North-West. Its impact was local, and little felt outside of that corner of the country. 

In truth, as a then-11 year old girl, I have no memory of the tournament, despite the aforementioned strong recollections of the contemporaneous men’s tournaments, at the time, the 2002 World Cup and 2004 Euros. 

I honestly do not think I knew it was happening – which suggests that the marketing and coverage of it was not sufficient. Because if it could not reach the ears and eyes of an 11 year old who by that time was football-obsessed – then they could not have been trying very hard. 

This is in spite of me having programmes from matches billed as warm ups for the Euros – and for the 2005 FA Cup Final. I had been as much in the sphere of women’s football as it was possible to be, and then playing for a girls’ team – and yet they had not been able to capture me. 

It is a very different situation now. Rather than local, the 2022 Euros is a national – and international – event. England Women’s players are on Pepsi cans, billboards and television adverts. There are ‘roadshows’ up and down the country in the host cities – from Brighton to Manchester. I am partway through a Panini sticker album (and have three spare Leah Williamsons, if anyone needs one). I live in a city which is one of the hosts for the tournament, and there are displays in the city centre about the history of the sport – like the damaging FA ban, and the success of the iconic Dick, Kerr Ladies. 

The BBC is providing extensive coverage – and ITV have shown all of the in warm up matches live. The tournament is mainstream, and difficult to miss. 

Women’s football has a visibility now that it just did not have 17 years ago. And the difference that visibility makes is manifest in the opportunity and dreams it can cultivate in the young girls watching. 

I think back to the young girl I was at that age. When not playing with my team, at school, or with my brother at the park, I would take my ball and play on my own in the back garden. I would commentate on my exploits – as kids do – and describe being the first girl to play for Chelsea and England, as I helped lead us to Champions League and World Cup glory. 

Only it was not Chelsea Ladies (as they were then known) or England Women I imagined myself playing for – as outside of a few sporadic showpiece occasions like the FA Cup Final, I just did not know that women’s football was a thing, and certainly not a regular thing that I could pursue a career in. 

I knew the fixture and results of the Chelsea men’s team week in week out, would watch Match of the Day religiously and pour over the football supplements in the Sunday papers – but I had no concept of a women’s domestic league, and how to find the results or highlights… I doubt they even existed. 

If I wanted to be a professional footballer, of course it would have to be for the men’s team – as being a professional footballer in the women’s game simply was not a possibility my mind knew of, and hence an avenue my imagination would wander down. . 

It is different now – and that to me is the main metric to measure how far the game has progressed, between these two tournaments. Not just the crowd numbers and viewing figures – important though they are – but in the more nebulous concept of the opportunity that the women’s game can now provide. 

The WSL is now fully professional. The top England women’s players are known nationwide, have sponsorship deals, and recognised in the streets. They have podcasts and boot deals and columns in newspapers. 

Look at the global profile of an Alex Morgan, Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr, or Ada Hegerberg. Look at the achievements of an Emma Hayes, and the respect she garners from across the game. Look at the crowd at the Camp Nou who saw Barcelona Femeni beat Real Madrid in the Champions League – an attendance which outstripped any Barcelona men’s game this season. Look at the already sold-out Euros Final this summer.

Gone are the days where a female footballer playing for England would do so alongside working part time as a PE teacher or personal trainer. She does not have to choose between her livelihood and her career as an elite footballer, anymore. 

Last season the BBC and Sky Sports broadcast WSL games on a weekly basis – and paid a game-changing amount of money to do so. For several years the BBC has hosted a WSL highlights show, akin to Match of the Day. If you open up the Sunday papers, you’ll find the women’s football results too – and the biggest matches will make the front and back pages. 

Wembley is sold out for the Euros final. 29,000 in 2005 was big – but 90,000 in 2022, at the national stadium, in a match that will no doubt be watched by millions more across the country, is something else entirely. 

But, as said, financials are important – but what matters more to us what this really means. 

It means that little girls don’t need to dream of playing for the men’s teams anymore. There are opportunities and pathways that just did not exist 20 years ago. We can have our own dreams, rather than adapting the game we watched men play – the only form of football that was truly visible to us.

You can now be a superstar player, a world-renowned coach, a passionate fan, or a grassroots player and coach, in the women’s game – as well as being a female football fan in the men’s game. And we do not have to choose – we can be both.

I am proud to say I support Chelsea FC Women as ardently – and closely – as I do Chelsea FC. 

I have watched historic European nights at Kingsmeadow. I have watched Emma Hayes’ team lift four FA Cups at Wembley. I watch Millie Bright, Thiago Silva, Erin Cuthbert, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount and Fran Kirby on television almost every week. I write a blog about Chelsea FC Women – and will spout off my opinion on social media about any player wearing a blue shirt. 

It brings me such a genuine joy to know that in 2022, an 11 year old girl can turn on the television and watch female footballers whose names she will know, playing in stadiums in front of thousands of fans – and know that that could be her, one day. 

These were dreams that I did not even fathom as a possibility when the Euros last came to England – and they have become realities. There will be 11 year old girls who are at Old Trafford on Wednesday to see their heroes kick off the Euros – and so many more watching on the BBC. 

That is the progress we have made. By even metric you can think of – we are in a different workd now. 

Eleven year old me didn’t have the chance to watch the 2005 Euros – but I’ll be watching the 2022 Euros in the stands at Old Trafford on Wednesday, alongside the 11 year old girls of today. I cannot wait.

The Kingsmeadow Chronicles End of Season Awards, 2021/22

The club football season is now fully wrapped up, and the (blue and white ribboned) trophies have been lifted. Attention duly turns to the individual accolades which mark a season as well and truly completed – with various esteemed organisations within the game having been busy with social media announcements and award ceremonies. 

The Kingsmeadow Chronicles may not have the prestige of such institutions – and will not be hosting a glitzy dinner with a questionable comedian – but here are some End of Season Awards anyway, to celebrate the standout individuals and moments in Chelsea FC Women’s Double-winning season. 

Player of the Season

It makes sense that in a year in which we won the Double, there are several strong candidates for this award.  

Centre back Millie Bright played in every single WSL game. Due to the injury issues of usual partner Magda Eriksson, Bright was required to step up to become the lynchpin of a defence which conceded only 11 goals in the WSL. 

Eriksson’s frequent absences meant that Millie also often wore the armband as her deputy – and was exemplary in this role. Bright’s leadership has been recognised elsewhere, with her being named as England’s vice-captain ahead of the upcoming Women’s Euros – and having led her nation on the pitch for the first time this year.

Bright has often been seen as the sidekick in her partnership with Eriksson, and seemingly more vulnerable to being exposed defensively when the Norwegian is not alongside her – but she has proven that criticism wrong this year, and become the bedrock upon which our defence rested. 

Elsewhere in the defence, Jess Carter has had a brilliant year in both a centre back and full back role. Carter came into the side late last season, and was much maligned for her first half performance in the Champions League Final against Barcelona, where she was arguably at fault for three of the goals.

Emma Hayes kept the faith – and Carter has repaid her in kind, elevating her game to become not just one of Chelsea’s best defenders, but one of the league’s best. She deservedly earned a place in the WSL Team of the Season, and has become an England regular as an even greater reward.

However, there is only one real winner. 

It is the player who is deservedly sweeping the ‘official’ individual awards this season. She has already won the Football Writers’ Award, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Award, WSL Player of the Year Award, and Chelsea Player of the Year – whilst taking home a second consecutive WSL Golden Boot. It is the one and only, Sam Kerr.

Thirty-two goals in all competitions, 20 of them in just 20 WSL games – and at a staggering strike rate of 78 minutes per goal. Kerr has been far and away the standout player in England this year. 

And more to the point, she has scored the most important goals in the biggest games. From her braces in each of this season’s FA Cup Finals, to the at-the-death winner against Aston Villa to keep Chelsea’s title hopes alive, to her sensational brace to turn the game against Man United on the final day of the season, which won the title for Chelsea when all seemed lost.

Kerr has done consistently what the very best players are capable of – stepped up when her team has needed her the most. She has been a leader, and an inspiration. Sam Kerr has been inevitable this year, and inevitably, she is the Player of the Year.

Winner: Sam Kerr 

Club Woman of the Season

This goes to a player who could well have been mentioned in the above category, and deserves to be so – but her acclaim has instead been saved for her. Despite being frequently cited as one of the most underrated players in the WSL, she still remains underrated – such is the level of recognition she should receive. 

Erin Cuthbert has played as a wingback, central midfielder, winger and forward for Chelsea this season – applying herself fully regardless of the role the manager asks her to play. It doesn’t matter where she is on the team sheet, her tenacity has been a constant driving force for Chelsea, who look a lesser time when she is absent. Cuthbert has changed games, and the course of our season, through sheer force of will. She is a player who takes games by the scruff of their neck, and makes them her own.

The final two games of the season illustrate this well. It was Cuthbert who forced the first equaliser against Man United in the aforementioned WSL title-decider on the final day, with so many of the rest of the team fading around her. She then scored one of the best goals ever seen in an FA Cup Final to put Chelsea ahead for the second time a week later at Wembley – and was named Player of the Match for a dominant performance in midfield. 

Cuthbert never baulks, and always stands up to the occasion.

Despite having her home town club Rangers at her heart, and being just 23 years old, few players understand what it means to be Chelsea more than Cuthbert. She has already amassed 139 appearances in just five years with the Blues. She is surely a captain of the future – and well on her way to becoming a legend of the club. 

The “Club Woman” award does not necessarily go to the best player, but to the player who commits themselves thoroughly to the cause, and is an example for others to follow on and off the field. Cuthbert fits that description to a tee – and also happens to have been one of our best players on the pitch. 

Winner: Erin Cuthbert 

Most Improved Player 

This award goes to a player given an honourable mention for Player of the Season – and that she is mentioned in this conversation at all after her end to 2021/22 says it all about why she is the winner.

Carter’s future at the club was almost in doubt after that Champions League Final performance, with many feeling she just did not have the defensive capability and focus for the very top level.

Jess has proven them thoroughly wrong – with her virtues extolled in the previous section.

The game that most illustrated how far Jess has come was arguably against Man City, in February – where she completely shut down one of the hottest players in the league in Lauren Hemp, and then provided the assist for Chelsea’s winner. A complete full back display, in attack and defence. 

From a “weak link” to one of our most important players, it has been a remarkable turnaround – and Carter could well be a starting player for England at this summer’s Euros, such has been her rise.

Her improvement has also been an example of how to respond to adversity – and the best way to silence critics.

Winner: Jess Carter

Signing of the Season

The summer transfer window for Chelsea FC Women had not been much to write home about, in truth. It was most notable for the acquisition of the prodigiously talented Lauren James from Man United, after having initially come up through the Chelsea academy.

James’ minutes were carefully managed this season though, and she struggled with recurrent injuries carried over from her time at Man United – meaning she barely featured for the Blues in her debut season.

Emma Hayes has since spoken of this being a conscious strategy . James is one for the future, and a similar tactic of slow integration has paid off before for Chelsea. One example being Jessie Fleming, who has come more to the fore this year after a first season where she did not feature much in the first team, and has spoken of the importance of this adaption period.

Chelsea’s Signing of the Season is instead a player who was also thought to be an investment for the years to come, but due to the injuries to Magda Eriksson instead became Milie Bright’s most frequent defensive partner – and especially in the second half of the season was one of the staples of the team sheet.

Twenty-three year old Dutchwoman Aniek Nouwen came to Chelsea in the summer as one of the best regarded young defenders in Europe, and has proved why this year. She was thrust into centre stage earlier than expected, and has been a reliable and assured partner to Bright.

Nouwen has never looked remotely out of place in the Chelsea backline. This is some feat for a relatively young player, in her first season in a new league – and one which is a step up from the Eredivisie. She looks like she has been a part of the team for years – and if she continues with this trajectory, she certainly will be.

Winner: Aniek Nouwen

Match of the Season 

In a season full of drama and football of the highest quality, there are several candidates for this award.

The FA Cup Final against Man City was an all-time classic – and certainly the best of the cup finals since the showpiece fixture was moved to Wembley, in 2015. 

The remarkable turnaround against Man United on the last day of the league season, to secure our third successive WSL title, will also live long in the annals of Chelsea history. 

There were also the 9-0 and 7-0 wins against Leicseter, games in which Chelsea were at their swashbuckling and clinical best. The domination of the 4-0 away win against Man City in the WSL, back in November, and the 6-1 humbling of Man United at their home ground, at the start of the season, certainly deserve a mention too.

However, the best Chelsea performance I had seen this season – and one elevated by the occasion and quality of the opposition – was the 3-0 win against Arsenal in the delayed 2021 FA Cup Final, which took place in December. Although technically part of the previous season, it took place within this season – and hence is up for consideration.

Arsenal had ruffled feathers on the opening day of the WSL season when they beat Chelsea 3-2 – and spent the first half of the season at the top of the table, sweeping all before them. 

Chelsea well and truly took their revenge at Wembley, with a Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby inspired performance simply blowing away the North London side, who looked second best in every category. It was women against girls, and a performance which re-emphasised that it was Chelsea who were the team to beat in England – and not Jonas Eidevall’s upstarts.

It was also a performance which completed the 2020/21 domestic treble for Chelsea – and therefore a historic occasion. It created memories to be cherished, and some of the best feelings I have ever had wearing a Chelsea shirt and watching my team play.

Winner: the (2020/21) FA Cup Final against Arsenal

Goal of the Season

It was Sam Kerr’s second against Man United on the final day of the WSL season which won the official WSL award. Brilliant and crucial though that strike was, I’d instead like to highlight a different Sam Kerr goal – and another big game moment.

As previously mentioned, the 3-0 win against Arsenal in the 2021 FA Cup Final was a brilliant all-round performance – and hence deserving of what was arguably the best ever FA Cup Final goal. 

(An honourable mention for this award goes to Erin Cuthbert’s sensational strike in the later 2022 FA Cup Final – another all-time great cup final goal.)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and goals are special for all sorts of reasons – but Sam Kerr’s second at Wembley in December, really was remarkable. 

Chelsea already had the game won at 2-0, by the 77th minute, but Kerr was not content to settle with one goal and what was already a Player of the Match performance. Sent clear through, the Aussie decided to put a world class gloss on the day with an audacious chipped lob over Manuela Zinsberger which showed the best of her technical ability and composure… and with an appropriate Sam Kerr-ian celebration to match.

It is the sort of goal which left you open-mouthed – as 40,000 of us were at Wembley on that cold December day, which suddenly seemed to have set on fire. It is at risk of being forgotten, because of what Kerr did later on in the season – but it was a moment of true class, and deserves to be vaunted in Chelsea history.

Winner: Sam Kerr’s second goal vs Arsenal, in the (2020/21) FA Cup FInal

Moment of the Season

A historic and memorable season, with countless brilliant moments to make memories for a lifetime for any Chelsea fan.

One stands out, though – due to the sheer audacity, its significance, and how perfectly it encapsulated the player who has defined our season.

Injury time, away to Aston Villa. The score is 0-0, and with just six games left to play in the WSL – and league table as it was, dropping two points would have been a significant blow in a tight and fiercely-contested title race with Arsenal. 

The game came shortly after the announcement of sanctions against club owner Roman Arbamovich due to his connections with Russian president Valdimir Putin, and the war being waged in Ukraine – meaning the context off the field was of unprecedented uncertainty. This added a sense of pressure to the occasion. 

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman – and one who thrives in the highest pressure moments. 

As so often this season, Sam Kerr found a way – popping up in the 92nd minute to get on the end of a hopeful long ball from keeper Zecira Musovic to score a last gasp winner which earnt a vital three points.

That moment alone was huge – but what really made it was what came next, as the Aussie wheeled away in raptures, and tore off her shift in sheer delighted celebration.

It can be viewed in its full glory, here.

It evoked the famous Brandi Chastain celebration as the USA won the 1999 World Cup – one of the most defining moments in women’s football history.

It was a moment of pure spontaneous passion, and relief – and instantly iconic for a player who has firmly established herself as a Chelsea legend, despite it being just her third year at the club.

Winner: Sam Kerr shirt celebration against Aston Villa.  

Chelsea 3-2 Man City AET (FA Cup Final) – “Doubly deserved.”

At Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Chelsea FC Women again stamped their authority on English women’s football. 

A 3-2 victory against Man City in the 2021/22 FA Cup Final completed the Double for Chelsea – the fourth in the club’s history. That brings the count to 11 major honours for Chelsea FC Women – all of which have been won under legendary manager Emma Hayes, a truly dynastic figure who has built the behemoth that Chelsea are today. 

In truth, however, we may have got away with this one a bit. But that we did – and how we did – defines this team, who have made winning an inevitability. 

This was not a cup final won with the scintillating football and dominance of the 3-0 win against Arsenal back in December, in the 2020/21 FA Cup Final delayed from last season. This was instead a final won through grit, determination, and of not knowing when we are beat – characteristics which have defined Chelsea’s season. This was no better exemplified than by the dramatic final day comeback last weekend, which saw the Blues lift our third consecutive WSL title.

The FA Cup Final may have lost some of its prestige in the men’s game, but it remains the banner fixture of English women’s football – and takes its rightful place in the schedule as the season finale.

It was to be contested this year between two giants of the modern game in this countryl – Chelsea, and Man City. Since the cup final first moved to Wembley in 2015, these two sides have won six of the past seven competitions. This calendar year, they have also arguably been the two best sides in England – although Man City’s supreme recent form was not enough to finish higher than a distant third to champions Chelsea, in the WSL.

City’s awful start to the season, which saw them essentially out of the title race by November, handicapped them significantly – but that they managed to finish third despite their shocking early form is testament to their quality and resilience.

They came into this game on a 13 game winning streak – their last loss being to Chelsea in the WSL, back in February. That run included a 3-1 win against Chelsea in the Conti Cup Final, where after going 1-0 up, the Blues were thoroughly outclassed in the second half by a fantastic Man City.

That form – and Chelsea’s nervy end to the season – meant that many favoured City in this game. This did not go unnoticed by Emma Hayes, who after the game spoke of Chelsea being “underestimated” by our opponents.

It is hard to say how accurate Hayes’ claim is – but what cannot be denied is that Chelsea proved yet again they are not a side to ever be written off.

Emma Hayes made two changes from the game which started the final fixture of the WSL season, bringing in Beth England and Aniek Nouwen. This meant that Ji So-Yun, Jonna Andersson and Drew Spence were named as substitutes in their final game for the club. 

Joining them on the bench was the very welcome sight of Fran Kirby. Last season’s Player of the Year has been sidelined since February with chronic fatigue. It was unlikely she would feature, being so short of match fitness, but to see her included in the final squad of the season warmed even the coldest hearts. Kirby is a rare player who seems to transcend club rivalries, and the support for her has been united from across the sport.

Man City started the better of the two teams, and already in the first twenty minutes some last-ditch defending was required – Millie Bright in particular contributing two key blocks.

Chelsea were able to grow into the game, and were the first team to have the ball in the net though Sam Kerr – only for it to be ruled out for offside. 

It was however still slightly against the run of play when Chelsea did take the lead, legitimately, with Bright proving decisive in both penalty boxes. Following a Chelsea free kick, the centre half whipped the ball back into the area – her delivery was slightly miscued, but this worked to the Blues’ advantage as it looped over the stranded Ellie Roebuck in the City goal. It may well have been going in anyway – but the predatory Sam Kerr made sure, meaning the Aussie forward had now scored in her third cup final of the season.

City continued to put the pressure on, with more determined defending required from Chelsea. Jess Carter made some crucial interventions – and was immense all game. 

It was another cup final, the Champions League final of May last year, where Carter had been exposed by a brilliant Barcelona attack, leading to questions about her defensive capabilities.

Carter has more than answered them this season, where she has become established as a lynchpin of the Chelsea defence, which has been especially vital with captain Magda Erikkson suffering recurrent injury issues. Carter has been one of our players of the season, and put in another excellent performance on this day.

However, the Chelsea resistance was eventually broken, just before the break.

Lauren Hemp is one of City’s many brilliant attacking talents – and this year, has been their best. The winger got the step on Bright, before rifling a strike into the top corner past Ann-Katrin Berger, to make it 1-1 heading into half time.

The Man City equaliser had been deserved, on the balance of play. The second half started much the same as the first – with City having the better chances, but not being able to break through the Chelsea resistance. Several players put their bodies on the line to prevent another City goal – and Berger pulled off an outstanding save that justified her selection ahead of Zecira Musovic.

Bunny Shaw, who has displaced Ellen White as City’s starting striker, was looking menacing – and the Chelsea defence understandably wary of a player who screams danger whenever she is on the ball.

Just as in the opening 45 minutes, though, Chelsea emerged from the onslaught unscathed, and were able to take back some control of the game – and then the lead.

This time, it came from the quality of Erin Cuthbert – another of Chelsea’ best players this season, and one who is often unsung. Cuthbert is a player who takes the game by the scruff of the neck, and one to turn to when you need a difference-maker. 

The Scot had gotten the first equaliser last weekend against Man United – and after having run relentlessly to aid the defensive effort in this game, she then reminded the watching crowd what she is capable of in front of goal. Her sublime strike from 25 yards ricocheted off the underside of the bar past a helpless Roebuck – and it will go down as one of the all-time great cup final goals.

Emma Hayes then introduced Ji off the bench to rapturous applause, for her final Chelsea appearance – with the hope that her experience would help Chelsea to see out the game.

Man City piled the pressure on, although Chelsea remained a threat on the counter – only for the pressure to again tell, this time the equaliser coming with only minutes left to play. 

It came through a Man City substitute – Hayley Raso did brilliantly to beat Magda Eriksson to the ball and fire past Berger to make it 2-2, which sent the game into extra time. The watching crowd were only too delighted to be treated to another 30 minutes of what had already been a brilliant cup final – and one in which the talent of the women’s game was fully on show.

Given the balance of play, and the momentum from the late equaliser – it felt like it was CIty’s for the taking. Chelsea barely got out of our own half in the first half of extra time – but when we did it was to take the lead for the third, and eventually final, time.

Big games are often decided by mistakes – especially in extra time, when legs tire and minds fog. It was the unfortunate Alanna Kennedy with the error – and her countrywoman Sam Kerr the beneficiary. The Aussie misjudged a long ball, which Kerr then snapped up around the halfway line.

There was only one thing on the Golden Boot winner’s mind. Kerr steamed towards goal, and although a pass to Jessie Fleming may have been the better option, she instead chose to shoot – it proved a good decision, as her the strike took a big deflection off of Alex Greenwood to beat Roebuck again.

It was Kerr’s 32nd goal in all competitions this season – and her fifth in the three cup finals Chelsea have played. The striker has been simply next level this year, and it was fitting that it was her to score the goals that rounded off Chelsea’s year with more silverware.

Chelsea then did what they had not managed in normal time – breaking up play and winding down the clock, with the experienced Maren Mjelde being sent on as reinforcement. We were not to let the lead slip a third time.

A record crowd of nearly 50,000 were at Wembley to see Chelsea see out the 3-2 win, and lift our fourth FA Cup. It had been an excellent game of football, and a fitting way to end a great season in the WSL, and beyond. It was the first year of the huge new TV deal, which has seen the BBC and Sky Sports invest both financially and in terms of the quality of coverage they provide. It has been a shift which has helped move the game forward – and having two such quality teams as these compete in a headline fixture pushes it even further. 

Man City could argue that the chances they created and how well they played for periods made them hard done by to finish as runners-up – and they would have a claim. Chelsea more than earned this victory though, with the attributes that have made us champions – and as such it was thoroughly deserved. 

The Chelsea performance was perhaps best summarised in the dying minutes, when Kerr sprinted back to win a tackle, and then ran the ball out into the corner and won a free kick to see us through to full time. Lungs surely bursting at the seams, but still utterly relentless – that was Sam Kerr, and that was Chelsea in this game.

That has been Chelsea FC Women this year.

There had been several times this season when the players and team machine had been questioned, and the success of our season – which due to the high standards we have set, can only be measured in trophies – looked in doubt. 

The opening day loss to Arsenal, the early Champions League exit, the loss to Reading in the WSL, the Conti Cup Final loss to Man City, being 1-1 away to Spurs with 10 players… and being 1-0 and then 2-1 down to Man United last weekend, as we nearly let the WSL title slip.

Each time, Chelsea have responded. Without the character of the squad, the inspirational leadership and tactical nous of Hayes, and the individual moments of brilliance from key players, we could have ended this season empty-handed.

The uncertainty off the pitch does not seem to have affected us. The situation with the sanctions imposed on the club – due to owner Roman Abramovich’s association with the warmongering Russian president Vladimir Putin – was unprecedented, and put the players and staff under a pressure that none would have been prepared to deal with. Yet, it could not distract Chelsea from our unstoppable march towards trophies.

It all ended in a fourth Double. The best way to send off the departing club legends Ji So-Yun and Drew Spence – as well as Jonna Andersson, who came on as a substitute in this game to play a key part in the Chelsea resistance.

Another brilliant season for Chelsea FC Women – who once again painted Wembley, London, and all of English women’s football, Blue.

However the future unfolds, right now we remain the team to beat – and we remain relentless. It will take something special to dethrone these champions.

Final score: Chelsea 3-2 Man City (AET) 

Goalscorers: Kerr 33, 99, Cuthbert 63

Chelsea line up (4-3-1-2): Berger; Carter, Bright, Nouwen (Charles 69), Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Ingle, Reiten (Andersson 91); Harder (Fleming 80); Kerr, England (Ji 69, Mjelde 118)

Unused subs: Musovic, Kirby, James, Spence

Chelsea 4-2 Man United (WSL) – “We know what we are.”

And that is why we are champions.

Chelsea FC Women won our third consecutive WSL title on Sunday afternoon at Kingsmeadow, in a 4-2 win against Man United. That is far from the full story, though, of what was a brilliant game – and ultimately a season-defining comeback from Chelsea. It was a finale befitting of the best title race in years.

At half time, it had looked done. Chelsea had been timid in the first half, playing with the same fear that had afflicted our nervy win against Birmingham last weekend. Man United were deservedly 2-1 ahead, having re-taken the lead after Erin Cuthbert had levelled the score against the run of play.

Marc Skinner’s side had taken the game to Chelsea, pressing ferociously, not letting the Blues breathe, and causing chaos at every set piece. The opening exchanges left Chelsea rattled.

Man United needed also to win to be in with a chance of finishing third and securing Champions League football for next season – for the first time in their history. They also needed their local rivals Man City to lose at Reading – which seemed unlikely – but this meant  just as for Chelsea, who led by only a point over second placed Arsenal ahead of kickoff, it was a must-win.

Their first goal came after 13 minutes, and was fully deserved. Martha Thomas headed home a Katie Zelem corner, with the Chelsea defence looking uncharacteristically disorganised.

Erin Cuthbert’s equaliser was more about individual brilliance than a sign of Chelsea improving. The tenacious Scot looked one of the few Chelsea players who was playing without fear – a word most likely not in her lexicon. 

Ella Toone then restored Man United’s advantage in the 25th minute, following yet more poor Chelsea defending from a set piece. There was a slice of good fortune about the goal, which took a deflection off of Jonna Andersson to beat Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea net – but it was a lead reflective of Man United’s performance. 

At half time, we were 2-1 down, with Man United looking comfortable and fully in control. Arsenal were only drawing at West Ham – but looked certain to go on to win a match they were dominating. As such, with the scores as they were, Chelsea looked set to lose the title on goal difference. It truly looked like we had let it slip away – and given the nature of the performance in the first half, a comeback did not seem likely.

We should have known better.

Emma Hayes intervened early, in a show of decisiveness and tactical nous which defines her as a manager. She brought on Beth England and Ji So-Yun, and switched to a back three. Any motivational speaker would surely be desperate to know what she said at half time to the players, because we were a side transformed.

Nonetheless, these changes would mean nothing without the players as individuals, and a collective, stepping up their game, and showing the mentality that has seen us win so much silverware. Once again, they did step up – and once again, it led to a trophy..

In ten sensational minutes, the game was to be turned on its head, and so too the title race.

The equaliser came from Sam Kerr. And who else could it have been? The player for the big occasion – in the process of winning her second consecutive WSL Golden Boot – smashed home a stunning volley to level the score again, just a minute after the restart.

With the capacity crowd at Kingsmeadow rocking, and Man United reeling, Chelsea capitalised. Five minutes after we had equalised, Guro Reiten – who has had some many important goal contributions this season, put Chelsea in the lead – and back on top of the league.

The goal came from a superb through ball from half-time substitute Ji. The legendary South Korean was playing in her final-ever game at Kingsmeadow, as she will be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season. As she has done consistently in her eight years in Blue, Ji conjured up a moment of magic on the biggest of occasions to make the difference for Chelsea. 

Chelsea were now completely in charge – but there remained a sense there could be more drama in what had been a frenetic hour of football.

There turned out to be no need to worry. Sam Kerr ended any nerves and truly got the party started with her 20th league goal of the season – and her best. 

The newly-named Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year proved why that accolade is so richly deserved. The Aussie, with characteristic audacity and brilliance, controlled a poor Man United clearance with her chest and then volleyed a lobbed shot over the stranded Mary Earps. It was one of the goals of the season – and a goal deserving of a league title win. 

Time and time again Kerr has been the decisive player in the team who have won the league – and her second consecutive Golden Boot sees her best second placed Miedema by a massive six goal margin. It is hard to argue against her season, as far as individual merit goes.

With the score now at 4-2, and set to the backdrop of a jubilant home crowd in glorious May sunshine, Chelsea had become the imperious side that we know so well, and unrecognisable from the fearful performance of the first half.

Man United’s challenge in the game was done. Arsenal had gone ahead against West Ham – but it did not matter in the end, with Chelsea going on to see out the win we needed to be crowned champions.

What a roller coaster to ride, as a watching fan. This team has shown remarkable character over the years, and completed incredible comebacks – none more so in last season’s historic run to the Champions League final. Even in recent weeks, there has been the away game against Spurs, where at 1-1 and with only ten players, our backs were against the walls… and yet we still found a way to win. You would be a fool to write this Chelsea side off – and this fool was glad to have been proven wrong.

In defence of those who had lost hope, with how we were playing – and how in control and assured Man United were in contrast – it really did feel like our number was up, that we would surely not pull it off this time.

We had looked like the side who had capitulated 4-0 to Barcelona in last season’s Champions League final. Disorganised defensively, playing with fear, and overwhelmed by the occasion.

We emerged after half time as the very best of Chelsea. Determined and relentless, with a never-say-die attitude – and having players who possess the ability to produce moments of true class in desperate times.

We played like champions. 

In the tightest WSL title race in years, it has ultimately been this that has separated us from Arsenal. Quite simply, when it has really mattered, Chelsea have stepped up, found a way to win, and our players have stepped up to take us there. A triumph of both team and individuals, and a triumph of character and belief. I may have stopped believing at half time – but Emma Hayes did not, and the players did not.

For the third time in a row, Chelsea were champions. Emma Hayes called this the “best” of the five she has won at the club. This season we have struggled with injuries to key players, and been pushed harder than we ever have before by an Arsenal side who had spent big, and looked rejuvenated under new manager Jonas Eidevall. Chelsea responded to this challenge – and fought with everything we had to retain our title, which comes richly deserved. 

When the full time whistle did blow on this match, after seven protracted minutes of injury time, the scene were of sheer jubilation. From the devastation of going behind for the second time, to the delight of completing the comeback – the emotions of the day culminated in an ecstasy of celebration, and relief..

The title was celebrated with the gusto it deserved, back in front of the fans who had missed out for the past two years, as football disappeared behind closed doors. There were nearly 5000 fans at Kingsmeadow – a sell-out crowd. The Chelsea faithful have been huge for the team this season – they sang all game long on Sunday, and have been a big part of the spirit behind this Chelsea team so often in this campaign.

The Chelsea players were welcomed onto the pitch one by one to receive their medals, which allowed the home crowd the chance to give each individual the recognition they deserved, in a season where more than any other we have relied upon a breadth of contribution from across the squad. 

The biggest receptions were reserved for Ji So-Yun and Drew Spence – two absolute legends of the club who will be leaving at the end of the season. 

Ji has quite simply been one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players, and one of the best the WSL has ever seen. She scored the goal which won our first ever trophy back in the 2015 FA Cup Final – and it was a fitting Kingsmeadow farewell that she was one of the half-time substitutes who changed the game, and her brilliant pass created the goal which put us ahead. 

Drew Spence leaves as our longest serving player – a stalwart of the club who has been a part of every piece of silverware we have won. Despite the glamorous names brought to the club year on year since Emma Hayes took over, she has remained a key member of the squad, and a player who fully understands what it means to be Chelsea. She was a late substitute in this game – and the ovation she received when taking to the Kingsmeadow pitch for the final time was spine-tingling. 
There was a special moment too, as Fran Kirby was welcomed onto the pitch to receive her medal by a rousing chorus of “Super Fran Kirby” from the fans, and her teammates. Kirby has been absent from the pitch since February, battling chronic fatigue – but our Player of the Year of last season has never been missing from the team.

Captain Magda Eriksson lifted the trophy to rapturous applause, and the scenes of celebration continued long on this glorious Sunday afternoon. 

There is however one more game for Chelsea this season – as we face Man City next weekend in this season’s FA Cup Final, seeking to complete the third Double in our history. 

The players will no doubt re-focus for that game – but at this moment, all of our attention could only be on celebrating a sensational comeback and a brilliant title win. No matter what happens next week at Wembley, this team deserves its acclaim for what has already been achieved, and more history made. Champions of England – we know what we are.

Final score: Chelsea 4-2 Man United 

Goalscorers: Cuthbert 18, Kerr 46, 66, Reiten 51

Chelsea line up (4-4-1-1) Berger; Carter, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson (Ji h/t); Charles (Nouwen 59), Cuthbert, Ingle (England h/t), Reiten; Harder (Fleming 77); Kerr (Spence 90+3)

Unused subs: Musovic, Mjelde, James, Abdullina

Birmingham City 0-1 Chelsea (WSL) – “Edging nervously closer.”

If Chelsea do lift the WSL title next Sunday at Kingsmeadow, nobody can argue it has not been won without a lot of blood, sweat, toil, and tears. 

Whilst this weekend saw Arsenal stroll to a 7-0 victory over Aston Villa, Chelsea’s journey to the three points that keeps the title in our hands was far more arduous. For a long time at St Andrews, just as in the away game against Spurs last weekend, our hopes in this tense and tight title race again looked under threat. 

As it stood, going into this weekend we held a four point lead over second placed Arsenal. With the Gunners playing first, they had the opportunity to put some pressure on Chelsea by cutting that lead – which they duly did, with the aforementioned thrashing of Villa.

With Arsenal’s job done, the spotlight swung back to Chelsea as we faced another Midlands outfit in Birmingham City. The Brummies are bottom of the league with just eight points, and look all but relegated – but with a slim chance of survival, they did still have something to play for ahead of this game. 

Of Birmingham’s two league wins this season, one was the shock 2-0 defeat of Arsenal back in January, which remains their only league defeat all season. Birmingham’s second win came against Brighton last weekend – meaning together that they are a side capable of springing an upset, and riding a high seldom found for them this season.

Nonetheless, if Chelsea want to win the title, there would be no excuses for anything other than a win against the league’s bottom club.

Ann-Katrin Berger was restored to the line-up against her former team, following her suspension for the red card against Spurs last weekend. This felt a bit harsh on Zecira Musovic – who has not put a finger wrong when deputising for our number 1, and made crucial saves in both that first game against Spurs, and the reverse fixture midweek. 

It was an understandable move from Emma Hayes however, to keep her faith in Berger, who has been a difference-maker in so many games since her move in 2019.

Hayes also brought Jessie Fleming and Niamh Charles into the side, with Jonna Andersson and Erin Cuthbert missing out.

With Chelsea having two great chances inside the opening ten minutes, you would have thought the opener would seem a matter of time – but it transpired to anything but.

The closest of those two attempts saw newly-crowned Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Sam Kerr absolutely clatter the crossbar from the edge of the box. That was however to be the closest we came in the entire first half, in which we laboured in front of goal – as evidenced by failing to register a shot on target. 

Chelsea looked rushed – and nervous. The team have been under a lot of pressure in this nail-biting title race for a while. The pressure is amplified now that we have been established as the frontrunners and most people’s favourites, after having been the chasers for the majority of the season. Both of the wins against Spurs in our previous two league games had been dramatic and hard-fought – which can take a mental toll, and may have explained our struggles in this game.

To give them their due credit, Birmingham were organised and determined – it was hard to believe on the basis of this performance that they have only eight points in the league.

In biblical conditions at St Andrew’s, it was starting to look like Chelsea might need some divine intervention to breach the opposition defence – but as the rain amped up its intensity in the second half, thankfully so too did Chelsea.

We had failed to test Birmingham goalkeeper Emily Ramsey in the first half, but when the questions were asked of her after the break she was able to more than answer them, making several crucial saves to protect her side’s clean sheet.

Hayes had brought Erin Cuthbert on at half time to inject greater energy into a lethargic Chelsea display, and it was another substitute whose actions led to our eventual breakthrough.

Jonna Anderrson has six assists this season, mainly from her trademark looped crosses from the left flank. Although the Swede will not be credited with an assist for this goal, it came about when her cross into the area led to a handball from Lisa Robertson – and a penalty which gave Chelsea a golden opportunity to take the lead.

With Danish ice running through in her veins, Pernille Harder converted an impeccably cool penalty – almost like there was not the pressure of a league title on the line. 

It was a slightly tense end to the game, with Chelsea not managing to get a second that would have made the points secure, and instead having to professionally see out the narrow lead. 

The closest Birmingham came was deep in injury time. Berger had not been at her best against her former side, looking particularly nervous from set pieces – but she produced a fine finger tip save to ensure Whelen’s strike flew over. Chelsea’s mettle passed its test for the third tense game in a row, to earn another vital three points.  

This was far from the rampant display of Arsenal in their win, but three points is three points – and with once again an extra game played, it meant we restored our four point lead. The margin of victory in their win over Aston Villa means our challengers do now have a superior goal difference, which could well come into play on the final day.

This game was another big test of Chelsea’s mentality – and managing to win each of the past three games despite being off our best, shows just how determined we are to retain our title. 

A better performance will be needed if we are required to beat Man United in the final game of this enthralling duel with Arsenal – who themselves will travel to West Ham. United are locked in a battle of their own against rivals Man City for the final Champions League spot – so will likely need the win as much as Chelsea, whereas West Ham have nothing left to play for.

The focus temporarily returns to the Gunners, who will make up their game in hand with a huge North London Derby against Spurs at the Emirates midweek, just four days before the final WSL fixtures of the season. 

A loss there would mean Chelsea win the title – but really, it is hard to see anything other than this race going right down to the wire. The mission remains on course, and remains the same – we must win each and every game, and if we do against Man United at Kingsmeadow next week, we will be champions. We have shown a great deal of fight to put ourselves in this position – but the battle is not yet won.

Final score: Birmingham 0-1 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Harder 71

Chelsea line up (3-1-4-2): Berger; Bright, Carter (Andersson 64), Eriksson (c); Ingle (James 64); Charles, Harder (Spence 82), Fleming, Reiten; England (Cuthbert h/t), Kerr (Mjelde 86)

Unused subs Musovic, Nouwen, Abdullina

Attendance: 1.429

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (WSL) – “Double (but not so much in the end) trouble.”

Chelsea seem to be enjoying keeping this title race fun. 

For about a minute of Thursday night’s 2-1 win anyway – the length of time between the Spurs equaliser, and the goal from Sam Kerr which restored the Chelsea lead, and eventually proved decisive as the Blues beat Spurs for the second time in five days. 

The jeopardy had been more sustained in Sunday’s comeback 3-1 win. Our title hopes had looked under genuine threat at the Hive, when we were reduced to ten players with the score at 1-1. 

A truly brilliant response in the second half saw us score two goals to take a vital three points. The Chelsea response was even quicker on Thursday at Kingsmeadow – and yet again showed the character of a side who seemed determined to win a third consecutive WSL title.

The peculiarity of contesting both league games in the same week was a consequence of the home fixture having twice been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, having been initially scheduled for January. 

The title situation is a simple one on paper. Ahead of kick off, Chelsea held a one point lead over challengers Arsenal, with the same number of games played – meaning if we win the three remaining fixtures, we win the league.

The reality was always likely to be less straightforward – Chelsea have the tougher run-in of the two sides, which included this double header against a Spurs side who for much of this season looked in with a genuine chance of finishing third, and qualifying for next season’s Champions League. 

Their form has fallen off in recent weeks, but they nonetheless remain a very good side – and so these back-to-back games would be a significant hurdle for Chelsea to overcome if we are to be crowned champions. 

Part one had been done – despite the drama – and part two was to take place under the lights at Kingsmeadow. An impressive crowd of 3,660 for a midweek game were there to cheer Chelsea on – it is difficult to argue against the Blues having the best support in the league.

Emma Hayes made four changes – bringing in Musovic for the suspended Berger following her red card in the previous game, as well as Andersson, Eriksson and Harder, all of whom had made a big difference when brought on as substitutes against Spurs. 

Hayes also gave another start to Beth England – who had been the player unlucky to be sacrificed against Spurs when Berger was sent off in the 33rd minute. 

There were no signs of the slow start made on Sunday – with Chelsea having the first chance inside the opening minute, Sam Kerr being denied by Spurs keeper Korpela after good work by England.

We soon had the lead – and it came via England, who got over the disappointment of her early substitution at the weekend in the best possible way. 

Erin Cuthbert played a short corner to Andersson, who delivered one of the crosses she is so well known for straight onto Beth’s head – who gave Chelsea a fully-deserved 1-0 lead. 

England has overcome injury to force her way into the side in the second half of the season, and stepped up to deliver key goals for Chelsea in a time when we have been missing players like Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder.  She has arguably been the victim of the squad building of recent years, which has seen players like Harder and Kerr come into the side – and the minutes of the PFA Player of the Year in 2019/20   reduced as a result. 

Beth has done nothing to deserve that – as there is no questioning her quality, so that she has been able to make such important contributions when given the opportunity has been brilliant to see. 

Guro Reiten then came close to doubling the advantage – only for Spurs to yet again throw a spanner in the works. At the weekend, Spurs had taken a deserved lead after having been the better team in the first half – but their equaliser here was entirely against the run of play.

As at the weekend, their goal came through a set piece, with Kerys Harrop flicking a header past Musovic from a free kick. It was the first goal in the WSL Chelsea had conceded at Kingsmeadow since October.

Chelsea showed true character to respond to the adversity faced in the reverse fixture – and the response in this game could not have been more immediate. 

An absolutely brilliant touch from Pernille Harder – starting her first game in five, due to injury – gave the Dane the chance to swing in a beautifully-shaped cross, which Kerr converted with yet another headed finish to restore the Chelsea lead just a minute after we had lost it. 

It was the perfect time to score – it meant we nipped the Spurs comeback straight in the bud, and could go into the half time break with momentum firmly back on our side.

Sam Kerr has so often been decisive this season, and once again this Chelsea side seem to have the answers when questioned. It is a trait that could well take us to the title – and one that surely contributes to a growing sense of belief that this title is very much ours for the taking, remaining in our own destiny, and maybe even one we are destined to. 

The second half did start more evenly, and Musovic was called upon to protect the Chelsea lead around the hour mark, making an important save from Rosella Ayane. That was the climax of Spurs’ attempts to come back in the game though, and Chelsea were eventually able to see it out with little trouble. There was markedly less drama than in the game at the Hive – but for a moment, it seemed like there might well have been.

The best chance for a Chelsea third goal, to mirror the 3-1 scoreline from the weekend – came from Erin Cuthbert, whose late strike thumped off the bottom of the post. 

In the end, 2-1 was enough. Another win that showed the character and quality in key moments of this Chelsea side, and means that we are now just two more wins from the title.

Final score: Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur  

Goalscorers: England 19, Kerr 45+1

Chelsea line up: (4-1-3-2) Musovic; Carter, Bright, Eriksson (C), Andersson; Ingle; Harder (Charles 75), Cuthbert, Reiten (Fleming 65); England, Kerr

Unused subs: Soper, Nouwen, Mjelde, James, Spence, Abdullina

Attendance: 3,660

Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Chelsea (WSL) – “Character, a comeback – and champion credentials.”

If Chelsea FC Women do lift the WSL title at the end of the season, this will be one of the matches we look back on as being crucial – and one which will likely live long in the folklore of Chelsea Football Club. 

At half-time, with the scores level at 1-1, and having been reduced to ten players following Ann-Katrin Berger’s red card in the 33rd minute, things seemed bleak. 

Chelsea started the game one point ahead of chasing Arsenal, with just four fixtures left in the league season. If we win our remaining games, we win the league – but any dropped points could be fatal, especially with Arsenal having the kinder schedule. 

Chelsea had thus left ourselves with a mountain to climb, after a nightmare of a first half. 

Dropping all three points seemed more likely than finding a winner against an opponent with the wind in their sails, and a player advantage – but Chelsea did find a way, coming back to earn a remarkable victory in the face of considerably long odds.

Initially, things seemed to be going to plan as Chelsea dominated possession in the opening exchanges. It was the first of two games in the space of a week, against our London rivals. Chelsea are set to host Spurs in the reverse fixture on Thursday, in the third attempt to contest a match twice delayed by COVID-19 outbreaks. 

After the opening ten minutes, Spurs grew well into the game, and won a flurry of set pieces which asked questions of the Chelsea defence in very windy conditions. 

It was from a set piece that Spurs took the lead – albeit with a hefty stroke of luck. Molly Bartrip lofted her corner over Berger in the Chelsea goal to strike the far post. It rebounded straight onto the unfortunate Sophie Ingle, and then deflected back past the helpless Berger. 

This was not in the script – although after the drama of the season so far, there was always the potential for twists and turns.

Chelsea looked slightly stunned at first, but soon recovered and were able to level the scoring within 10 minutes through a slightly fortuitous goal of our own. 

Emma Hayes had elected to make no changes from the side which beat Arsenal 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final the weekend previously – meaning Guro Reiten was one of the attackers rewarded for her fine recent form with her third consecutive start. It had been the Norwegian who got the opener against the Gunners, last weekend. 

Reiten once again repaid the faith Hayes has shown in her – beating Ashleigh Neville with a lovely piece of skill, before her chipped effort left the Spurs keeper stranded to equalise for the Blues. Truthfully, it was likely intended as a cross – but we will take that any day. 

It felt like Chelsea would now go on to take control of the game, as we so often do – but disaster struck not long after we had gone level. 

Spurs had threatened the Chelsea back line on several occasions in the first half, and when Rachel Williams was unleashed in on goal around the half an hour mark, Berger could only clear her out. The referee saw fit to show the German keeper a red card for denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity. 

The decision felt harsh, as Williams was travelling away from goal – but it came about due to flat-footedness from the Chelsea defence, and a poorly-timed tackle from Berger.

An even bigger response was now needed from Chelsea – in a game where three points had been a must, now even one point looked in jeopardy against a Spurs team who were very up for it, and with the player advantage. 

It would have been easy for Chelsea’s heads to drop, faced with such a huge risk to our title hopes. The second half performance from Chelsea, and the subsequent turnaround, was therefore a mark of true character, fighting spirit – and a champion mentality that could prove decisive in the title race. 

Beth England was sacrificed to bring on back-up keeper Zerica Musovic – the 25-year-old thus being thrown into a highly pressured situation. 

The Swede has been rotated often with Berger since Christmas – more so than would be expected for a back-up keeper. That now looked a very shrewd move from Hayes, as Musovic looked assured and comfortable in her 57 minutes on the pitch, likely having benefited from her recent regular playing time.

Hayes also introduced captain Magda Eriksson and forward Pernille Harder to proceedings at the break, to add more experience and nous to the side. 

A resolute Chelsea dug in to defend our goal – and continued to provide a threat of our own, despite being a player down.  

It was another of Emma Hayes’ substitutes which made the decisive impact. Jonna Andersson had been on the pitch for less than a minute when her cross found Sam Kerr in the box, who converted with a trademark header.

The Aussie’s 17th finished WSL goal of the season gave Chelsea a deserved lead – we had somehow been the better team despite being a player down. Yet again, one of our star players had risen to the occasion. 

The goal came shortly after Musovic had made an excellent save to deny Spurs a second goal of their own – proving again her reliability as our back up, and more than repaying Emma Hayes’ aforementioned faith in having given her such a generous share of playing time. 

Chelsea controlled the game with little trouble after Kerr’s goal – with Spurs looking defeated already. 

The result was finally put beyond doubt in injury time. Another substitute, Jessie Fleming, strode forward into the space left by a retreating Spurs defence to unleash a wonder strike from 25 yards. That took the score to 3-1 – and earned Chelsea three points which we had worked so hard for, and thoroughly deserved.

It was the sort of performance and result on which seasons are defined. Chelsea were staring down the barrel of points dropped in a situation where every game is must win – and responded by wrestling them back off of a determined and organised Spurs side. 

It was a performance to send a message to our challengers – Chelsea are not giving up our title without a fight, and we have it in us to overcome the most significant adversity.

There was to be no such drama for Arsenal in the late evening fixture, as they eased to a 3-0 win away at Everton – a side with nothing left to play for this season. 

One down, three to go. Chelsea and Spurs meet again on Thursday, this time at Kingsmeadow – where Chelsea will hope for a more straightforward encounter

Final score: Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Chelsea 

Goalscorers: Reiten 26, Kerr 71, Fleming 90+5

Chelsea line up: (3-5-2) Berger; Bright (c), Nouwen (Eriksson h/t), Carter; Charles (Andersson 70), Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji (Harder h/t), Reiten (Fleming 82); England (Musovic 37), Kerr

Unused subs: Mjelde, James, Spence

Attendance: not available

#8 – Previewing the final stretch of the WSL title race – “Black cats, squad depth, and queen-makers.”

The story so far

There are only four fixtures left each for the two sides who sit at the summit of the WSL, as we reach the culmination of what has been by most accounts the best title race in years.

Arsenal and Chelsea have been jostling for supremacy in the WSL all season long. Their roles as the two main contenders for the title were cast back in September, when Arsenal upset champions Chelsea 3-2 in the first gameweek of the season.

For most of the season since, Arsenal have led the way. Chelsea went above the Gunners to top the league for the first time in 2021/22 shortly before this month’s international break – having finally caught up on our games in hand.

That opening weekend win was lauded by many as a statement of intent from an Arsenal team who had had an impressive summer transfer window, and had a new manager in Jonas Eidevall at the helm. The Gunners writ their champion credentials large in the subsequent weeks, in which they looked truly imperious in winning their first six league games.

Chelsea’s dismantling of Arsenal in December’s pandemic-delayed 2021 FA Cup Final felt like a turning point. The Blues enacted revenge for the earlier defeat, and also made it clear to all who witnessed it the task Arsenal would have to unseat the side who have held the WSL title for the past two years. It was a thoroughly dominant display in which the 3-0 scoreline if anything flattered the losing team – a humbling experience for Eidevall and his side.

Additional spice has been added to the rivalry between the two teams by the exchanges between Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, and WSL newcomer Eidevall. The Swede caused some disquiet with his theatrical touchline manner in Arsenal’s win earlier this season, and the ongoing press conference back-and-forths have kept onlookers well entertained. 

In what is now an iconic WSL moment, Eidevall spoke of his superstition about black cats before the FA Cup Final – to which Hayes could not help but reference following Chelsea’s subsequent victory, describing her players as “purring”... and even meowing to a press corp, who lapped it up like they had gotten the proverbial cream.

Arsenal have struggled for consistency since the winter, and look short of the side that came out flying in the opening weeks of the season.

Chelsea’s own slip-ups have kept the race close, however – although since the turn of the year, and despite injuries and COVID-19 absences, Emma Hayes has been able to coax a consistently high level of performance from her squad that Arsenal have not quite been able to match.

The second league encounter between the two, at Kingsmeadow in February, ended in a 0-0 draw – although Chelsea were unlucky not to take all three points, having been denied a blatant penalty for handball in injury time.

Returning from the aforementioned international break, Chelsea hold a one point lead and five goal difference advantage over the Gunners, with both sides finally having played the same number of games.

The two sides would first face each other directly, in the semi-final of this season’s FA Cup, before contesting the final four fixtures to decide the destination of the title. The race is less hotting up, and more already absolutely scalding.

In this piece those games will be previewed, taking a look at the final stretch of what has been a dramatic and tightly-matched race between two quality sides.

An FA Cup appetiser 

You cannot go any further without discussing the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, which took place on Sunday at Arsenal’s Meadow Lane stadium.

Arsenal had been the slightly better of the two sides in the first half – but failed to register a single shot on target, and soon came to regret that when a much-improved Chelsea came flying out the traps after the interval. The Blues scored two goals in 11 blistering minutes, which proved enough to secure a 2-0 win, and passage into this season’s FA Cup Final on the 15th May.

Emma Hayes had paid testimony to the consistency of the performances across her squad post-game, as injuries in recent weeks have caused Chelsea to turn to more peripheral players as the difference makers. Both sides have been affected by COVID-19 and injuries this season – but it has been Chelsea’s squad who has proven to be the better quality of the two, and hence have managed these challenges better.

The second half performance was also a reminder of another edge Chelsea have over our North London rivals – this side are champions, and a team used to winning trophies. That experience, and mentality to step up when it is really needed, could be what gets Chelsea over the line ahead of Arsenal.

Overall, in the four games contested between the two sides this season the record now stands at two wins for Chelsea, a win for Arsenal, and a draw. Head-to-head, it’s advantage Chelsea – and despite Hayes’ coyness post-match, that surely brings a psychological edge. 

With the appetites whetted in the cup, attention now turns to the main course.

Chelsea

Fixtures

24th April – Spurs (H)
28th April – Spurs (A)
1st May – Birmingham (A)
8th May – Man United (H)

It is the consensus of most that Chelsea have the tougher run-in. 

The standout match is the last game of the season, at home to Manchester United. Marc Skinner’s side are currently third in the table, occupying the final Champions League qualification spot. They sit three points ahead of local rivals Manchester City – who crucially have a game in hand on the Red Devils. That battle is likely to go down to the wire, like the title race – meaning Man United will likely still have something to play for, and as determined to win all three points as Chelsea. 

On Chelsea’s side is an excellent record against Man United since their promotion to the WSL in 2019, having never lost in any competition to them. Earlier this season Chelsea strolled to a comfortable 4-0 win away at Leigh Sports Village, and then more recently dispatched them again with little trouble in the semi-final of the Conti Cup, coming away 3-1 victors.

Nonetheless, we could well see Chelsea lose the title on the final day – which will bring back painful memories of the last day of the 2014 WSL season, where we lost out on goal difference to Liverpool due to a final day loss at home to Man City.  

Before we reach that game, Chelsea also have to face Tottenham Hotspur twice in the same week – as we attempt to fulfil our away fixture for the third time this season. That game, which will be the second of the double header Chelsea start the run-in with, was originally scheduled for January, before being postponed to March due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Chelsea… and then postponed again due to an outbreak at Spurs.

Spurs for much of the season had been in with a decent chance of finishing third, but their challenge fell away in the spring – with their thin squad having been stretched by injuries to key players such as Kit Graham. They are now winless in three games, having lost the last two to Aston Villa and Man City. 

However, they are still a decent side – as proven by the 28 points accrued this campaign, and earlier in the season took the scalp of Man City. As well as facing Chelsea twice, Spurs will also contest an away North London Derby – with their game against Arsenal due to take place as the penultimate game of the season. Whatever happens, Spurs will likely be queen-makers, having a big say in this title race.

Chelsea’s own penultimate fixture will likely be the most straightforward – away to bottom side Birmingham, who may well already be relegated by that point. Birmingham did spring a huge upset – with ramifications for the title race –  when they beat Arsenal 2-0 back in February. However, that was their first win of the season in the league, and they have not won since. Chelsea beat them 5-0 in the FA Cup quarter-final a few weeks ago – and if there are any fixtures that Chelsea will be confident of three points from, it will be this one.

In terms of the state of the squad, the reading is good for Chelsea. In the absence of last season’s Player of the Year, Fran Kirby – who will be sidelined “for the foreseeable future” as she battles chronic fatigue – more peripheral forward players such as Guro Reiten and Beth England have more than stepped up for Chelsea. 

Star striker Sam Kerr remains firing on all cylinders as she chases her second WSL Golden Boot – she is currently in pole position, with a four-goal lead on Arsenal’s Viv Miedema. Pernille Harder is due to return from injury, and captain Magda Eriksson is fit again after having been limited to a substitute role against Arsenal at the weekend. 

Kirby aside, midfielder Melanie Leupolz is not available due to being pregnant with her first child – but there are no other significant absences.

Even more encouraging is the fine recent form of the Blues, having won the last seven games in all competitions, going undefeated since the Conti Cup Final defeat to Man City. 

Those seven wins include six consecutive clean sheets – and a total of 29 goals. Chelsea struggled in the winter, and took a while to get going after Christmas – but once Emma Hayes got her side firing, there has been little stopping them, and they look like a group of players very much on a mission.

Arsenal

Fixtures

24th April – Everton (A)
1st May – Aston Villa (H)
4th May – Spurs (H)
8th May – West Ham (A)

Pound-for-pound, Arsenal’s fixtures look the easier task – but the WSL has had more upsets than ever before this season, meaning straightforward games on paper may not always prove to be so.

Arsenal’s first test will be an away game to Everton – who have had a highly disappointing season after a summer transfer window which promised much. The Toffees are currently on their third manager of the season, and are tenth in the 12-team league. However, now having confirmed their safety from relegation, they do have nothing left to play for – and so are unlikely to provide much resistance.

The subsequent opponents for Arsenal will be another side who may be on the beach – Aston Villa’s primary goal this season was to consolidate their presence in the WSL, which they have already achieved with their current ninth place position.

The biggest challenge for the Gunners will likely be their third game of the four – the aforementioned North London Derby against rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The first fixture between the two this season ended in a 1-1 draw – with Arsenal requiring a last minute equaliser to get that point. As previously mentioned, though, that Spurs side was one in much better form than currently – but form goes out of the window in a derby, and Spurs will likely be determined to prevent their rivals from being crowned champions.

Arsenal will finish their season with a final day visit to West Ham – who sit comfortably mid-table. The Hammers are another side with little to play for except pride – but they are a good side, and not a prospect Arsenal will be able to take lightly.

The Gunners’ form has not been quite as impressive as Chelsea’s. Although they have matched the Blues’ results in the WSL since the 0-0 draw between the two in February, their recent results also include a Champions League exit to Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, and that defeat to Chelsea – and their performances have not quite reached the levels of the champions.

Their performances have nonetheless picked up since the acquisition of Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius in January – who has slotted in perfectly to the Arsenal side, and already formed an impressive partnership with Miedema. Beth Mead has been excellent all season long for the Gunners, and the winger was England’s best player in the recent international break – scoring goals for fun against North Macedonia and Northern Ireland.

The chaotic schedule, due to the pandemic, means Arsenal will need to squeeze their final three games into a single week at the end of the season – a prospect that will stretch an Arsenal squad which is not as deep as their Chelsea counterparts.  

Nonetheless, all four games are very much winnable for Arsenal – especially if their star forwards continue their form.

Conclusion

There may be only four games to go, but it is still far too early to call a race this close. The WSL this season has thrown up more upsets than ever before – both sides could win out, but both sides could also easily slip up, as they already have done this season.

Chelsea realistically have the tougher task, given both team’s fixtures, but also the better form – and have demonstrated throughout the season greater strength in depth, with key contributions from across the squad. 

Also in Chelsea’s favour is that this side have done it before – Emma Hayes has won ten trophies in her tenure, including three of the past four league titles. That experience, and the confidence that can be taken from being proven winners, could make all the difference in a race that will likely be decided by such fine margins. 

Chelsea will also be hoping that a psychological blow has been inflicted by the win in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final – and the difference in quality between the two head-to-head may well be playing on Arsenal’s minds.

However it plays out, what we do know for sure is that the battle between the two has made entertaining viewing all season long. Having two quality teams duking it out for supremacy – as well as the race for third place still being very much on – has made it a great season for the league as a whole. The conclusion to this year’s competition promises to be one to remember.

Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea (FA Cup semi-final) – “The squirrels and the pussycat.”

In truth, I cannot offer much insight into this game, which was the latest episode of the enthralling battle between Chelsea and Arsenal this season. A long-awaited holiday in Toronto means I have been disconnected from much of the football occurrences of this past week. I was 356 metres high in the sky, up Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, whilst Chelsea were reaching heights of their own with a 2-0 victory over Arsenal 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final.

It was of course the second time this season that we have defeated Arsenal in the FA Cup – although December’s 3-0 final win at Wembley was the culmination of the 2020/21 competition, which had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite not having been able to watch the match live, there is still much to be mused on what the result and performance means – both as a reflection of our season so far, and as a predictor of what may be still to come.

In the absence of my own words, there is no better source to turn to than Emma Hayes, who spoke post-match of a game where Chelsea won the battle in midfield, and hence the game – and of a Chelsea side who came out in the second half much improved to the one who started the game.

Most agree that Arsenal had been the better of the two sides in the first half, having control of possession and territory. However, the Gunners failed to test Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea goal – not having a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

There was a sense Arsenal would live to regret that the edge they held over Chelsea was a blunt one… and they soon did, after two top quality goals in 11 second half minutes, which won the tie for the Blues.

The build up to this game had been overshadowed by the sad news that Fran Kirby would be ruled out “for the foreseeable future” due to her ongoing struggle with chronic fatigue. 

This news reached me in Canada – and the entire football world is united in wishing her the best as she continues to battle the issues that have kept her out since February.

Hayes has spoken a lot recently about the importance of the squad in what has been a season with a heavily congested schedule, and frequently disrupted by COVID-19 absences and injury. Pernille Harder, so often the difference maker this season, was only fit for the bench in this game – meaning that with Kirby also missing, two of the trio (Kerr being the third) who were so deadly for Chelsea last season were absent.  

No bother, though. In the absence of Kirby and other key players at certain times this season, the squad as a whole have stepped up, with Niamh Charles, Jessie Fleming, Beth England and Guro Reiten being amongst those who have had a more peripheral role over the past couple of years – but have become key contributors.

It seems unfair to call these players the “deputies”, given their importance in recent games – and it was again one of the players recently promoted to a starring role who got the breakthrough in this game. On this occasion it was Reiten who took up the mantle, with a brilliant strike from 25 yards to give Chelsea the lead, after the Arsenal defence had given her far too much space and time.

This was soon added to by a similarly-excellent long-range goal from Ji So-Yun to give Chelsea a 2-0 advantage, which transpired to be enough to win the game.

Hayes once again had good cause to praise the quality and depth of her squad and the players within it.

In the end, Arsenal were lucky it was not more – Sam Kerr hit the bar, and England also came close. After having failed to test Berger in the opening 45 minutes, the Gunners were similarly insipid in the final third in the second half – meaning they completed the full 90 minutes without managing a shot on target. That statistic, as well as their keeper Manuela ZInsberger being named Player of the Match, says it all about the dominance Chelsea did eventually enact.

Emma Hayes played down the significance of this result to the title race – which looks set to go down to the wire, with just four fixtures left to play. Chelsea have a one point advantage – but the tougher fixtures. 

However, it is hard not to imagine that the nature of this defeat will not play on Arsenal’s minds. Chelsea made it clear who is the superior side when pitted head to head – just as we did at Wembley in December. Despite Hayes’ words, everyone at Chelsea will be hoping this will unnerve the Gunners, in a race where the finest of margins could make the difference. 

Hayes’ coyness is not surprising. The back-and-forth between the two sides on the pitch this season has arguably been matched by the barbs exchanged by Hayes and her counterpart Jonas Eidevall. The Arsenal manager has at times a peculiar way of words, and his touchline manner when Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-2 on the opening day of the season caused some disquiet amongst the Chelsea coaching staff – Hayes included. 

Eidevall’s comments about black cats and superstition prior to the cup final have gained particular notoriety. Emma Hayes could not help but speak of her team having made her “purr” after the subsequent dismantling of Arsenal in that banner fixture – and even gave the press a “miaow” for good measure, creating an instant meme in the world of women’s football.

Eidevall switched animal metaphors ahead of this game – choosing to let the world know that he had asked his Arsenal players to “think like squirrels” by playing fast and instinctively, in order to overcome this Chelsea side.

Forget Eidevall’s squirrels, forget black cats – the only animal on display at Meadow Park was a feline of a more regal nature. This was in the end a Chelsea performance characteristic of the lions of our badge, which more than outmatched the bushy-tailed rodents of North London.

Chelsea demonstrated the quality and character which Arsenal lacked in the key moments – and continued the recent theme of a variety of players in the squad stepping up when needed the most. 

The reward is a rematch of March’s Conti Cup Final defeat to Man City, who beat West Ham 4-1 in their own semi-final. That game will take place on the 15th May at Wembley – a happy hunting-ground for Chelsea in recent years.

But first, back to the title race – where the mission remains as it was… win every game, and Chelsea win the league. On the basis of this game, Chelsea more than have what it takes – but the WSL this season continues to throw up surprises. 

Chelsea reached one cup final on Sunday, but (as the cliche goes), there are still four more to play before that day at Wembley.

Final score: Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea  

Goalscorers: Reiten 50, Ji 61

Chelsea (4-1-3-2) Berger; Charles, Bright (c), Nouwen, Carter; Ingle; Cuthbert, Ji (Fleming 79), Reiten; Kerr (Harder 72), England

Unused subs: Musovic, Eriksson, Mjelde, Spence, Andersson, Abdullina

Attendance: 3,458

Chelsea 5-0 Reading (WSL) – “Tit for tat.”

***

The superb 9-0 win against Leicester last weekend had seen Chelsea move into first place in the WSL, for the first time this season – with just five league fixtures left to play.

Our next task was to stay there. 

Title rivals Arsenal had beaten Leicester 5-0 in the early fixture on Sunday, meaning they had jumped back above us – and cut our new goal difference advantage resulting from the thrashing of Leicester down to one. The mission was simple – take all three points at home against Reading on Sunday evening, and we would be back on top. 

As with every game from now until the end of the season, a win was a must.

Chelsea knew all too well the danger Reading could pose. It had been the Royals who inflicted only our second (and to this date, last) league defeat all season, in the reverse fixture back in December. That result came amongst our worst run of form in years – and one which threw our season into a state of jeopardy, which we have since done well to bounce back from.

Reading’s own form recently has dropped off significantly, after what was an impressive first half of the season. They came into this one winless in seven – whereas Chelsea were undefeated in 2022, and had won the last five games in a row.

Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder remained unavailable. Harder is struggling with a knee injury, whereas Kirby is being given time to recover from fatigue. The forward has also been rested from the England squad by Sarina Wiegman, ahead of the Lionesses’ upcoming World Cup qualifiers, in order to assist her recovery.

One of the standout players of recent matches has been Beth England, who has taken the opportunity presented by Kirby and Harder’s absence with both hands, scoring four goals in the past two games. England once again led the line alongside Sam Kerr, in what has been a productive partnership in recent weeks.

Chelsea flew out of the traps, dominating Kelly Chamber’s side from kick off, and looked like a side determined to gain revenge for that away defeat. Guro Reiten – another beneficiary of the recent injuries – continued her excellent form, and was the puppetmaster at the heart of most of Chelsea’s attacking play.

The pressure on the Reading goal finally told at the cliched “perfect moment to score” – just before halftime. It was vital to get the breakthrough before the break, to set off any nerves about the result – each match is now hugely pressured for the Blues. 

The goal scorer was Jessie Fleming, who after some pinball in the Reading box controlled and finished coolly to give Chelsea a deserved lead. The Canadian has had a breakout season for the Blues in her second year at the club, and is increasingly contributing with vital goals – this being her seventh of the season.

It did not take long in the second half to double our lead. Beth England struck a beautifully-timed volley that gave Reading keeper Grace Moloney no chance, and made the scoreline more comfortable.

Our top scorer, Sam Kerr, then got in on the action. The credit mainly goes to Reiten though, who did superbly to win the ball high up the pitch and then unselfishly tee up the Aussie for her easiest finish of the season. 

Erin Cuthbert then drilled a low cross across the Reading box which Kerr converted for her sixteenth WSL goal this year. It also put her four clear again of Vivianne Miedema in the Golden Boot race, who had scored a brace of her own in Arsenal’s earlier win. It has become increasingly difficult to question that since her arrival, Kerr has been the best striker in the WSL. Her scoring ratio in the league this season so far stands at a ridiculous 1.2 goals per 90 minutes played – in comparison to 0.77 for Miedema – and she looks set to finish the season as the WSL’s top scorer for the second year in a row.

The scoreline was given the truly emphatic feel the performance deserved in injury time. England won a penalty, which Kerr unselfishly declined the chance of a hat trick to let Beth step up. England has missed a penalty previously this season, but converted this one with no issue to give Chelsea a 5-0 win – and the three points needed to go back ahead of Arsenal in the league standings. It was also our seventh consecutive home clean sheet, in a game where the defence had hardly been tested.

The trio of Reiten, England and Kerr had been simply outstanding. Last season, and for much of this year, it was the trident of Kerr, Kirby and Harder putting opponents to the sword – but in the latter two’s absence we have seen England and Reiten truly step up. This speaks both to the quality of the squad, but also the mentality of these two players – who have been 

unfortunate to see their minutes reduced and play more secondary roles, and yet have been brilliant when we needed them the most.

Kirby’s aforementioned absence from the England squad has also opened up a spot for Beth, who has been called up by Wiegman. If she keeps this form up, she’d be very difficult to leave out for this summer’s Euros.

Mission complete for Chelsea. Arsenal had asked the question – and Chelsea had responded emphatically. They won 5-0 to go top – we won 5-0 to go top. Their star forward scores a brace – and so does ours. If we keep up this tit for tat, then the title is ours – but with Arsenal having a kinder run-in, each and every game must be seen as a major challenge for the Blues to overcome. So far we are doing our part – and with a flourish. Now, it must continue.

Next up for the Blues following the international break would be a more direct confrontation with the Gunners, as we travel to face them in the semi-final of this season’s FA Cup, in the latest edition of what has been a fiercely-contested rivalry all season long. That match will of course have no bearing on the title race in terms of points gained – but it could have a significant psychological impact as the two sides jostle for supremacy in English football, and both teams will be desperate for a victory.

Final score: Chelsea 5-0 Reading 

Goalscorers: Fleming 40, England 52, 90+2 Kerr 66, 77

Chelsea (3-5-2): Musovic; Eriksson, Nouwen (Mjelde 78), Bright; Reiten (Andersson 78), Fleming (Abdullina 81), Ingle, Cuthbert (Spence 81), Carter (Charles 78); Kerr, England

Unused subs: Berger, Thompson

Attendance: 2,485

Leicester 0-9 Chelsea (WSL) – “Rampant Chelsea storm to the top of the league.”

With Chelsea’s midweek fixture against Tottenham Hotspur having been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Spurs camp, Chelsea had missed the opportunity to go above Arsenal in the WSL table for the first time this season. 

However, with Spurs also being unable to fulfil their fixture against Arsenal this weekend – a hotly-anticipated North London Derby – Chelsea had a second chance to go top with this away game against Leicester City. It would also mean for the first time since December, we would finally have played the same number of games as our title rivals.

It was an opportunity that Chelsea emphatically took, with a performance and result that provides further evidence that as we rapidly approach the climax of the season, the Blues mean business.

Leicester may have thought that the 7-0 defeat inflicted by Chelsea last month in the FA Cup would be their most bruising encounter of the season – but a hungry Chelsea came back for more, this time putting an absurd *nine* goals past the Foxes. It felt a slightly cruel scoreline, considering that it was being played at the King Power Stadium as a banner fixture for the Midlands side. The 2,000 Leicester fans in attendance may not have enjoyed seeing their team put to the sword on their special occasion, but there was at least a feast of world class attacking talent to enjoy in the sunshine.

Despite the aforementioned 7-0 win, Leicester weren’t expected to be pushovers. Under well-regarded manager Lydia Bedford they have likely achieved their primary objective this season of securing survival, in their first year in the WSL. They are eight points clear of bottom side Birmingham with five games left to play – and have taken to the league with a resolute and organised brand of football.

Their back five were breached on this afternoon after just three minutes, however, with a superbly-struck Guro Reiten free kick – which the Norwegian had won herself after an energetic foray at the Leicester defence.

Reiten had been rewarded for her recent excellent form with a second start – and it did not take long for her to repay Emma Hayes’s faith.

Chelsea were very clearly in the mood, and just two minutes later Sam Kerr doubled the lead following a classic Millie Bright long ball out of defence, which completely bypassed the Leicester back line.

Another player who had been given what is, these days, a rare starting opportunity was Beth England – and she soon scored our third goal – which meant that for the first time in WSL history a team had gone 3-0 up within the first 10 minutes. Rampant Chelsea were storming to the top of the league – and were far from done.

The Leicester players held a crisis meeting on the pitch following the third, but they could not stop Aniek Nouwen scoring the fourth goal following a corner, just a few minutes later. 

Chelsea were having fun, knowing that we could enjoy the rest of the afternoon knowing that the job was already done. Pre-kick off, Arsenal had had the superior goal difference, and this was an excellent opportunity to bridge that gap – which could prove crucial given how tight the race is.

That motivation may have under-lied what seemed an insatiable hunger for more goals – England soon got her second of the afternoon with a header from an inch-perfect Reiten cross, to make it five. The most surprising thing following the opening 30 minutes was that it took until first half injury time for Chelsea to add to this tally. When it came it was a second for Reiten – who had been the best player on the pitch, but was fortunate with this strike, which surely was intended as a cross rather than a shot.

Fox hunting is illegal in the UK, but that did not stop Chelsea continuing where we left off after the break. Sam Kerr scored her second of the game within two minutes of the restart with a trademark powerful header – a goal which took her four clear of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema in the Golden Boot race.

With three Chelsea forwards now on a hat trick, the real competition appeared to be who could get the match ball, rather than any resistance from the Leicester team. Hayes had other ideas though, substituting Reiten and England – both of whom had been superb.

Their replacements kept the party going – and the eighth goal was a particular delight, being the first ever Chelsea goal for summer signing Lauren James. The hugely exciting young forward has had her opportunities curtailed by injury, and took her first of hopefully many brilliantly – to widespread jubilation from all in Blue, wherever they were watching from.

Jessie Fleming was then set up superbly by fellow substitute Drew Spence’s back heel pass to round off an excellent team move, and make it cloud nine for Chelsea – which the biggest away win by any team in the WSL since 2013. 

Leicester’s only real opportunity was the final kick of the game – striker Flint put it wide, meaning Zecira Musovic had not been truly tested in the Chelsea goal all day. 

The performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that Chelsea were missing both Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder. The former had been given an extended break due to fatigue, and Harder has still been testing positive for COVID-19. Kirby has struggled with injuries throughout her career, and it is heartening to see Hayes prioritise her physical and mental wellbeing, even at the crunch time of the season.

That such two world class forwards did not feature, and yet Chelsea still utterly demolished Leicester, speaks to the depth of Chelsea’s attack, and just how well the squad has stepped up since the turn of the year. Guro Reiten and Beth England are two players who have been used mainly for rotation, but as mentioned were given the chance to start in this game – and stepped up with superb performances.

The spread of the goals also demonstrates the richness of Chelsea’s resources – six different players were on the scoresheet, something which Emma Hayes highlighted as being particularly pleasing, post-game.

It had been a truly outstanding afternoon. The 9-0 win took us top of the league for the first time this season, with five games to go – and with now a healthy five goal difference advantage on Arsenal.

There will be bigger tests to come in this title race – but Chelsea look like a team who know their mission, and are determined to complete it.

Final score: Leicester 0-9 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Reiten 3, 45, Kerr 5, 46, England 7, 28, Nouwen 11, James 88, Fleming 90

Chelsea (3-5-2) Musovic; Carter (Eriksson 61), Bright (C), Nouwen (Mjelde 61); Charles, Ingle (Andersson 70), So-Yun (Fleming 45), Cuthbert, Reiten (Spence 70); Kerr, England (James 70)

Unused subs: Berger, James, Spence, Andersson, Abdullina

Attendance: 2,278

Chelsea 5-0 Birmingham (FA Cup) – “One for the fans.”

If you asked a focus group of Chelsea FC Women fans how they would have liked a quarter-final tie against Birmingham to play out, it probably would have been quite similar to this. 

A 5-0 win at Kingsmeadow on a Sunday afternoon, and the warmest weekend of the year so far in the UK. Not many things excite Brits so much as the first signs of the end of our long dreary winters, as some cultural context – the mood of the entire nation lifts as one, and it meant that spirits would already have been raised in the stands.

The sun was out, and despite some of the big guns of the Chelsea squad being out, a cast made up of club stalwarts and fan favourites put on a show befitting the pathetic fallacy.

Only season ticket holders – and the few who were able to buy tickets before the sanctions imposed against Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich – were able to attend. You would not have known it was a reduced crowd however, such was the buoyancy of the support.

The opponents, Birmingham, are currently propping up the WSL table in last place – and look almost certain to go down to the Championship. Birmingham did beat Arsenal earlier this season in the league, in a match that may well have seismic complications for the title race. Chelsea and Birmingham also have a history in the FA Cup – the Midlands side beat Chelsea on penalties in the 2012 final, and knocked us out again in the 2017 semi-final. They were not to be taken lightly.

The two sides, both nicknamed the Blues, have had contrasting fortunes since. Whilst Chelsea have gone on to win the competition three times, a lack of investment and support of the women’s team has seen Birmingham’s status within the game diminish. 

Birmingham are without a WSL win since that 2-0 upset of Arsenal back in January, winning just two games since – both in the FA Cup, against second tier Sunderland and Durham respectively. 

Chelsea were of course heavy favourites to advance, and Hayes was able to make six changes from the team which beat Everton 3-0 midweek, in that context. Sam Kerr and Erin Cuthbert were amongst those rested, with Beth England given the task of leading the Chelsea line. Fran Kirby remained absent from the squad, with the reasons not having been disclosed for why our top assist-maker has not yet played this month.

Captain Magda Eriksson was named in the starting line-up for the first time in 2022, following  a deltoid injury that has kept her out since December. The Swede is dearly beloved by Chelsea fans – and had spoken following the Everton game in tribute to their support.  

There could therefore have been no better scorer of the opening goal, than our captain.

Chelsea had as expected dominated from kick off, and Millie Bright – whilst being serenaded by the crowd – went close on two occasions, her second long-range effort striking the crossbar. 

Birmingham had been able to withstand the Chelsea onslaught, but unlike last weekend’s game against Aston Villa, a goal seemed inevitable – the Chelsea attack were playing with purpose and threat, and had exposed the Birmingham defence on several occasions. It seemed a matter of time.

That time transpired to be just before the break – the perfect moment to break Birmingham’s resolve. A Jonna Andersson set piece was headed across goal by Sophie Ingle – and then nodded home from close range by Eriksson, to the jubilation of all those inside Kingsmeadow. It has been a long journey back from injury for our captain – and no one on the pitch deserved a goal more.

With the lead, and the result looking inevitable, Chelsea went on to put Birmingham to the sword in the second half.

Drew Spence popped up on the edge of the box with a characteristic low strike to double Chelsea’s lead with less than 60 minutes played. It was our longest-serving player’s 50th goal for the club – another goalscorer very popular with the Kingsmeadow crowd – who delighted in witnessing her milestone.

Fellow fan favourite Beth England put the result beyond doubt with a brace inside 10 minutes. The first was set up by a brilliant Spence backheel assist, and substitute Alsu Abdullina did well in the build-up to England’s second, a precise left-footed finish. 

England has been the player who has arguably suffered the most due to Chelsea’s impressive recruitment in recent years, losing her place as our starting centre forward to Sam Kerr. She is held in high regard and close to the hearts of the fans – who will not forget just how brilliant Beth was in the two seasons she was Chelsea’s top scorer – and in particular in 2019/20, when her goals fired us to a Double and earned her the PFA Player of the Year Award. She is a truly quality player, and the campaign for more opportunities for our number 9 is one of the  most unifying aspects of the fanbase. Beth playing, and taking her chances, is what all Chelsea fans love to see.

In-between England’s brace Niamh Charles had time to score a header following a Chelsea corner, taking the total to five goals for Chelsea, in what had been a thoroughly comfortable and enjoyable afternoon. Charles has been having a breakout season, and has earnt a spot in the England squad – if she carries on this trajectory, she could well be one day spoken about in the same regard as her fellow three goalscorers in this game.

It has been a challenging time for Chelsea fans in recent weeks, given the uncertainty around the club – and the disappointment of many of being prevented from going to Kingsmeadow to cheer on the Blues in person. 

The team have responded with four wins in a row, and this victory more than any felt like one for the fans – with players particularly beloved by the Chelsea faithful on the scoresheet, and the team playing attacking football as glorious as the March sunshine. It was what we all wanted, and what we needed – and meant that Chelsea progressed on to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, as we continue our trophy defence.

Final score: Chelsea 5-0 Birmingham 

Goalscorers: Eriksson 44, Spence 54, England 62, 72, Charles 66

Line up: Chelsea (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson, So-Yun (James 67), Eriksson, Fleming (Abdullina 67), Charles (Mjelde 67), Spence, Andersson

Unused subs: Musovic, Nouwen, Reiten, Kerr, Cuthbert,

Attendance: 1,869

Everton 0-3 Chelsea (WSL) – “Chipping away.”

Chelsea FC Women’s busy March schedule carried on at pace on Wednesday evening in Merseyside, in an all-Blue clash against Everton in the WSL. It was the second of our fixtures that had been postponed in January, due to COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the league.

A win would see Chelsea move just two points behind Arsenal in the league standings, with one game still in hand – the title remains in our own destiny, with the mission being clear – win every game, and we win the league.

This WSL season has shown that that is a more challenging prospect than in recent years, with the increased quality throughout the league being demonstrated by results such as Reading and Birmingham’s respective upsets of title-chasing Chelsea and Arsenal. None of Chelsea’s remaining fixtures should be taken lightly.  


Everton away, however, was a task that was not likely to have as much ‘banana skin’ potential as in recent years. The Toffees have had a very disappointing season following a transfer window which promised much – and had many people tipping them as dark horses for the third Champions League spot.

Instead, a horrible run at the start of the season saw popular manager Willie Kirk lose his job. He was replaced by former Lyon manager Jean-Luc Vasseur – who has won the Champions League with the French giants, but fared no better than his predecessor at Everton… and was sacked after just three months, Two managerial changes in one season is almost unprecedented for WSL teams – and speaks to the chaos at the club. They are currently in the charge of interim managers Claire Ditchburn and Chris Roberts.

Results have remained patchy amongst all of this flux. Everton sit at a lowly 9th in the table, a position not befitting of the quality of their squad. 

However, Everton did come into this fixture in their best form this season, having notched three consecutive wins in all competitions for the first time. They have not yet this season managed a result against any of the “big” teams in the league, which is what anything other than three points for Chelsea in this game would be. 

In the fallout of the sanctions imposed on owner Roman Abramovich, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Chelsea players have done an excellent job of maintaining focus amongst the off-field uncertainty swirling around the club – having won both fixtures since the news broke. With the situation unresolved, however, there remains a sense that that pressure and the distractions may tell at some point. Chelsea had needed a heroic last-gasp injury time winner from Sam Kerr to secure the three points against Birmingham at the weekend.

With Chelsea currently playing two games, Emma Hayes rotated her line up once again, Sophie Ingle, Pernille Harder, Jessie Fleming and Erin Cuthbert returned to the starting line up – making this a stronger XI on paper than the one which had beaten Villa three days previously.

Fran Kirby remained absent from the squad – with no information forthcoming about why our second top scorer and top assister has missed the past three games. 

It was also the third start in a row for back-up keeper Zecira Musovic. The significance of this remains to be seen, as the current holder of the number 1 spot, Ann-Katrin Berger, does not appear to have done anything to lose her place, or to be carrying an injury – so it is likely just squad management. 

It took over 90 minutes for Chelsea to find the net against Villa – but the Blues started this match with a clear intent, and were duly awarded after just seven minutes – with Sam Kerr again the scorer. Sophie Ingle’s cross found the unmarked centre forward, who headed home for her twelfth WSL goal of the season.

A theme of Everton’s season has been their difficulty with playing out from the back, and in this game continued to persist with what has not proven a successful strategy. The high Chelsea press was able to contain Everton in their final third, and the territorial pressure soon told when Guro Reiten doubled the Chelsea lead with a fine first-time finish from the edge of the area.

If Reiten’s goal had been out of the top drawer, then the third was out of the overhead storage boxes. Cuthbert pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the Everton box to unleash a real shermer – the perfect way for a player who has been missed in recent weeks to make her return to the starting XI.

Chelsea had been dominant, and what already looked an unassailable 3-0 lead with just 30 minutes played was thoroughly deserved. Everton were offering precious little resistance, and did not register a shot on target in the first half. With Arsenal also having a superior goal difference to the Blues, as well as the points advantage, this could be an opportunity for Chelsea to reduce the gap in more than one way.

No more goals were forthcoming in the second half, however, with Chelsea instead appearing to be content to settle. There was maybe one eye on the congested schedule, and sparing what must be increasingly tired legs. Everton were better in the second half, but the drop off in intensity from Chelsea allowed them to be.

The highlight of the second half from a Chelsea perspective was the sight of captain Magda Eriksson coming on for Niamh Charles, for her first appearance for three months, after a prolonged absence with a deltroid injury. This was followed shortly after by the equally heartening return of Maren Mjelde, who came on for her first minutse since November. Having two players of their quality and experience available could be a difference maker in a title race of fine margin.

The work had been done in the first 45 minutes – this was a comfortable and assured performance, where Chelsea’s excellent start setting up a straightforward evening, and saving too much energy being expended. Chelsea continue to show the professionalism demanded by such an intense title race, and of playing on in the context of the off-field uncertainty at the club.

The gap to Arsenal following this game stood at just two points, with Chelsea still having a game in hand. The Blues were keeping on doing what they needed to do in chipping away at the league leaders’ advantage – and can only hope that by doing so, cracks in Arsenal’s own resolve will start to appear.  

Final score: Everton 0-3 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Kerr 7, Reiten 15, Cuthbert 29

Line up: Chelsea (3-4-3): Musovic; Carter, Bright (c), Nouwen (Mjelde 81); Ingle, Charles (Eriksson 60), Reiten (Abdullina 74), Cuthbert (Spence 60); Fleming, Kerr, Harder (England 74)

Unused subs: Berger, Ji, James, Andersson

Attendance: 487

Chelsea 1-0 Aston Villa (WSL) – “Fighting on, together.”

On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea FC Women played their first game at Kingsmeadow of an uncertain and yet-to-be-defined new era.


For those who somehow missed it, sanctions against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich – as a consequence to the Russian’s alleged ties to Vladimir Putin and his war of aggression in Ukraine – mean that the club has been thrown into a crisis unprecedented in modern football. With Abramovich not able to profit off of his ownership of Chelsea, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and all transfer and contract activity have been suspended.

In the long term, it is hard to say what this means – likely a sale of the club within the next weeks to months, a lifting of the restrictions, and a hopeful quick return to normality… or, to quote a buzz phrase of recent times, a “new normal”

In the short term, both the men’s and women’s team at Chelsea will be allowed to continue to operate under a special licence. 

As tickets had already been sold for this WSL fixture against Aston Villa, there was a typically large and vocal crowd in attendance to cheer on Emma Hayes’ side. With only season ticket holders allowed to attend for subsequent matches until sanctions are lifted, it might be the last time for a while we are lucky to be the beneficiaries of such strong home support. 

Although there is much greater shame to be had about this situation, it is nonetheless a shame on a footballing scale that the Kingsmeadow faithful will miss out on attending match days – and given that Chelsea are lucky to have arguably the best home support in the league, could even be a difference maker in a title race of very fine margins.

Chelsea had won 4-1 against West Ham midweek, on the same day the seismic off-field news broke – and just as in that game, it was the case at the weekend against Villa that the show must go on. What is happening off the pitch should not be forgotten, but on the field there is still a title to be decided.

The Blues were missing both Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder from the match day squad – Harder having picked up a knock in the West Ham game, and reportedly testing positive for COVID-19. Her partner, and Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson, also remained absent with a positive test. 

This meant another start for Beth England in attack, with Drew Spence also coming in for Sophie Ingle. Erin Cuthbert was fit enough to be named on the bench for the first time in three games, and Zecira Musovic continued in goal in place of Ann-Katrin Berger.

The opponents, Aston Villa, sat 10th in the league prior to kick off, having been involved in the battle to avoid the drop for most of the season, in only their second year in the WSL. Currently eight points clear of city rivals Birmingham in the lone relegation spot, survival looks all but secured for the Villans. Their form ahead of this fixture made for patchy reading – three losses, and two wins.

Chelsea have faced Villa twice this season – a comfortable 3-1 win in the FA Cup back in January, and a squeakier 1-0 win in the reverse WSL fixture in November. Despite their lowly ranking in the table, the Midlands outfit would be no pushover – especially with Chelsea missing several key players.

The Blues kicked off wearing our home kit, with the ‘3’ sponsor emblazoned across the chest. There had been rumours of us wearing sponsorless shirts, due to the telecommunications suspending the association with the club in the fallout of the sanctions from the UK government. 

The first Chelsea chance came via route one – a trademark diagonal ball from deep by Millie Bright found Guro Reiten, who was not able to finish past Hannah Hampton in the Villa goal.

Further clear cut chances were to be a rarity in the first half, with a determined Aston Villa playing Chelsea tight, and limiting the space for the Blues to create in. 

With the game 0-0 at half time, a big performance would be needed for Chelsea in the second 45 – with every single point crucial in the extremely tight WSL title race. 

Frustrations unfortunately continued after the break, in a game which very much was looking like “one of those days” – and not one Chelsea could afford to have. Jessie Fleming and Eri Cuthbert were soon introduced from the bench in a bid to inject some energy into the Chelsea attack. 

Passes just were not seeming to find their targets, and Hampton – who recently made her England debut – was proving a problem for the Blues, making several big saves to deny Chelsa the breakthrough.

With players like Harder and Kirby missing, Chelsea were in need of a difference maker. Hayes turned to Lauren James off the bench, who is yet to register an assist or a goal in her limited Chelsea appearances, her time at the club since signing in the summer having been plagued by injury – but she is a player we know has the talent to make an impact. 

Chelsea kept up the pressure, but it seemed increasingly likely that Villa would hang on for a point that their resolute performance would deserve. A sign of Chelsea’s desperation for three points manifested in keeper Musovic coming up for a late corner… Chelsea needed a hero.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman. Musovic was involved from a more conventional position – her long goal kick bounced through the previously-impenetrable Villa back line, and dribbled into the path of Sam Kerr. The Aussie rifled home her 21st goal of the season at the very death, sparking shirt-removing scenes of sheer jubilation, which were well worth the subsequent yellow card.

The eruption in the stands at Kingsmeadow and amongst the Chelsea players was brilliant to see – though tinged with the bittersweetness of knowing that with the new restrictions, not so many Chelsea fans will be lucky to share in these moments with the players for the foreseeable future.

A huge three points – and a win that showed incredible spirit and character from the Chelsea players. Despite being short of their best and with key personnel missing – and with the uncertainty off the pitch – Chelsea never gave in, and pulled what had become an unlikely win out of the bag. The celebrations showed that the players know what this win means – and in time, Kerr’s late winner could well be seen as the goal that wins Chelsea the title.

Elsewhere, Arsenal did their job, winning 3-0 away at Brighton to maintain their five point lead – but Chelsea remain hot on their heels with two games in hand. Football carries on as it invariably does, and the title race continues – with the next round of this bout to take place at Everton midweek.

Final score: Chelsea 1-0 Aston Villa

Goalscorers: Kerr 90+2

Line up: Chelsea (3-4-3): Musovic; Carter, Bright (C), Nouwen, Andersson; Charles (James 72), Spence (Ingle 45), Reiten (Abdullina 90); Ji (Cuthbert 66), Kerr, England (Fleming 66)

Unused subs: Berger, Claypole, Thompson

Attendance: 2,655

West Ham 1-4 Chelsea (WSL) – “Back to business.”

Thursday 10th March, the 117th birthday of Chelsea Football Club. And we’ll cry if we want to.

There was no celebration of the anniversary, as breaking news of sanctions from the UK government against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich threw the entire club into crisis, in a development unprecedented in football. The sanctions come as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, due to Abramovich’s alleged links to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and his war of aggression that has already seen extensive loss of life.

Like the men’s team, Chelsea FC Women would be allowed to continue to operate under a special licence, including assurances of players’ wages being paid – but the future beyond remains unclear.

Manager Emma Hayes was understating it when she described it as a “difficult day”. It goes without saying, that the uncertainty and stress at the news, shared by those associated with the club, pales into significance when compared to the devastating consequences for those affected by Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Football seemed secondary, given the seismic news off the field – and the seemingly ever-deteriorating state of the world around us. However, the show must go on – and Chelsea FC Women remain locked in what has already been a dramatic title race, in a topsy-turvy season for so many clubs in the league. There was business to attend to.

Whilst Chelsea had been suffering the disappointment of a 3-1 defeat in the Conti Cup Final to Man City, our title rivals and league leaders Arsenal had won a further two league games to pull eight points clear. Chelsea having three games in hand means we control our own destiny, and ladens every fixture with pressure to match Arsenal’s points on the board.  

One of these games was this fixture against West Ham, which had been initially due to take place in December, but was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Chelsea squad.

This season has seen greater parity and more upsets than ever before in the WSL, and West Ham are a team to be wary of. Definitively midtable, their results undulate as expected – but they came into this game in fine form, with four consecutive wins in all competitions. They had also taken the scalp of a big team already this season, with a 2-0 victory over Manchester City back in October.

Chelsea do have an excellent record against the Hammers – having never lost in any competition to the East London side, and already notching cup and league wins against them this season.

Some positive news ahead of kick off was that of the announcement of Melanie Leupolz’s pregnancy. The Germany midfielder had been out since Christmas with long COVID, and will now be unavailable for the rest of the season whilst the club support her through her pregnancy – thankfully a much happier reason to be absent from the side.

Less fortunate was the news that Fran Kirby and Erin Cuthbert – both of whom missed the Conti Cup Final – remained sideline. Magda Eriksson was also to miss the trip following a positive COVID-19 test. This was a cruel blow for our captain, who has been suffering with a deltoid injury which meant she made a matchday squad for only the first time in 2022 at the weekend – but will hopefully be only a temporary setback.

Chelsea would need to show the utmost focus and professionalism, given the depleted squad and the off field distractions, in order to secure a vital win and restore the momentum that had been disrupted by the cup final defeat. 

Thankfully, they did. 

An excellent first half display was kicked off by yet another goal for Pernille Harder against West Ham – who has already scored two career hat tricks against our London rivals. Harder was involved again for Chelsea’s second – her header was met by Niamh Charles with a brilliant first time finish, for the 22 year old’s first goal of the season. A third goal for the Blues came again via Harder, who flicked a delicate header home from a truly sumptuous Ji So-Yun cross. 

The three goal lead at the break was thoroughly deserved for the Blues, following a first half that could not have gone better.

It was to everyone’s surprise, then, that West Ham pulled one back just after the break – having come out following the interval looking much brighter. 

Our opponents were growing into the game, and were looking the better team in the second half – only for Chelsea’s top scorer Sam Kerr to restore the three goal cushion with her 20th goal of the season. Jonna Andersson, who had set up Harder’s first, did well down the left flank to create the opportunity for the Aussie, who had a simple finish to put Chelsea 4-1 up. It was a good night for Andersson, who is generally in and out of the starting XI.

With West Ham’s potential comeback quashed, the game played out with relatively little incident. The only concern for Chelsea was the late substitution of Harder, who went down with a knock. The Blues are already missing several key players, and with the fixtures coming thick and fast, will be sweating on the fitness of the highly influential Dane.

The win was exactly what Chelsea needed – an excellent response following a disappointing cup final defeat, a welcome distraction from off field matters, and a crucial three points in a title race which looks set to go down to the wire. 

Football is the ultimate contradiction, being something which is so trivial and yet matters an awful lot. Whilst greater concerns play out around us, there are still games to be played – and in a circumstance of uncertainty and a future beyond our control, all Chelsea FC Women can do is to try and keep winning.

Final score: West Ham 1-4 Chelsea 

Goalscorers: Harder 20, 32, Charles 23, Kerr 62

Chelsea (3-4-3): Musovic; Carter, Bright (c), Nouwen, Andersson (Abdullina 75); Charles, Ingle, Ji (Reiten 66); England (Spence 66), Harder (James 79), Kerr

Unused substitutes: Berger, Mjelde

Attendance: Not available

Chelsea 1-3 Man City (Conti Cup Final) – “Can’t win them all.”

All good things must come to an end. 

On Saturday evening, we saw the end of Chelsea’s unbeaten run in 2022, a streak of 10 games without a loss against Manchester City, and a superb record of winning six of the past seven available domestic trophies. 

Man City were across the 90 minutes the better team, coming from behind to win 3-1 with a clinical second half display that Emma Hayes’ side were unable to match.

The crowd of over 8,000 at AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane stadium was a record for the Conti Cup Final, a competition Chelsea had won in each of the past two seasons.

We couldn’t keep up these records forever. 

The age old adage held true – when two quality and well-matched teams face off, you win some, you lose some. For a long time this season, Man CIty hadn’t looked like the side that had jostled with Chelsea for the supremacy of English football over the past several years. A horrible and injury-hit start to 2021/22 saw their title campaign effectively over by November – but since the turn of the year they have looked back to their best, and been one of the form teams in the country.

Chelsea did beat Gareth Taylor’s side 1-0 at Kingsmeadow back in February, in what was an assured and professional performance – and from that game it seemed that when both at their best, Chelsea are a cut above. Nonetheless, Man City are still an excellent side with a wealth of talent – and one that very much has the capability of beating a Chelsea that have not been infallible this year.

Both sides came into the game with confidence-boosting wins in the FA Cup fifth round. Chelsea had thrashed Leicester 7-0, whereas Man City had come from a goal behind to humble their city rivals Man United 4-1.

Illness for Fran Kirby and Jessie Fleming, and a hamstring injury for Erin Cuthbert, meant that Chelsea were missing from the line up several players who have been key for us this season. Although unlikely to feature, it was a psychological boost to see the return of captain Magda Eriksson and Maren Mjelde to the matchday squad for the first time this calendar year – and judging by how the second half of this game did play out, Emma Hayes would likely have given a lot to have had both players match fit, and able to contribute.

The Blues started well, with the high press putting the Man City defence on the backfoot – but without genuinely threatening. Despite Chelsea edging the opening exchanges, the most danger came initially from Man City. A sloppy pass from Ann-Katrin Berger out from her goal caused some temporary panic in the Chelsea defence, before Lauren Hemp clattered the post after having gotten in behind the backline… these were warning signs for Chelsea.

However, it was Chelsea who took the lead, when Sam Kerr capitalised on some uncertain goalkeeping at the other end. Ellie Roebuck failed to deal with a high looping cross, and our top scorer was able to beat the City keeper in the air, before smashing home the loose ball to her 19th goal of the season, with 34 minutes on the clock. 

The match seemed to come alive from this point, and Chelsea had a couple of good chances to double our lead, which we were unable to take – the 1-0 advantage at the interval was deserved, after a close first half which Chelsea had edged.

Everything, unfortunately, was to change after the break. 

Within five minutes of the restart City had equalised. With Niamh Charles off injured and Chelsea temporarily down to 10 players, the defence failed to adjust, and Caroline Weir’s long range strike put City back on level terms.

City then went in front in a passage of play that turned the game entirely – first Ellie Roebuck made an excellent save from Charles to prevent Chelsea from re-taking the lead, after which City went straight up the other end to score a second goal and go ahead 2-1 on the night. Berger could only parry Hemp’s shot, gifting Ellen White a tap-in.

City were now on top, with all of the momentum – and Chelsea looked slightly shaken at how we so quickly had gone from being in the ascendency, to being behind. 

The Blues pushed in search of a leveller, but it was Man City who scored the next and decisive goal – Caroline Weir finishing well for her second of the night, after we had failed to clear our lines following a corner. Chelsea kept pushing, but Man City were able to professionally keep the Blues at bay, and saw out a 3-1 win that meant Chelsea had lost the first ever final contested between the two, and lost our grip on the League Cup trophy.

It had been Chelsea who had held the advantage at half time – but in the second half our opponents stepped up, whilst our performance dropped off… meaning on balance it was a deserved win for Man City. Games between the biggest teams in the WSL, between quality sides, are generally decided by fine margins, turning points, and which of the two teams bring it on the day – on Saturday at Plough Lane it was ultimately CIty who were the better team, and better in the decisive moments.

You win some, you lose some – Chelsea’s record in the big games domestically has been near flawless over the past several years… and it is not always going to go our way. 

Although it was no doubt a disappointing result, especially after being ahead, there is still the league title and FA Cup to play for this season. March is a busy month – Chelsea will need to pick ourselves up, and refocus for the business end of the season.

Final score: Chelsea 1-3 Man City

Goalscorers: Kerr 34

Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Carter, Bright (c), Nouwen, Andersson (Abdullina 90); Charles (England 79), Ingle, Ji (Spence 79), Reiten (James 68); Kerr, Harder

Unused substitutes: Musovic, Eriksson, Mjelde

Attendance: 8,004

Chelsea 7-0 Leicester City – “A phantom thrashing.”

Chelsea FC Women returned to domestic action this weekend with a dominant 7-0 win against Leicester in the fifth round of the FA Cup. At least according to reports, anyway – as due to this match not being available to watch on any platform, the vast majority of Chelsea fans were unable to witness our joint-biggest margin of victory this season. 

Even the Twitter updates from the official club account – which many of us were relying on to keep informed on events at Kingsmeadow – were sporadic at best. At the time of first writing this report there were no highlights available, and it was only on Sunday afternoon – 24 hours after the game was played – that the club uploaded a highlights video to the official YouTube channel.

Undeniably, coverage of the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, in line with the increased investment into the sport. Much has been made of the new WSL TV deal, which has seen the BBC and Sky Sports broadcast more live games than ever before, and pay a game-changing price in order to do so. There has been a noticeable step up in the punditry, commentary and analysis dedicated to these games – so there has been progress.

However, there remain blind spots in the game – with the early rounds of the FA Cup and Conti Cup most often being overlooked. The group stages of the Conti Cup are broadcast so sparsely, that you could be forgiven for thinking the competition starts after Christmas, with the quarter-finals

The FA Player was first launched in 2019 to provide free online streams of WSL and Championship games that were not being broadcast live on television – the platform exists, and yet the FA do not seem to deem these games of importance enough to provide access to. For the thousands of Chelsea fans (and of other clubs affected)  who were looking for a means to watch their team compete in what remains the most prestigious and historic domestic cup competition in the world, it is important. 

It is just not good enough from the FA, and the powers within the game. The interest is there, and it needs to be continually fulfilled in order to ensure the development of women’s football continues on its current trajectory. For all the progress made – there is still further to go.

To events on the pitch. Amongst the notable moments missed by those not fortunate enough to be in attendance, were major milestones for two of our summer signings – a first start for Lauren James, and a first goal for Aniek Nouwen. 

James has been blighted by injury since joining from Manchester United, and her game time has thus far been restricted to cameo substitute appearances. Dutch defender Nouwen has been more involved in the first team set up – and been relied upon more than was expected for the 23-year-old, owing to long term injuries within the defence.

Emma Hayes had also brought Niamh Charles and Ji So-Yun into the starting line up for a total of three changes from the side which drew 0-0 with Arsenal before the international break. There had been injury concerns over Jess Carter, who was forced off in England’s last game of the Arnold Clark Cup – but she was fit enough for a place on the bench.

The opponents, Leicester, are in their inaugural WSL season, having won the Championship last year. Their primary objective is to avoid relegation – and two big wins recently in the league has seen them move into 10th place, eight points clear of Birmingham at the bottom – meaning survival looks all but secured.


The Foxes had already claimed a scalp in the FA Cup this season, too – knocking out Champions League-contending Spurs 3-1 in the previous round. They seemed to start in a manner suggesting that they were not to be intimidated by the holders Chelsea, competing well in the opening exchanges and coming the closest to an opener, when Millie Bright was forced to clear off the line.

The game changed inexorably in the 18th minute, however, when Sophie Howard received a straight red card for a nasty challenge on Jonna Andersson. Pernille Harder promptly scored the opener just five minutes after Howard’s dismissal – latching on to a precise Sophie Ingle through ball. From here, it was one way traffic, and the result seemed inevitable. 

Harder added the second 10 minutes later with a tap in, assisted by Sam Kerr. The two goals were the extent of the damage in the first half, but the second half was a procession, with the resistance of the 10 women of Leicester crumbling.

Kerr scored a brace of her own in the second half to add to Harder’s double – the Aussie’s first goals for Chelsea since returning from the Asian Cup, to take our top scorer’s total for the season to 18 in all competitions.

Inbetween Kerr’s two goals came a first goal of the season for Ji So-Yun – whose South Korea side had knocked out Kerr and Australia at the Asian Cup, before losing to China in the final. It was a classic Ji strike – a looping lofted finish, from the edge of the box.

The fifth goal of seven was scored by the aforementioned Nouwen in what was a special moment for the young Dutch centre back, rising highest to head home following a corner.

For those counting, that makes six goals so far – and it was substitute Beth England who added the final flourish with a close-range header, to make it seventh heaven for Chelsea. 

A thoroughly comfortable and very successful day at the office for Emma Hayes’ side. It was the sort of dominant attacking performance we are used to seeing with regularity against less strong opposition, and the sort all fans love to see… it is just a shame we could not. 

The quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of the 19th and 20th March. Eight teams will be left in the competition at that stage, all vying for a chance to take home the coveted FA Cup, a trophy that has special resonance within the English women’s game. There will be a lot of people intrigued to see how these final stages play out – we can only hope to get the chance to.

Final score: Chelsea 7-0 Leicester

Goalscorers: Harder 23, 35, Kerr 60, 82, Ji 66, Nouwen 78, England 85

Line up (4-4-2): Berger, Charles, Bright, Nouwen, Andersson (Abdullina 70), Ingle (Spence 45), James (Fleming 64), So-Yun, Harder, Kirby (England 74), Kerr

Unused substitutes: Musovic, Carter, Reiten

Attendance: 2,723

Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal (WSL) – “On the edge.”

Not every 0-0 draw is created equal. 

The final score of Friday night’s encounter between Arsenal and Chelsea did not tell the full story of a pulsating and dramatic 90 minutes. 

The top of the table clash between the two teams battling for title supremacy in the WSL had been rightly hyped as a potential title decider. A draw meant the result fell short of decisive – but the game definitely delivered as a spectacle, and did not disappoint the expectations of what had been one of the most hotly-anticipated fixtures of the season.

In a month jam-packed with big matches for Chelsea FC Women, this was the biggest.

Arsenal had taken on the mantle of title favourites on the opening weekend of the season, when they beat Chelsea 3-2 at Kingsmeadow in what was seen as a statement win. Arsenal had shown considerable ambition with their summer transfer business, and looked like they meant even more business with an excellent performance and result against the two-time WSL champions. 

For most of the opening half of the season, Arsenal rode the momentum of this flying start and were looking indomitable. Chelsea kept the pace, but had been unable to unseat a side who at times looked like they would never lose again.

Both sides then unexpectedly struggled over the winter. Once the dust settled on a turbulent couple of months of bad form, poor results, and fixture chaos due to COVID-19 postponements, it was Chelsea who emerged in a slightly better position, and having recovered form to a greater extent thanArsenal. 


This meant that ahead of this game, Chelsea were just one point behind Arsenal, and with a game in hand. A win here for the Blues would see us leapfrog Arsenal at the top of the table for the first time this season – and as such a draw would be also a decent result for the Blues.

As well as having duked it out on the pitch all season, there has been a notable off-field needle between the two sides, which added even more spice to this encounter. Emma Hayes and the new Arsenal manager Jonas Eideveall had exchanged some not-so-subtle jibes via press conferences – and the Chelsea manager and squad had reportedly taken exception to the exuberant touchline celebrations of Eidevall after that win in September at the Emirates.

Hayes reportedly used this to motivate the squad ahead of the FA Cup Final in December at Wembley – a tactic which certainly proved effective, given that Chelsea blew Arsenal away in a humbling 3-0 win. That was Chelsea’s best performance of the season so far, and quietened some of the noise that had been coming out of the Arsenal camp following their opening weekend win.

Hayes’ reference to Eidevall’s superstitious fear of black cats, in the post-match fallout, has quickly been established as a classic moment amongst followers of the WSL – but it had not been luck that had won the game for Chelsea that day.

There was ample reason for this to be a feisty affair, and the atmosphere was brimming with anticipation ahead of kick off. 

Arsenal were missing the suspended Katie McCabe, who has been one of their key players this season. The Gunners had further strengthened in the January transfer window, consolidating their summer business by bringing in highly sought-after Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius. She has already had an impressive start to life in an Arsenal shirt, with her partnership with Viv Miedema already proving fruitful. 

The Chelsea team were boosted by the return of Ji So-Yun to the squad, who returned from the Asian Cup with a runners-up medal, in a tournament where South Korea had exceeded expectations. Ji was named on the bench, with Hayes’ only change to the starting line up being the return of Fran Kirby – meaning that Chelsea’s fearsome attacking trio of Kerr, Kirby and Harder started together for the first time since December.

Chelsea looked very much the home team from kick off, roared on by a second consecutive sell-out crowd, and were the better side in what was an open start to the proceedings. However, there were no clear chances until Fran Kirby blazed a shot over the bar after 15 minutes. 

Arsenal grew into the game after this, and Miedema rattled the post with their best opportunity of the half just minutes after – with Chelsea subsequently scrambling the rebound clear. Chelsea nearly broke the deadlock on the stroke of half time, with first Harder and then Kerr having shots blocked in the box, after a dangerous cross from Guro Reiten had caused something of a panic amongst the Arsenal defence.

The Blues came roaring out of the traps in the second half, having several chances to take the lead. Arsenal required some desperate defending and good fortune to prevent us from doing so, including clearing two Chelsea shots off the line. The Gunners to their credit stood firm in the face of considerable pressure – and managed to emerge from the bombardment unscathed. 

A barnstorming end to the match provided an entertaining finale, and showed that both teams very much had a hugely-valuable three points on their mind. Both Jess Carter and Millie Bright made crucial interventions to prevent a late Arsenal goal – continuing their excellent recent form in doing so, which has been at the heart of the restoration in recent weeks of Chelsea’s defensive fortitude.

Eight minutes of added time provided plenty of opportunity for more drama. Chelsea did have the ball in the net in injury time, but the goal was ruled out due to Kerr having been adjudged to be offside in the build up.

The Blues were then desperately unlucky to not be awarded what looked like a clear penalty from a blatant Leah Williamson handball – a decision which would have baffled even those wearing Arsenal shirts at Kingsmeadow.

It was the second time this season Arsenal have benefitted from questionable officiating against Chelsea, with their third goal in the 3-2 win back in September having been clearly offside. It raised more questions about the quality of refereeing in the league – and whatever happens come the season-end, everyone involved will surely hope that decisions like this do end up having a say.

With Chelsea having been denied the chance to take the win from the spot, the match did end 0-0 – a result which did not reflect a game which had met the hype on the pitch, even if not on the scoreboard. 


On the balance of play – and especially given the late penalty controversy – Chelsea could probably count themselves unfortunate to not come away with a win. Of the two sides, the Blues will also be slightly happier with a point, however – if Chelsea win our game in hand, we go top. In this WSL season more so than any other – which has seen big teams dropping unexpected points and upsets throughout the league on a near-weekly basis – those expected three points becoming a reality is a bigger “if” than ever before.

The title is nonetheless in Chelsea’s hands, rather than Arsenal’s – but there are likely to be more twists and turns in what has been the best WSL title race in years. Chelsea have worked hard since the loss against Arsenal on the opening weekend to put ourselves in this position – and now that we have, you would back this squad of players to not relinquish it easily.

The upcoming international break means domestic football will now pause, after which the business end of the season will be well and truly underway. Chelsea first face Leicester in the fifth round of the FA Cup, before the first chance of silverware of this season with the League Cup Final against Man City. Our next league game will be away to West Ham, whereas Arsenal Women return to domestic action at home to Reading. 

The title race remains on the edge – and if this match is indicative, there is surely more drama to come.

Final score: Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal

Goalscorers: n/a

Assists: n/a

Line up (4-1-4-1): Berger, Andersson, Nouwen, Bright (C), Carter, Ingle, Reiten (Charles 81), Cuthbert (Ji 57), Harder, Kirby (Fleming 81), Kerr

Unused substitutes: Musovic, James, Spence, Abdullina, Claypole, Thompson

Attendance: 3,330

Chelsea 1-0 Man City (WSL) – “Big game team.”

Recent history tells us that when a big game calls, Chelsea pick up the phone. 

It is this trait of putting in the performances in the biggest games (with some notable exceptions on the European stage) that has led to Chelsea becoming the dominant side in England over the past few years. Our recent record against domestic rivals has been formidable. The loss against Arsenal to open this season was our first since 2018 against either of the Gunners or Man City – the two fellow members of the ‘Big 3’ of English women’s football. 

Chelsea had already won a ‘big game’ this week, with an impressive 3-1 victory over in-form Manchester United in the semi-finals of the Conti Cup – which also meant we had reached our third successive League Cup final.

Having seen off one Manchester team, it was the turn of Man City to visit Kingsmeadow. Like their neighbours, City have been in excellent fettle – they were unbeaten in nine games, and also won their Conti Cup semi-final midweek (meaning they will be Chelsea’s opponents on the 5th March). Gareth Taylor’s side also did Chelsea a favour last weekend, with a 1-1 draw against top of the table Arsenal – who Chelsea are attempting to hunt down.


This is a reversal of the Cityzens’ early season form. A diabolical run of results saw the side who have finished runners-up to Chelsea in each of the past two years fall out of title contention, and leave them with a massive task to finish in the top 3, and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Four WSL losses before Christmas included a 4-0 pasting handed out by Chelsea at the Academy Stadium, which was also Chelsea’s first ever away league win against Man City.

Despite likely being out of the race themselves, Man City are a team stacked full of quality, and very much capable of getting a result against Chelsea. This game was therefore touted with good reason as one that could have a big say in deciding the title. Arsenal drawing 1-1 against Man United on Saturday meant that if Chelsea could get all three points, we would gain ground and put more pressure on the Gunners’ increasingly precarious-looking position at the top of the tree. 

Centre forward Sam Kerr was restored to the starting line up, after having made her return from the Asian Cup as a substitute in the Man United game. The big surprise ahead of kick off was Fran Kirby staring on the bench – with it being unclear if there were any fitness concerns for our top assist-maker this season. 

A sell-out crowd packed into Kingsmeadow for a fixture which has become one of the banner games of the WSL in recent years. Over 3000 fans braved high winds and driving rain – which made conditions tricky for both sides – and once again the Chelsea voices rang loud. The strength of the match-going support has been a noticeable feature of games so far this year, and especially since the return following the winter break.

Chelsea started the game on top, with Pernille Harder in particular causing conniptions in the Man City defence. The relentless high pressing of Chelsea meant our opponents struggled to break out of their half, and offered little in the final third.

The windy weather had a say in the opener, which was more than deserved for Chelsea. A Jess Carter cross hung in the air, and was met first by Guro Reiten, who was able to direct a delicate header past Ellie Roebuck in the City goal. This was the fifth goal contribution in three games for the Norwegian, who has come to the forefront of the Chelsea attack in recent weeks.

It was a first half that was almost entirely Chelsea, but the lead remained only 1-0 at the break – and with that there was danger.  Despite having very limited opportunities, City had come close with a fierce long-range shot from Jess Park – which Ann-Katrin Berger had had to produce an even better save to prevent finding the top corner. That chance was a reminder of the attacking talent City do possess – and that they would always be a goalscoring threat.

With Chelsea’s backline not the force it generally is in the continuing absence of captain Magda Eriksson, it felt like another goal would be needed if the Blues were to get the win. 

Unfortunately, there were to be no more Chelsea goals – but thankfully, the defence well and truly stepped up.

City grew into the game in the second half, with the anticipated attacking threat that had been absent for most of the opening 45 minutes finally manifesting. The game remained open initially, but with that came frequent City chances – for the last 15 minutes, Chelsea battened down the hatches to face the light blue onslaught.

There was some determined (and desperate) defending, with Chelsea’s players putting their bodies on the line time after time to protect the clean sheet – including Millie Bright clearing off the line. Emma Hayes withdrew attacking players, and Chelsea dropped into a lower block and counter attacking approach to try and see off the City push.

It was on the counter that Chelsea nearly sealed it after all – substitute Lauren James was set to latch onto a long ball over the top of the City high line, only for the onrushing Roebuck to *just* beat her to it (apparently legally), and prevent what would likely have been Chelsea’s second goal. From the subsequent counter Caroline Weir wasted her crossing chance, in what was City’s last real opportunity of the game.

Chelsea were able to ride out the heavy City pressure to secure a 1-0 win, completing our first ever league double over Man City – and becoming only the third ever side to do so. 

It could be a massive three points in the title race, and means Chelsea currently sit just one point off Arsenal with a game in hand – with the Gunners due to visit Kingsmeadow on Friday. A win in that game would swing the title race firmly back in Chelsea’s favour.

Chelsea had set the tone in the first half, earning a deserved lead – and then protected it with our lives in the second half. It was a performance with the professionalism and mentality characteristic of champions – a sentiment echoed by Emma Hayes in her post-match interview.

Jess Carter and Erin Cuthbert were the standout players – this is almost becoming a standard sentence to write for the continually underrated Cuthbert, but a real treat to be able to say about Jess Carter. The full back is at times maligned for her defensive capabilities – but on Sunday put in a performance that silenced her doubters. Carter’s contributions also helped make it three clean sheets in a row in the WSL for Chelsea – suggesting that maybe we are overcoming our defensive issues, after a season in which the backline has been frequent cause for concern.

In recent seasons, Chelsea have been almost indomitable in terms of results in big games – and this was another game of that ilk, one where Chelsea stepped up when needed to see off a genuine challenge from a quality side. 

It was a reminder of who we are, which is – as the Kingsmeadow faithful constantly reminded us on a wet windy Sunday – “Chelsea – Champions”. 

Final score: Chelsea 1-0 Man City

Goalscorers: Reiten

Assists: Carter

Line up (4-4-1-1): Berger, Andersson, Nouwen, Bright (C), Carter, Ingle, Reiten (Spence 89), Fleming (Charles 67), Cuthbert, Harder (Kirby 67), Kerr (James 81)

Unused substitutes: Musovic, Abdullina, Claypole, Thompson

Attendance: 3,321

Chelsea 3-1 Man United (Conti Cup semi-final) – “Now, this is Chelsea.”

Chelsea had had a solid January, as we sought to get our season back on track following the wobbles of the winter – where a series of poor performances and results had left Chelsea dumped out of the Champions League, and teetering in the title race. 

Three wins from four had seen Chelsea progress to the semi-final of the League Cup, fifth round of the FA Cup, and maintain pace with Arsenal in the WSL title race. The frustrating 0-0 draw against Brighton could have been damaging in the latter pursuit, but Arsenal also dropping points in January means we remain four points behind the Gunners – and with a game in hand.

February is set to be a tough month, with Chelsea due to face all three of Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal in consecutive home games that would likely have a big say on the outcome of Chelsea’s season.

Wednesday’s game, a home tie against Man United in the semi-finals of the Conti Cup (as the League Cup is also known), was arguably the first real ‘test’ Chelsea had faced in 2022. Our poor form prior to Christmas meant that any game was something of a challenge, but Chelsea had been handed a relatively kind fixture list in January with which to work ourselves back into form.

Man United were set to be a different prospect. The Red Devils look an entirely different side to the one we thrashed 6-1 back in September, coming into this fixture with seven wins (and seven clean sheets) in a row. They look to have really come together under new manager Marc Skinner, who was appointed over the summer. That fine run of form has seen them move up to third in the league – where they may even be in with a chance at the title. To reach the semi-final they knocked out Arsenal with a 1-0 win – which despite the Gunners’ own recent stutters, is still a statement.  

As such, a game like this was set to be a true test of whether Chelsea are getting back towards being the dominant and confident side we are used to – and it was a test Chelsea passed with flying colours. 

Emma Hayes opted to rotate the side that had beaten Aston Villa 3-1 in the FA Cup fourth round at the weekend, most notably continuing with back-up keeper Zecira Musovic in goal, and resting Fran Kirby – likely with one eye on the Man City game at the weekend. Sam Kerr had returned to the squad following her exploits at the Asian Cup, but was only ready to be named on the bench – whilst Magda Eriksson, Maren Mjelde, Melanie Leupolz and Ji So-Yun remained absent through a combination of injury, illness, and international duty.  

There were some familiar faces in the opposition line-up, with former Blue and the much-loved Hannah Blundell (who came through our academy) starting at left back, and fellow ex-Chelsea Maria Thorisdottir lining up in a central defensive role alongside her.

The opening exchanges were fairly even, with both sides going for it and having opportunities to take the lead. It was Pernille Harder who opened the scoring – the Dane was playing in a central striker role, and her solo goal after 26 minutes demonstrated all of the talent and skill that had made Chelsea break the world record transfer fee for her. 

A long ball from Guro Reiten was collected by the Dane, who still had a lot of work to do as she advanced into the Man United box. Harder danced around the hapless defence before slotting past Sophie Baggaley to put Chelsea 1-0 up. 

Five minutes later, the Chelsea lead was doubled through Jessie Fleming. Niamh Charles had put a dangerous cross into the box, which was first met by Reiten – the Norwegian’s effort was saved, but Fleming was first to react to the rebound, netting her fifth goal of the season.

With a 2-0 lead, things could have started to look comfortable for Chelsea – but Man United very much still wanted to have a say in the game, and halved the deficit just minutes later. Musovic could have done better to keep out Vilda Boa Risa’s shot from a tight angle – but the opportunity came about from a lapse in concentration from Jess Carter at right back… who can be prone to that sort of thing.

Carter soon made amends with Chelsea’s third goal shortly before half time, and in doing so restored the two-goal cushion. A fine passing move from the Blues ended with Reiten squaring the ball for an onrushing Carter to tuck away – having burst into the box with the type of run that would make Frank Lampard proud.

After a first half full of goals and end-to-end attacking play, it was expected that Man United would come out fighting after the break, but Chelsea were able to show their class and professionalism by largely containing Marc Skinner’s side. 

Instead, the major incident of the second half was not another goal, but a red card in the 77th minute for Man United keeper Baggaley – which essentially put paid to any chance of a comeback for her side. Hayes had introduced Sam Kerr off the bench, and the Aussie had broken through on goal following a ball over the top of the United defence. With just Baggaley to beat, the Man United keeper chose to clatter Kerr instead – and was sent off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. 

Chelsea played out the game with little trouble, and the match ended 3-1 to the Blues. As such, Chelsea have reached a third successive Conti Cup Final, and will be hoping to make it a hat-trick of wins on the 3rd March, at AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane stadium. 

Winning a big game, to reach another final – and give ourselves a chance of more silverware? Now that is the Chelsea FC Women we all know and love. We have become used to seeing our team put in these impressive performances against high calibre opposition in the biggest games – and that was very much the case on Wednesday night. Man United’s impressive recent form – and Chelsea’s relatively recent return to winning ways – meant that this could have gone very differently, but once again Emma Hayes’ side stepped it up when needed.

It was a win which should give the team a big confidence boost heading into a huge WSL fixture at the weekend, against Man City. It was a reminder that we are still a team who performs when the stakes are high – we are the Champions of England for a reason, and will look to show that on Saturday.  

Final score: Chelsea 3-1 Man United

Goalscorers: Harder, Fleming, Carter

Assists: Reiten x 2

Line up (4-1-3-2): Musovic, Andersson (Spence 85), Nouwen, Bright (C), Carter, Ingle, Charles, Reiten (Abdullina 89), Cuthbert, Fleming (Kerr 68), Harder (James 85)

Unused substitutes: Berger, Kirby, Claypole, Thompson

Attendance: 1,548

Aston Villa 1-3 Chelsea (FA Cup) – “Comfortable in the Cup.”

It feels like a while since Chelsea have had a routine win, throughout the various trials and tribulations of the winter period. 

This relatively straightforward 3-1 win against Aston Villa in the fourth round of the FA Cup was a welcome return to the more comfortable experience of watching the Blues, which Chelsea fans have long become accustomed to in fixtures of this nature – but has recently been far from a guarantee.

Chelsea had thoroughly deserved the 2-0 win against West Ham midweek, but with the score having been 0-0 at half time – and nerves starting to grow amongst supporters, given Chelsea’s recent form  – the game felt in jeopardy until Beth England’s breakthrough in the second half. 

Thankfully, there was little sense of peril in Saturday’s cup tie, in which Chelsea took the lead in the 18th minute and went unchallenged for much of the match.

Chelsea’s first participation in this season’s FA Cup came less than two months after Arsenal were outclassed at Wembley in the 2020/21 final, as Chelsea won a third FA Cup in seven seasons to complete a historic domestic treble.

This unusual schedule was of course due to the delayed completion of last year’s edition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s edition looks set to go ahead relatively undisrupted.

The Blues were riding high after that win in December – but have crashed back down to earth since. A disappointing run of draws and defeats saw Chelsea knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, and lose pace in the WSL title race.

In the women’s FA Cup, WSL teams enter at the fourth round stage, and Chelsea had been drawn to face fellow top flight side Aston Villa. 

Avoiding relegation remains the primary goal for Aston Villa, in their second WSL season. They are doing well on that front, having secured a massive win over relegation rivals Leicester in their previous game to go well clear of Birmingham, who currently occupy the drop spot.

Chelsea were hoping to carry forward the momentum gained from the well-deserved and hard-fought 2-0 win over West Ham. This was a game we should be winning, and a competition we should always be targeting to win.

The fourth round was played out to a backdrop of outcry from fans and other stakeholders in the game about the shockingly low prize money for the women’s FA Cup, especially when compared to the men’s competition. Fourth round winners this weekend will receive prize money of £2,000, whilst men’s teams who win at this stage receive £90,000.

Chelsea’s own Emma Hayes had been amongst the increasing chorus of voices speaking out on the topic. The FA have subsequently announced (prior to the kick off of this weekend’s fixtures) that there will be “significant increase” in the prize money from next season – although no details have been released of what exactly this will entail. 

To matters on the pitch. 

There were some familiar faces amongst the Villa starting XI for Chelsea fans – notably former Blue Anita Asante, a veteran centre back who has had two spells with the club and remains a fan favourite. The sort of player for whom the word “stalwart” was invented. 

Another in that guise is Man City and England legend, Jill Scott, who Aston Villa have secured on loan for the remainder of the season – a quality signing who will likely add a lot to this Villa side.

Both Asante and Scott started for Villa. Emma Hayes made four changes, notably handing a first start to January signing Alsu Abdullina, and bringing in back-up goalkeeper Zerica Musovic. 

Beth England missed out on the squad, having reportedly picked up a calf niggle. A shame for the striker, given that the game-changing contribution she made in the midweek game against West Ham must surely have put her in contention for a start.

The yellow-clad Blues controlled the game from the off, and soon set about probing the Aston Villa backline for any signs of weakness. Chelsea had been made to toil for goals in recent matches, but did not have such a protracted search for the breakthrough here, taking the lead inside just 20 minutes.

A low Jess Carter cross found Guro Reiten in the box, with the Norwegian doing brilliantly to spin and rifle away a fierce shot that Villa keeper Hannah Hampton could do little about. 

Reiten was also involved in the second Chelsea goal – winning a slightly soft penalty after Littlejohn was adjudged to have fouled her in the box. Pernille Harder stepped up and dispatched the spot kick with ease, doubling the Chelsea lead.

Hayes brought Niamh Charles on for Harder at half time – likely with one eye on the games to come. Chelsea were able to relax in the second half, with a comfortable lead and Villa looking unlikely to mount a comeback. A third goal all but secured a place in the fifth round – and it was courtesy of another smart finish from Reiten, this time with Fran Kirby providing the assist.

Once 3-0 up, Hayes was able to make further changes – notably bringing on Lauren James for the final 20 minutes, a change many Chelsea fans had been begging for. James has been plagued with injury issues since signing from Manchester United in the summer, and is now back to fitness after another setback. Academy players Emma Thompson and Aimiee Claypole were also introduced off the bench, in what was a great moment for the two youngsters.

Chelsea had some defending to do late on, and Villa were given a chance to score a consolation in the final minute of injury time, after Niamh Charles gave away a penalty with a clumsy challenge on Petzelberger. The German converted her spot kick with almost the last action of the game, making the final score 3-1 to Chelsea. 

It was not spectacular, but it did not need to be – and after the rollercoaster ride of the past couple of months, a solid and comfortable win felt like the salve that many watching Chelsea fans needed. 

We seem to be finding our feet again – even if the scars left by the winter means it still feels a tentative stability.

Chelsea are set to face a huge month in February, including a League Cup semi-final against Man United, before back-to-back home fixtures in the WSL against Man City and Arsenal. It does not need to be stated how big those games are – which will likely prove pivotal in the title race.

Those games also represent a higher standard of opposition than Chelsea encountered in January – which had a relatively kind fixture list as we sought to get our season back on track. It will be playing those teams that are the full test of Chelsea’s return to form.

Final score: Aston Villa 1-3 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Reiten x 2, Harder

Assists: Carter, Kirby

Line up (4-14-1): Musovic, Andersson (Ingle 65), Nouwen, Bright (C), Abdullina (Thompson 71), Spence, Fleming (Claypole 81), Reiten, Carter, Harder (Charles 45), Kirby (James 71)

Unused substitutes: Berger, Cuthbert

Attendance: 1,093

Chelsea 2-0 West Ham (WSL) – “Happy homecoming.”

Profligacy has plagued Chelsea performances in recent times. Prior to the 4-2 win against West Ham in the Conti Cup quarter-final last week, Chelsea had been on a run of three games without a goal – unheard of for Emma Hayes’ normally free-scoring side. Alongside other matters – as well documented in previous matters – this barren spell had contributed to a slump in form that saw us knocked out of the Champions League, and lose ground against Arsenal in the title race.

The four goals against the Hammers – three of which were from Pernille Harder in a perfect hat-trick – had given hope that Chelsea had found their shooting boots again. Subsequently, the frustrating 0-0 draw against Brighton at the weekend felt like regression. Chelsea dominated play and registered 26 shots – but failed to beat Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal, who had had an outstanding game.

That was another two points dropped in the WSL – although Arsenal and Man City playing out a dramatic draw somewhat mitigated the damage done.

Just three days later, Chelsea had the opportunity to bounce back with the first of our rearranged WSL fixtures – one of three postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. So, for the second time in a week, Chelsea faced London rivals West Ham – and again, as it will likely feel for all remaining games this season, a win was a must.

West Ham’s league form has been impressive of late, going unbeaten in their past five WSL games. They have improved under manager Olli Harder, who is in his second season in charge, and has turned them into a solid outfit with the attacking talent to threaten any team in the league. 

It was also the first home game for Chelsea since the draw against Juventus in mid-December. An impressive 2,554 fans packed into Kingsmeadow to welcome the Blues home – a very good crowd for a midweek game – and were in fine voice throughout the 90 minutes, generating the sort of atmosphere that is arguably unique in the WSL.

Amongst those serenaded was goalkeeper Carly Telford, who this week announced she will be leaving the club to join up with ex-Manchester United manager and her former England teammate, Casey Stoney, at the new NWSL side San Diego Wave. Telford, who has had two successful spells at Chelsea and is hugely popular amongst the fans and in the dressing room – could not attend the game for a final farewell, but the Kingsmeadow faithful were sure to give her the send off she deserves. 

Results at the weekend had seen Manchester United leapfrog Chelsea into second place in the table – although the Blues do have two games in hand on Marc Skinner’s side. Three points for Chelsea in this game would see us move back into second, and just one point behind Arsenal. 

After the opening 45 minutes, however, there was a prevailing familiar feeling that this game might just be a repeat of the match against Brighton – and another missed opportunity.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, Chelsea once again had the best of possession and territory against a resilient and organised opposition – but lacked a cutting edge in the final third, As against Brighton, the chances we did have were well saved by Anna Leat in the West Ham goal – and Chelsea really should have been ahead at the break.

Ctrl + C; Ctrl + V.

West Ham, in fairness, probably competed more closely with Chelsea than Brighton had. That is not to say Brighton played poorly (far from it) – but Chelsea’s dominance in this half was not to the extent it had been against the Seagulls. That is in part due to a different approaches to the game taken by the opposition. Hope Powell’s Brighton stuck resolutely to a low block, whereas Harder had his team pressing higher up the pitch, creating a perceptible sense of danger – especially given Chelsea’s back line is not as solid as it once was.

Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity – so Hayes changed it up at the break, bringing on Beth England for Guro Reiten. Many had been calling for more opportunities for the Chelsea no. 9, especially with Sam Kerr away at the Asian Cup.

Before Kerr, it was England who led the Chelsea line, after all – and let it superbly. The 27-year-old had been Chelsea’s top scorer in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, firing us to the WSL title in the second of those years, and deservedly winning Player of the Year for the league. A great player, who has been something of a victim of the superstar transfers of recent years.

Chelsea needed a goalscorer – and a hero – and Beth proved she can still be both of those for Chelsea, getting the breakthrough just six minutes after her introduction from the bench.


Much credit is due also to Erin Cuthbert. The Scot had been brilliant all game, leading the way with her energy and relentlessness – as she had been against Brighton at the weekend. When Cuthbert cut in from the right and unleashed a fierce shot, Leat in the West Ham goal could only parry it – and it was immediately followed in by the onrushing England, who had anticipated a rebound nobody else had. The goal was testament to the sort of instinct and awareness that defines the best strikers – and that cannot be taught.

It was also England’s 50th goal in the WSL, and a reminder of what a valuable asset she is. 

The points were secured when Cuthbert got the goal that her recent performances have entirely merited. England was again involved, exchanging passes with Fran Kirby. The latter laid it off for Cuthbert to scoop the ball beyond Leat, in a slightly unconventional but nonetheless brilliant finish.

The game was the Scot’s 150th Chelsea appearance – it is remarkable to consider she is still only 23 years old, and must surely be one of the most underrated players in the WSL, given her consistently high level and importance to this Chelsea team. It is increasingly a fact amongst the Chelsea faithful that Erin is destined for the armband, one day.

It was a 2-0 goal lead that Chelsea had thoroughly deserved, having noticeably stepped up the intensity in the second half. Fran Kirby was at the centre of much of it, pulling strings in the final third in a way that few in the WSL can – and the rampaging Pernille Harder was a constant threat to the West Ham defence.

What was most pleasing about the performance,wasis the determination and character the players showed. Whilst worry may have been starting to grow amongst fans watching, and fretting, that it would be another frustrating night for the Blues, the players never looked disheartened or seemingly allowed any doubt to creep in. Every player on their pitch gave it their all, and got the goals that they deserved – and that the fans returning to Kingsmeadow deserved. It seems reasonable to speculate that with support as vocal and passionate as that, the Chelsea players just could not allow their heads to drop. 

The pre-kick off target of a “must win” was met, and Chelsea moved back into second, with Arsenal’s lead reduced to a single precarious point. Chelsea will hope that Arsenal grow increasingly uncomfortable with being hunted – not being a side who in recent years have been used to leading the way.

Arsenal did have a chance to respond the very next evening – or today, at the time of publishing – against Brighton. For nearly 45 minutes, it was looking hopeful for those of a Blue persuasion that the pressure had told, with Arsenal trailing to an early Brighton goal. Eventually, a Beth Mead-inspired comeback secured a vital three points for the Gunners, and restored their four point lead, albeit with one extra game played. All Chelsea can do is keep winning, and keep the pressure on Jonas Eidevall and his players.

Next up, league play takes a break as Chelsea and the other WSL sides begin their participation in this season’s FA Cup, with the fourth round set to take place this weekend. It was less than two months ago that Chelsea humbled Arsenal at Wembley to lift the 2020/21 FA Cup, and Chelsea will be hoping for more success in a competition we have now won three times under Emma Hayes. An away trip to Aston Villa will be the first test of the latest campaign.  

Final score: Chelsea 2-0 West Ham

Goalscorers: England, Cuthbert

Assists: Kirby

Line up: Berger, Andersson, Nouwen, Bright, Charles, Ingle, Fleming (Carter 72), Reiten (England 45), Cuthbert, Harder (Spence 83), Kirby (Abdullina 86)

Unused substitutes: Musovic, James

Attendance: 2,554

Brighton 0-0 Chelsea (WSL) – “Drawing a blank.”

Reports of our resurrection have been greatly exaggerated.

Or so it felt, after Sunday’s frustrating stalemate against Brighton. With league leaders Arsenal travelling to a resurgent Man City in the late game, this match week was a golden opportunity for Chelsea to make up some ground on the title race, depending on that result.

Brighton had lost six in a row, incidentally – and after Chelsea’s encouraging 4-2 win in the Conti Cup quarter-final against West Ham, it was a reasonable expectation Chelsea would be able to carry on that momentum into this fixture.

It has been said enough times about Brighton that they are a side capable of springing an upset, with their tenacious and pragmatic approach characteristic of a Hope Powell team. None know this better than Chelsea, who lost our record 33-game WSL winning streak at the hands of the Seagulls last season.

However, their recent form had made them look a shadow of this team – and included a 6-0 thrashing at home to Man City, where all six goals had been conceded in the second half.

Unfortunately for Chelsea, Hope Powell’s outfit appeared determined that Sunday would be the day that they found themselves again.

Chelsea’s bench remained depleted through international call ups and injury, with Beth England and Niamh Charles the only real attacking options available. Nonetheless, any team with the likes of Pernille Harder, Fran Kirby, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert on the pitch should be capable of providing the creative verve required to break down any defence.

That was lacking for the majority of the first half, which as expected Chelsea dominated in terms of possession and territory, but returned to the bluntness in front of goal which has dogged us since the FA Cup Final.

The best chance of the first half actually came from Brighton’s Dan Carter, against the run of play. The Brighton forward produced a fine save from Ann-Katrin Berger with her long-range strike – reminding the Blues that for all of our statistical dominance, the opposition still carried a genuine threat on the counter.

The next best chance fell to Fran Kirby, who was put through one-on-one – you would put your house on Kirby to score, who is normally deadly in these situations. Perhaps as a portent of what was to come, Brighton keeper Megan Walsh did brilliantly to smother her shot and keep the score level heading into the break.

Chelsea were improved in the second half, but a combination of excellent goalkeeping from the aforementioned Walsh, the woodwork, and Chelsea wastefulness conspired to make it “one of those games”. It’s an occurrence which has happened too frequently for Chelsea this winter. 

Amongst the missed opportunities were a glorious Erin Cuthbert chance, with the Scot blazing wide when she had the goal at her mercy. Cuthbert was then unlucky to see a thunderous strike crash off the crossbar. Substitute Beth England produced a fine save from point blank range from Walsh, as the Brighton goal remained impenetrable. 

Brighton also remained very much in the game, and had another good chance in the second half which required Berger to be at her best to keep out. Despite a fierce Chelsea push in the final 10 minutes, a winner could not be found, and Chelsea were left frustrated.

The big game between Arsenal and Man City saw the Gunners equalise at the death to snatch a point. An Arsenal loss would have been better for Chelsea, but the points being shared in that game means Arsenal did not gain any further ground at least – making our draw less damaging. 

Chelsea are set to make up that game in hand on the league leaders midweek against West Ham. A win would leave us only a point off Arsenal, and we do host them in February in what will be a crucial game in the title race. However, with our recent form, there seems little guarantee of us winning consistently in the way we would need to in order to overturn Arsenal’s lead.

Man United’s comfortable 3-0 win over Spurs saw them leapfrog Chelsea into second – but we do have two games in hand, so the significance of that remains to be seen.

In her comments post-match, Emma Hayes chose to praise the performance of the players, despite the result – but truthfully this is likely manager talk, as it is clear to see Chelsea remain short of the level we are used to seeing this side perform at. Sam Kerr is clearly missed – and as if to emphasise what we are missing with her absence, she has scored an emphatic six goals in two games so far at the Asian Cup, becoming Australia’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process.

Hayes also referred to the “strange” nature of this league season, which has seen more inconsistency from the title-contending sides than we are used to in the WSL – and with the irregularity caused by COVID postponements, it is difficult to get a true reading of form and the league table, week to week. 

You would normally expect the teams at the top of the table to be winning on a weekly basis, but this has not been the case this season – so how significant this missed opportunity for Chelsea on a weekend where Arsenal also dropped points remains to be seen, but it can still only be seen as two points dropped for the Blues, in a match we should have won. 

Furthermore, it is an indicator that despite the heart that can be taken from the win against West Ham, Chelsea still have work to do to return to the heights of earlier this year, and to reach the level we know this side are capable of. As has been typed too often this season, another response is needed in our next fixture – also against the Hammers – with Chelsea still having questions to answer.

Final score: Brighton 0-0 Chelsea

Goalscorers: n/a

Assists: n/a

Line up (4-1-4-1): Berger, Nouwen, Bright, Carter, Reiten (Charles 70), Kirby, Fleming, Cuthbert, Harder, Spence (England 81), Andersson

Unused subs: Musovic, Ingle, Abdullina, Telford

Attendance: 1,743

West Ham 2-4 Chelsea (Conti Cup quarter-final) – “Chelsea, we’ve missed you.”

At the Chigwell Construction Stadium in Essex, after nearly a month missing, Chelsea FC Women were finally found.

To the relief of all, the Conti Cup quarter-final tie against West Ham was able to go ahead, after Chelsea having had our first two scheduled fixtures of 2022 postponed due to COVID-19 cases and injuries leaving the teams involved unable to field the requisite number of players. 

It had been starting to feel like we might never see Chelsea play again – whose last game was the crushing 4-0 defeat to Wolfsburg on the 16th December, which saw us crash out of the Champions League.

It was Chelsea’s first participation in this season’s league cup, as teams who qualified for the Champions League received a bye into the quarter-finals. Chelsea were therefore only three wins away from making it a hat-trick of Conti Cups, having won the competition in each of the last two seasons.  

Standing in Chelsea’s way were West Ham,  who have had a typically undulating season so far. The Hammers came into this match full of confidence though, a dramatic injury time Kate Longhurst header earned a derby draw against bitter rivals Spurs at the weekend. That result was a good one for Chelsea, as it prevented Spurs from leap-frogging Chelsea into second in the WSL standings. 

It was unlikely West Ham would be so generous to the Blues in this tie. The Hammers had qualified for the quarter-final with a 100% winning record in their group – and were yet to concede a goal in the competition. 

With Magda Eriksson, Lauren James and Maren Mjelde all still absent through injury, and Melanie Leupolz sadly suffering with long COVID – Hayes named a line up pieced together from those she did have available. Sam Kerr and Ji So-Yun were also notable absentees, with both players away on international duty at the Asian Cup. 

It was nonetheless a strong Chelsea line-up – once again demonstrating the depth of the squad. New signing Alsu Abdullina started on the bench, having joined from Lokomotiv Moscow this window.

The game started at a pace somewhat expected from a team who hadn’t played in over a month. The Chelsea passes were just not quite coming off, and the play looked quite disjointed overall. The Blues’ first real chance came after nearly 20 minutes, but Pernille Harder was not able to convert from a tight angle.

West Ham were characteristically dogged, and after playing more of a containment strategy for much of the first half, then started to ask some questions of Chelsea’s defence with a series of threatening set pieces. However, it was one of these which was to prove the Hammers’ undoing. Fran Kirby led a brilliant Chelsea counter attack following a West Ham free kick, and then unselfishly played in Harder, who finished coolly from close range. That was the first Chelsea goal since the FA Cup Final at the start of December.

Going behind did not discourage West Ham, who remained as up for it as before – and they earned an equaliser courtesy of some sloppy Chelsea play. Sophie Ingle uncharacteristically gave the ball away in midfield, and Kateřina Svitková’s subsequent effort deflected off captain for the night Millie Bright to leave Ann-Katrin Berger with no chance.


The half time whistle went with the game poised finely at 1-1, with Chelsea having had the majority of possession and territory – but there was a sense that if the Blues were to find the winner, they would have to step up the intensity.  

Thankfully, Chelsea did. Hayes persisted with the XI that started the game, who as a collective raised their game. A series of corners amped the pressure up – and it finally told with a brilliant Chelsea goal. It was the best football we had played all night – and arguably since the FA Cup Final.

An intricate passing move down the left flank gave Jonna Andersson the chance to whip in one of her famous crosses – which was met by Erin Cuthbert for a rare headed goal for the diminutive Scotsman.

It was a goal that exemplifies the type of football we have come to expect from Chelsea – and has been sorely missing in recent times.

Within three minutes, 2-1 had become 3-1, with Chelsea finally taking real control of the match. Kirby again set up Harder – but this time with a shot that West Ham keeper Leat could only parry straight to the Dane, who made no mistake from point blank range.

Chelsea looked a different team to the rusty outfit of the first half – and Harder soon completed her hat trick with a precise header, having been picked out with a brilliant diagonal from Andersson for her second assist of the night. The header made it a perfect hat trick for Harder – who had had a brilliant match, and had been one of the players to step up when needed.

With the lead now comfortable at 4-1, Hayes did hand a debut to the young Russian, Abdullina, who looked genuinely delighted to be coming on for the final 15 minutes.


West Ham did manage to net a second as a consolation, with Chelsea having taken their foot slightly off the gas. Again it was some more loose Chelsea defending that gave West Ham the opening. Yet more evidence of how important absent captain Magda Eriksson is to the back line – and that we need her fit again as soon as possible.

With 4-2 the final score, Chelsea advanced into the semi-finals of the Conti Cup, with the draw and dates for those fixtures yet to be determined.


After such a barren run, the major positives are obviously the win – and the four goals. It has been 44 days since we have seen either from Chelsea. We have missed this.

Arguably though, the manner of the victory was more important – after being pegged back, Chelsea were able to step it up and respond to adversity. That response has been lacking in our recent run of draws and defeats – and that Chelsea were able to summon it tonight is hopefully a sign that the malaise has been overcome.

The year 2022 had finally begun on the field for Chelsea – and with this victory, our season is tentatively back on track. 

Final score: West Ham 2-4 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Harder x 3, Cuthbert

Assists: Kirby, Andersson x 2

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Nouwen (Reiten 66), Bright (C), Carter; Andersson (Abdullina 77), Cuthbert, Ingle, Charles; Fleming (Spence 72), Kirby (England 72), Harder

Unused subs: Telford, Musovic 

Attendance: not available 

Midweek musing #6 – “What is happening in the WSL?”

“What is happening in the WSL?”

A question that can be taken in two ways. It can be answered in one way by recounting the action on the pitch, and using empirical metrics like points gained or lost, and the movement up and down the league table – which seems relatively straightforward.

To answer the other interpretation of the question – what is really going on in the WSL – we have less hard evidence available, and the conclusion is therefore more speculative. You do not have to examine the WSL too closely to see that the league is in a state approaching chaos, due to a slew of postponements caused by COVID-19 outbreaks and injury crises.

With domestic football having returned in England following the winter break, we are now over halfway through the first month of 2022, and two match weeks have been completed… sort of. Nearly every team in the WSL has seen one of their matches postponed due to the rampaging Omicron variant, which started in December 2021 in the UK. Chelsea have had both WSL fixtures scheduled so far in January rearranged – and are yet to be seen on the pitch in this calendar year.

It leaves for a league table that makes messy reading – with the number of games having been played ranging from nine to 12 across the 12 teams. Only Leicester and Birmingham have completed all 12 fixtures, as scheduled.

So, what do we know about the WSL so far in 2022? 

Part 1 – Off the pitch: COVID-19 chaos, and and the great Chelsea mystery

For Chelsea, it has been a double false start to the year. Our return to action was set to be a tough-looking London derby at home to Tottenham Hotspur, who have been flying high this season and currently occupy the third Champions League spot.

Having had such a disappointing end to December – which was rounded off with our home league fixture to West Ham due to a COVID-19 outbreak – the winter break had been broadly seen as an opportunity for a stuttering Chelsea to reset and recharge.  

There had been a sense of gearing up “to go again” and get our season back on track – only to be told to drop the gear stick back into neutral, and idle on until the next week.

Unfortunately, Chelsea’s next scheduled fixture was then also postponed. We had been due to travel away to Everton, and on this occasion it appears to have been COVID-19 cases in the Everton rather than Chelsea camp that led to the postponement.

It has been difficult to establish the exact details of these postponements, or any across the WSL – sparse information has been revealed by either the clubs or the league about what the criteria is for postponement, and whether they are being granted on the basis of COVID cases, injuries, or a combination of the two. 

The vaguely-worded statement on the official website in regards to the Spurs fixture referred to “a number of positive tests” and “a  number of players that are unavailable for selection due to injury”. Across the league, it has not been revealed which players have tested positive in the various outbreaks.

The lack of transparency in regards to the postponed fixtures has led to a sense, as a fan, of not really knowing what is “going on” right now. 

Hayes did finally disclose some further information ahead of today’s (Wednesday 19th January) Conti Cup quarter-final against West Ham. She confirmed that Melanie Leupolz is absent with long COVID, and Magda Eriksson, Maren Mjelde and Lauren James are still injured. Sam Kerr and Ji So-Yun will also be unavailable due to international duty at the Asian Cup.

With only 15 players available, we may even see a debut for new signing Alsu Abdullina. The 20-year-old left-sided defender was signed from Lokomotiv Moscow, having been coveted by Emma Hayes for a while. Abdullina is highly rated from her time in the Russian league and her performances for the Russian national team, for whom she already has 30 caps. She is being thought of as one for the future – but may be called upon sooner for first team action.

It is often difficult to find much detail on behind the scenes affairs in women’s football – which has an oddly closed-off approach to matters such as finances, transfers, and player contracts. This was exemplified by the recent announcement of new contracts for Steph Houghton and Leah Williamson by Manchester City and Arsenal respectively – but both without specifying how long these two club stalwarts have extended for.

Despite learning a bit more about the players available, the true state of the squad remains unknown – and likely will remain soon until we see the players finally take to the field again. At times, it’s felt like that might never happen again.

The last time we saw Chelsea play was on the 16th December – over a month ago. That was the occasion of the devastating 4-0 loss to Wolfsburg, which saw us exit the Champions League at the group stage. The last time we witnessed a Chelsea victory – or score a goal – was the Women’s FA Cup Final on the 6th December. This is surely the longest period for many years (off season excluded) that any Chelsea FC Women fan has gone without seeing our team win.

Such a lengthy break between competitive games leads to concerns over match sharpness – and also contributes to an increasing sense of nervousness (as a fan, at least). Our ending to 2021 was so disappointing, that supporters feel keen to see us back to winning ways – and the longer we have to wait, the more nervy that wait feels. We want to get going again.

As a positive, having this break has given a better chance for the injured players in the squad to get healthy again (although not long enough for Eriksson, Mjelde and James). Given how fatigued the squad did look towards the end of December, a chance to properly rest could well have been what was needed.

Chelsea will now have to fit in three WSL fixtures into the rest of the season – an early exit from Europe may be a blessing in disguise in that sense, as it frees up more mid-week slots. The West Ham game from before Christmas has now been confirmed to be rearranged for Wednesday 26th January.

As on Wednesday afternoon, the cup tie against West Ham is due to go ahead as scheduled. The context means that we should be cautious about attributing too much significance to the performance – of which there is likely to be an element of rust – but a win feels imperative to bring faith that we have moved past the disaster of December.

Part 2 – On the pitch: business usual and unusual in the WSL

Fortunately, we have a lot more information with which to answer the more straightfoward interpretation of this titular question. Two weeks of some fixtures has meant there is some action to talk about – and the second half of the season is starting to shape up.

By far the biggest news of 2022 so far was Birmingham’s shock 2-0 win over Arsenal – a strong argument for the biggest WSL upset of all time. Not only were bottom side Birmingham winless going into the game against undefeated league leaders Arsenal, but they hadn’t won a home league game since October 2019 – 805 days.

It was a result that could have big implications at both ends of the table. Although still four points clear at the top of the WSL, with Chelsea having a game in hand it means those arrears could potentially be cut to a single point – and negate the blow to Chelsea’s title challenge that was loss to Reading in December. Crucially, it creaks open the door for Chelsea in the title race, which with that defeat looked like it was closing – and may offer fresh motivation after what had been such a dispiriting set of results for the Blues.

For Arsenal, both the defeat and the manner of it were a concern – they looked insipid and second-best to a team who they would have expectedly to comfortably beat, and it means that Arsenal have lost four of their past five games in all competitions. The Gunners’ season may look in a healthy place, having progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals and with that lead in the league, but they are undoubtedly in poor form.

The signing of Swedish forward Stenius Blackstenius in the January window is a boost for the North London side – and something of a coup, given how many clubs were after the highly-rated striker following the end of her contract with BC Hacken. Arsenal have also signed 23-year-old Laura Wienroither from Hoffenheim – who beat Arsenal in their Champions League group game in December – and 30-year-old Brazilian centre-back Rafaelle Souza, as they look to reinforce their squad going into the second half of the season.

It is widely said that two wins can be enough to stay up in the WSL, which has just one relegation spot – a win against the league leaders is therefore very much a “bonus win” for Birmingham, an one that left Leicester and Aston Villa looking nervously over their shoulders. With 10 points already, it seems less likely Villa will get dragged in, however.

The next match week, it was back to business as usual for Birmingham, who lost 5-0 to Man United for their tenth loss of the season. A huge win for Leicester against Brighton meant they secured their second win of the season, and sit two points ahead of their Midlands rivals. Leicester face Aston Villa towards the end of this month, and then play Birmingham at the start of February – meaning we will likely know a lot more about the relegation battle by this time next month.

Looking to the midtable, the excellent form of Brighton in the first half of the season looks to have fallen off entirely, with the Seagulls’ loss to Leicester making it four league defeats in a row. Reading have done the opposite, having started the season poorly but currently being in fine fettle, with four wins and a draw in their last five. West Ham and Everton remain consistently inconsistent, but are well clear of any potential relegation battle.

The aforementioned 5-0 for Manchester United means that they have now moved into third place. After a shaky start to life under new manager Marc Skinner, they look now to be coming together as a side, and have won their last three on the bounce in the WSL, scoring 12 goals and keeping three consecutive clean sheets. 

With 21 points, Man United are level with Chelsea in second – but with two more games played. Also sitting on 21 points, in fourth place, are Tottenham Hotspur. Their results and performances this season have led to what looks like a genuine and unexpected challenge for the third Champions League spot – and has been one of the stories of the WSL season. 

Spurs could have gone second last weekend, but a late equaliser from West Ham denied them the chance – and having suffered injuries to key players and a squad that is undoubtedly thinner than the teams they are competing with for third, it would not be surprising if their push did start to fall away.

Another major narrative of the season so far has been the woeful early form of last season’s runners-up Manchester City. Four defeats in the first half of the season had left manager Gareth Taylor under pressure, and City firmly out of the title race – with even their prospect of qualifying for Europe in significant doubt.

Part of the reason for City’s struggles have been a succession of injuries to key players. The return of captain Steph Houghton and star player Lucy Bronze is a major boost – both started in their 3-0 win against Aston Villa at the weekend. That victory made it four in a row for City, who do now have looked to have steadied the ship, and with their injured players returning and just two points adrift of their local rivals Man United, it would not be a surprise to see them grab third place, after all.

Despite losing many fixtures amongst the carnage of postponements, the first two weeks of the season has nonetheless moved us further towards the conclusions of the key narratives of the season – and added intrigue to each of the mini-dramas that are being conducted in the various subsections of the table.

There is the important caveat with which we must interpret the first few weeks of 2022, that the uneven number of games played across the league gives a slightly false reading to the league table. It is also difficult to gauge the true form of the teams who have been playing, given the depleted squads and long breaks between games, which has led to some sides looking unusually disjointed.

With the worst of the Omicron variant appearing to be over in the UK, we can only hope that the WSL has ridden this storm, and that the fixtures will be caught up soon. Once order returns to the schedule – and the “games played” column finally evens out in the league table – we will know more on the state of the league, and the narratives set to play out.

Player Profile – Alsu Abdullina

Chelsea’s new number 27 scratches the left-sided defensive itch, adds depth to the squad, and is a signing with the long-term vision of the club in mind. 

This weekend should have seen the resumption of the 2021/22 WSL season, following the winter break. The final round of league fixtures before Christmas had been disrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks across the league, leading to various games being postponed – including Chelsea’s trip to West Ham. 

For Chelsea, the break had been seen as a good opportunity to regroup following a disappointing end to the calendar year. There was a lot riding on the London derby against Spurs, which had been scheduled for Friday, in which it was imperative Chelsea got a result to get our season back on track

However, further COVID-19 cases in the squad in combination with injuries also led to the postponement of Friday’s game – delaying Chelsea’s return to action. Aston Villa vs Everton and West Ham vs Manchester United were also postponed, with Omicron continuing to wreak havoc.

A weekend with no Chelsea game presents the opportunity to focus on one piece of positive news from the winter break – the signing of Russian defender Alsu Abdullina, from Lokomotiv Moscow. 

The 20-year-old has signed a two and a half year contract until 2024, finalising a transfer that Emma Hayes reportedly wanted done in the summer transfer window of 2021. Hayes has spoken about Abdullina being a player she has admired for a while -.despite our continuing defensive issues and subsequent cries for reinforcements from the fanbase, this is not seemingly a panic buy in response to that, but part of the long term transfer strategy. 

Abdullina will wear the number 27 shirt for the Blues (a choice which amusingly mirrors the number 27 for the men’s side, who has a similarly challenging surname beginning with the letter ‘A’.)

The prolonged pursuit of the young left back suggests she is a player that the Chelsea boss rates highly – and given Hayes has proven an excellent judge of talent, is one that Chelsea fans can therefore be justified in being excited about.

Few English women’s football fans or experts are likely to claim to be regular watchers of the Russian league. Therefore the words in this article, like many in the mainstream media, will be based on second hand knowledge.

So what do we know about Abdullina, and what can she potentially bring to this Chelsea team?

First of all, finally, Chelsea have signed a new left back. Jonna Andersson had been first choice in that position for much of last season, before falling out of favour and being replaced in the side by Jess Carter. Carter has had mixed reviews for her performances in defence – her turn as a centre back in a back three in the FA Cup Final in December was amongst her best in a Chelsea shirt, but as a conventional left back in a back four she has shown weaknesses – and none more so than when she was brutally exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League Final in May 2021.

Left bank had hence been identified as an area in which Chelsea needed reinforcements – and Abdullina does address that need.

Hayes has switched between a back three and back four this year, but has tended to favour the system requiring wing backs – with Guro Reiten being the frequent first choice on the left flank. According to Hayes on the official Chelsea website, Abdullina is a player who can play a variety of positions on the left, and hence will likely feature as both a left back and left wing back, depending on the formation being used.

However, it still remains to be seen how much of a role as a first team player the Russian will immediately play at Chelsea. The Russian league is not one of the highest quality leagues on the continent, meaning that a move to the WSL will be a step up for the 20-year-old. 

Gradual integration of new signings – especially the younger players – has been Hayes’ preferred approach, with how she has managed Jessie Fleming, Aniek Nouwen and Lauren James being testament to that. Nouwen and James are yet to become regular first team players, with their minutes mainly being limited to cameos in cup competitions, and it has taken until her second season – and a star turn at the Tokyo Olympics – for Fleming to really break through at Chelsea. 

This speculation over how Abdullina will be used is corroborated by the interview given by Hayes in the official announcement post – where she speaks about the Russian as a player who will add “depth to the squad” and one to “look forward to seeing how she develops in our environment over the next couple of years”.

Of course, the COVID-19 situation means that greater utilisation of squad players may become necessary – so circumstances may mean Abdullina feature more than first anticipated in her first half-season with the club.

Fortunately, all of this is not to say Abdullina is inexperienced – in fact, quite the opposite. She started her senior career at club level in 2017, at the age of just 16, and also received her first international cap for Russia in that year. She has gone on to make more than 100 further appearances for club and country, including an impressive 30 caps for Russia – and has had experience playing in the Champions League. If required, Abdullina does have the experience to call upon, belying her young age.

She also has the quality – evident in that her performances in the Russian league led to her being named in the 2021 team of the season. Abdullina is seen as something of a sensation in Russia, given how young she was when she first emerged, and how she so quickly established herself as one of the stand-out players in the Russia league and national team.

Alsu Abdullina is not likely to be a transformative signing which remedies the ongoing issues with Chelsea’s defence – which has been the source of much agitation amongst the fanbase. However, the 20-year-old is clearly a talented player, and one of the top young defensive prospects in Europe. In a similar vein to Aniek Nouwen, who was signed in the summer, Abdullina will likely be a player that Hayes hopes becomes a stalwart of our defence in the years to come – and is a forward-thinking signing.

In the immediate moment, she also gives us a further option for the left side of defence, which has been an area of concern – competition should theoretically breed improvement from the players who do seek minutes in these position. Furthermore, t the uncertainty of player availability in the midst of ongoing COVID concerns and injuries means the more options the better for the Blues, as Chelsea continue to compete in three domestic competitions. 

Midweek musing #5 – “Perspective.”

December was a month which started with one of the greatest victories in Chelsea FC Women’s history – but ended with us having slipped behind in the WSL title race, crashed out of the Women’s Champions League, and in the clutches of a COVID-19 outbreak.


From dreamland, to disaster. The heady heights of the FA Cup final win at Wembley, on the 5th December, seems a world away – rather than less than a fortnight. Chelsea were brilliant that day – it was a scintillating attacking performance which tore Arsenal apart. The 3-0 scoreline flattered the Gunners. 

That win was widely seen as a big statement from the Blues. Arsenal had beaten Chelsea 3-2 in the first fixture of the WSL season, and been untouchable at the top of the league since – only dropping points once in a 1-1 draw against Spurs. Much had been said about Arsenal’s form and that opening day win over Chelsea, with them subsequently being seen as the team to beat this year by the wider footballing world. 

Chelsea’s humbling of our London rivals had been a reminder that the back-to-back WSL champions would not be giving up our dominance in English women’s football without a fight. The nature of the victory was also seen as a potential psychological blow in the title race – with Chelsea now firmly putting the pressure on a Gunners side who looked naive at Wembley. 

Winning the delayed 2020/21 FA Cup also meant Chelsea had completed the domestic treble – only the third English side (men or women) to do so, in what was a truly historic achievement for the club.

We were on top of the world. And then, just 11 days later in Germany, it felt like the walls of our castle had come crashing down.

The first signs of a slump began with a 0-0 draw against Juventus, in the penultimate match of the Champions League group stage. It was a tired-looking performance from Chelsea, but understandable given the exertions at Wembley just three days before, and the emotional highs of that day.

The draw meant Chelsea had not yet secured qualification for the knockout stage – but sat top of the group going into the final round of games, three points ahead of Juventus and Wolfsburg, and still favoured to qualify. It was not a good performance, but it felt a small and surmountable blip.

Worse was to come on the subsequent Saturday morning, when Chelsea suffered a shock defeat to Reading in the WSL. The Royals took the lead after just four minutes, and Chelsea plugged away for the next 86, but again looked insipid – and could not break the Reading resistance. 

Three points dropped in the title race, with Arsenal stretching their lead to four. It is often said that two losses in the season is enough to lose the WSL title – and with the momentum gained at Wembley firmly handed back to the Gunners, there was a feeling this could be a pivotal moment in the race.

A big response was needed in Wolfsburg, with a point needed to progress to the quarter-finals as group winners, or to avoid defeat by less than two goals to go through as runners-up. What occurred instead was not only an awful performance, but arguably one of the most disappointing results in Chelsea FC Women’s history. 

Wolfsburg took an early lead, and Chelsea looked rattled. A second goal came not long after – a goal which meant Chelsea would be going out of a competition in which we had reached our first ever final back in May, and success within it has been the primary goal of the club for several years.

The Germans were dominant, and Chelsea did not look capable of mounting the comeback required. Instead, our defensive frailties (which have been so frequently apparent against top quality opposition) were once again exposed, and Chelsea conceded twice more to collapse to a 4-0 defeat. Chelsea had failed to progress from the knockout stages, and there was no denying this was an utter disaster.

The squad looked devastated – and that was very much the sentiment amongst the fans, too. We had been so proud of the progress we had made in the Champions League in recent years, and in establishing ourselves as a side consistently in contention in the latter stages of the competition. This was a massive setback, and undeniable regression. It felt like a blow that would be hard to bounce back from.

This was a crisis point for Chelsea, and the subsequent league fixture against West Ham had taken on huge importance. Nothing less than a win would be acceptable. It was imperative Chelsea arrest the slide.

The Wolfsburg game had been played in the context of developing concerns over the escalating COVID-19 situation in the UK, with the Omicron variant running rampant. Chelsea had returned two positive tests before kick off, from first choice keeper Ann-Katrin Berger and midfielder Drew Spence. Emma Hayes spoke after the game of the anxiety this had induced amongst the squad – who were worried about also contracting the virus, and the implications this would have for their Christmasses with family. The Chelsea boss attributed what had been an uncharacteristically nervous performance to this. 

This sounded like an excuse, but Hayes’ concerns soon proved to have credence, with several more players testing positive upon returning to the UK. This led to the postponement of the West Ham game, which was followed by postponements in the Arsenal vs Brighton and Man City vs Reading fixtures, as Omicron caused chaos across the sporting world.

The winter break therefore started early for Chelsea, who had been looking in 

in desperate need of a chance to rest  and regroup. It goes without saying that hopefully any players who have contracted COVID are not too severely affected, and are able to return fit and firing in January. 

The year 2021 has undeniably ended on a low – arguably one of the lowest points for the club since our era of success began back in 2015 with the FA Cup final win, and our first ever trophy. The outcome of the 2020/21 season now feels on treacherous ground.

As such, as a fan heavily invested in the fortunes and misfortunes of Chelsea FC Women, it can be easy to feel low at this moment too. It is important at times like this to take a step back and gain perspective – and when doing so it comes sharply into focus that putting these past two weeks aside, it has been a brilliant year for Chelsea. More than that, it has been the best in our history.

The calendar year 2021 has seen Chelsea win a first ever domestic treble – winning a second consecutive WSL title, a second consecutive League Cup, and the club’s third FA Cup. We also reached our first ever Champions League final, and despite the loss to Barcelona, that is a historic milestone for the club – and one to be proud of.

It has been a banner year for the Blues. 

The Champions League run was truly astonishing. It featured a 5-3 aggregate win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. Chelsea had come back from a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to beat Bayern 4-1 at Kingsmeadow, in what was an unforgettable and dramatic cup tie. The round before we’d beaten Wolfsburg 5-1 on aggregate – including our first ever win against the German giants, in what was a landmark victory and one which showed Chelsea had become a serious team in Europe.

Who could ever forget the heroics of Ann-Katrin Berger, in the round of 16 against Atletico Madrid? The German goalkeeper wrote herself into the lore of Chelsea Football Club when she saved not one, but two penalties after Chelsea had had Sophie Ingle sent off in the first leg, as Chelsea somehow won 2-0 against the Spanish side.

In the 2020/21 WSL, we lost just one game, and scored 69 goals for the return of only ten conceded. We were by far the dominant team all season long, going undefeated against title rivals Man City and Arsenal across three competitions, notching score lines as comprehensive as 3-0, 3-1, 4-1 and 4-2. 

We thrashed Bristol City 6-0 in the League Cup final, with Sam Kerr scoring a hat-trick. Fran Kirby put in one of the best performances of her career with four assists and two goals on what was an emotional Mother’s Day victory – Kirby lost her mum aged just 14 years old. It was another glorious cup final win that will live long in Chelsea fans’ memories.

Chelsea did not just win a domestic treble in the last year – we completely dominated English football to do so.

The team’s success was accompanied by a litany of well-deserved individual honours. Fran Kirby – on her return to football following more than a year out with the debilitating viral illness pericarditis – swept the individual honours, winning the PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, and WSL Player of the Year. It was her best ever season for the club, and she has also become Chelsea’s all-time top scorer, and the first female player to score 100 goals for the Blues.

Her strike partner Sam Kerr received deserved accolades too – beating out the much-vaunted Vivianne Miedema to the WSL Golden Boot, and finishing third in the Women’s Ballon d’Or. Kerr had been criticised for a purportedly slow start when she first signed for Chelsea back in January 2020, and had little chance to prove doubters wrong when the pandemic struck just two months later, leading to the curtailment of the season. The Aussie has proved them all wrong now.

Pernille Harder has well and truly settled into the side following her world record transfer in summer 2020 from Wolfsburg, and has demonstrated that she is a world class player time and time again. Captain Magda Eriksson had another brilliant year, earning recognition as one of the best centre backs in world football. Chelsea had five players named in the PFA Team of the Year, with Maren Mjelde and Ann-Katrin Berger joining Kirby, Kerr and Eriksson in being recognised by their peers.

All of these achievements were of course overseen by the one and only Emma Hayes. It was a year which has enhanced the already superb reputation of the manager who has transformed the club from afterthoughts in women’s football, to one of the biggest women’s teams in the world – and the dominant team of the past five years in English women’s football. She has defined us, and brought the club into an unprecedented era of success – all ten of the trophies in Chelsea FC Women’s history have been won by Hayes. She continues to advocate for the advancement of women’s football on and off the pitch – and is a person we can only be proud to have in charge of our team.

Truly, when you put it like that – it has been an incredible year, and although it ended in the way it did, these historic successes should not be forgotten. Happiness has a fleetingness in football – it can be easy to forget the highs when followed by such dispiriting lows. However, by the same token this means disappointment is fleeting too – there is always the next game to be played, a chance for redemption, and another chance for glory.

Chelsea have proven that they are a club that wins – and we must move onwards and upwards towards that goal. The players have proven themselves as champions, capable of overcoming adversity – a look back at the rollercoaster ride to the Champions League final shows that. Given what we know of this squad, it is time for us as supporters to place our trust in them to bounce back. One conclusion from reflecting back on 2021 shows that they can.

Results may mean we are unable to claw back the deficit in the title race – but there are still two domestic trophies to be won, much glory to be earned, and big games against our rivals of Arsenal and Man City in which memorable victories can be won. 

There is a lot still to play for. There is the prospect of another chance of success in Europe next year to look forward to, the opportunity for more silverware to be won, and history to be made. The year 2022 will no doubt have setbacks and adversity, but it also has the potential for us to end the season with smiles on our faces and with more happy memories to cherish – and that is the hope we must look towards, in these darker days.

Wolfsburg 4-0 Chelsea (WSL) – “Crushed.”

Crushed. 

The perfect word to summarise what happened in Wolfsburg on Thursday night – a defeat so disappointing that the hurt will live long in the memory of any Chelsea FC Women fan.

The last time a loss felt like this was a similar humbling by the same score line, when Chelsea were torn apart by Barcelona in the Champions League final, back in May. 

The conclusion is the same – Chelsea are out of the Champions League. It was as losing finalists last year, whereas this loss means failure to progress from the group stage. Out before the quarter-finals – a genuine failure for a side for whom success in the Champions League has been the clearly-stated priority for several years. This can only be seen as regression compared to last year’s result. Whatever happens in the rest of this season, it will always be besmirched by this early exit in the elite European competition, which is the level Chelsea want and need to be competing at. 

Last night, just as during that infamous defeat against Barcelona, Chelsea were thoroughly outclassed by a ruthless opposition performing at a supreme level. The Blues were second best in every area. And just as in May, our defending was atrocious. 

As soon as Wolfsburg captain Svenja Huth put the Germans into the lead, the Chelsea players looked alarmingly nervous. This too echoed what happened in Gothenburg – and we again went on to capitulate to a 4-0 defeat. 

The mission had been simple. Chelsea went into the final group game sitting top of Group A on 11 points, but with qualification not yet secured. We needed just a point to progress as group winners, and to avoid defeat by two goals to go through to the quarter-finals as runners-up. 

Anything can happen in the Champions League, but it seemed likely Chelsea would do what was required – despite our poor recent form which had seen us lose against Reading at the weekend in a massive slip up in the title race, and draw 0-0 against Juventus in the previous Champions League match week.

Juventus only needed to win against Servette to give themselves a chance of progressing ahead of Chelsea. The Swiss side hadlost every game of the group stage without scoring a single goal – and Juve did as expected, dispatching them 4-0.

Chelsea had lost first choice goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger to COVID before kick off, with Drew Spence also missing out following a positive test. This meant back up keeper Zecira Musovic came into the side, but other than that change Hayes was able to name what is generally seen as our strongest starting XI. 

Our previous encounter against Wolfsburg in the group had been the thrilling 3-3 draw at Kingsmeadow, in which ex-Wolfsburg player Pernille Harder rescued a late point for the Blues, after three defensive errors had meant we nearly threw away a game we had dominated. 

Last night was a very different affair.

Wolfsburg started the game on top, and had already sent Chelsea some warning shots before taking the lead after 15 minutes. Musovic initially saved Svenja Huth’s shot, but her parry fell straight to the Wolfsburg captain who managed to convert the rebound to give Wolfsburg a deserved 1-0 lead.

Disaster then struck for Chelsea – with once again poor defending in the Champions League costing us, as Huth got her second of the night to give Wolfsburg the 2-0 lead that would see them through, and knock Chelsea out. 

Chelsea nearly hit back instantly, with Sam Kerr’s header from an Erin Cuthbert free kick grazing the bar, but Wolfsburg maintained their first half dominance – and Chelsea looked panicked. Hayes had already seen enough in the opening 45 to warrant a change, bringing on Ji So-Yun for Sophie Ingle in midfield. The Welshwoman was not happy. Nobody was.

A huge second half from Chelsea was needed – but it did not start well, with captain Magda Eriksson having to be substituted following a first half injury. We’ve seen before how much Chelsea struggle defensively without the Swede marshalling the back line, and history was set to be repeated.

Wolfsburg looked incredibly assured in the face of Chelsea’s attempts to find the game-changing goal – and it was Wolfsburg who got the next goal in the game through Tabea Wassmuth, to take a 3-0 lead that meant Chelsea needed to score two to progress… a target that was looking increasingly insurmountable.

Eriksson’s replacement, Aniek Nouwen, struck the bar with a header, but the game was done – and alongside it Chelsea’s hopes of Champions League success this season – when Wolfsburg scored their fourth. Chelsea had no response. 

The players had looked rattled as soon as we conceded the first goal – and it almost seemed like the trauma of that loss to Barcelona was coming back to haunt them. Emma Hayes after the game spoke about how the positive COVID results in the camp – and the escalating situation in the UK as the Omicron variant runs rampant – had affected the squad. She described the squad as anxious, and expected more positive tests to come with several players reporting feeling unwell after the game. 

That all reads like an excuse, however – and there is no excusing the dire nature of the performance, however. Hayes did also attribute some of the blame to herself – likely an attempt to protect the players, who will be wounded.

Nonetheless, a team with the quality of the starting XI Hayes named should not be playing that poorly – especially against a team we showed in the 3-3 draw at Kingsmeadow that we very much can compete with. We were better than the Germans that day, only drawing due to our own errors. When we lost 4-0 against Barcelona it was clear we had been beaten by a team who were just better than us. Wolfsburg absolutely were better than us on last night – but they should not have been so clear. The performance was inexcusable. 

Crushed. That’s what they did to us. It was a defeat of which the manner and ramifications will follow us all season, and it will be hard to shake the dark shadow it casts. It was said after the Reading defeat, and it is even more true now – a huge response is needed from the players, and with us having slipped to four points behind Arsenal in the title race, how we do respond against West Ham on Sunday may well be season-defining. Hayes has called for the suspension of that game and the rest of the WSL fixtures, due to the COVID situation – saying the players should be able to prioritise spending Christmas with their families instead. This would be no bad thing for our squad, for whom a chance to take a break and regroup looks desperately needed. 

Two losses in a row, and Chelsea now have not scored in three consecutive games. The cup final win at the start of the month against Arsenal seems a world away. Chelsea were brilliant on that day, and in what seemed unstoppable form. The feeling afterwards was that the Chelsea train had hit top speed, and was set to steam through the rest of the season. Instead, recent rails are more in keeping with going off the rails – and if we cannot get back on track,  the season now looks destined to end in disappointment. 

Final score: Wolfsburg 4-0 Chelsea

Goalscorers: n/a

Assists: n/a

Line up (3-4-3): Musovic, Bright, Carter (Charles 74), Eriksson (Nouwen 51); Cuthbert, Leupolz, Ingle (Ji 39), Reiten (England 74); Kirby (Fleming 74), Kerr, Harder

Unused subs: Telford, Fox

Attendance: 1,107

Reading 1-0 Chelsea (WSL) – “A Saturday morning stutter.”

The lethargic performance and disappointing result against Juventus midweek may have been a slight cause for concern, but after slumping to our second defeat of the season on Saturday morning away to Reading, the alarms are well and truly ringing.

For the second consecutive game, Chelsea failed to hit the back of the net despite dominating possession, and more importantly dropped three points that could prove very costly in the WSL title race. Two losses in a season can be enough to end championship hopes, and Chelsea will now be entirely reliant on Arsenal slipping up if we are to have any hope of making it three league titles in a row.

The stats make for a depressing read. Chelsea had 77% possession, and 34 shots – but only 5 on target. It was “one of those days” – but Chelsea were not good enough in front of goal, and Reading were inspired with an energetic defensive performance that is characteristic for the Royals in recent years. It was not a good time to play the Berkside side, who after a slow start to the season had come into fine form in recent weeks, with manager Helen Chambers winning Manager of the Month for November.

Chelsea can justifiably point to fixture congestion as an explanation for the insipidness of the performance – it was our third game in the space of six days, following the cup final against Arsenal and the Champions League game midweek against Juventus. However, Chelsea have the deepest squad in the league – and this is the cross to bear of being an elite club, competing on so many fronts. Fatigue may be a mitigating factor, but the 90 minutes from Chelsea today was not good enough – and a world away from the masterclass less than a week ago at Wembley.


Physical and mental fatigue has been a common theme of Emma Hayes’ press conferences this season, and she made six changes to the side which drew against Juventus on Wednesday, with Fran Kirby amongst those on the bench.

It was the first time Chelsea had played in the new Saturday morning slot in the WSL – and the defence certainly seemed to still be in the midst of their weekend lie-in, conceding after just four minutes. Reading’s Deanne Rose did brilliantly to start and finish a move past Zecira Musovic, in a rare WSL start – and from there on in, Reading were content to sit back and contain the Chelsea threat.

Reading’s resistance was fierce, and they were determined to protect their early lead. Chelsea struggled to create clear cut chances – although did have the ball cleared off the line twice in the first half. 

A big response was needed in the second half, and Hayes made three changes at the break, bringing on Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder and Guro Reiten. Chelsea could not find that next level though, and a combination of poor finishing, alongside resolute defending from the Royals, left Chelsea frustrated.

Chelsea could have gone top of the league with a win, but it is instead likely that Arsenal will extend their lead at the top of the WSL to four points, on Sunday evening. The Gunners face bottom side Leicester, who are yet to pick up a point in their inaugural WSL season.

The humbling of Arsenal at Wembley in the FA Cup Final had been seen as a big psychological blow in the WSL title race, as the in-form Chelsea had been increasingly pouting Arsenal under pressure – but with the loss here that pressure has evaporated, and all the momentum is back with the North London side. 

The result and performance today were concerning for the rest of the season for Chelsea, but its implications even more so – but this really could be looked back on as the weekend that Chelsea lost the title. There are still 13 games left to play – and plenty of room for twists and turns, but in a title race this close, any dropped point can be fatal.

Chelsea face Wolfsburg mid-week in the final group game of the Champions League, with progress to the quarter-finals not yet secured. A response is needed, and a result is needed.

Final score: Reading 1-0 Chelsea

Goalscorers: n/a

Assists: n/a

Line up (3-4-3): Musovic, Bright, Carter (Charles 72), Eriksson; Fleming (Ji 77), Leupolz, Spence (Kirby 45), Andersson (Reiten 45); England (Harder 45), Kerr, Cuthbert

Unused subs: Berger, Nouwen, Ingle, Fox

Attendance: not available

Chelsea 0-0 Juventus (WCL) – “Can’t win them all.”

It was perhaps to be expected that given the highs of the FA Cup win at the weekend – and the completion of a historic domestic treble – that there might be a bit of a letdown in the subsequent fixture. 

Just three days after the sensational 3-0 dismantling of Arsenal at Wembley, Chelsea hosted Juventus in the penultimate game of the Champions League group stage, knowing that a win would see the Blues progress to the quarter-finals as group winners.

However, it is something of a lazy narrative to say the 0-0 draw here was as a result of a cup final hangover – Chelsea dominated the game and created numerous chances against a Juventus side who seemed very content to settle for a point, in the famous Italian catenaccio style. 

It was not a poor performance from Chelsea, but rather “one of those days” – and although they defended well, Juventus also rode their luck on occasion. An Erin Cuthbert strike in the very first minute was somewhat fortuitously tipped onto the bar by Juventus keeper Peyraud-Magnin, and Sam Kerr had a goal ruled out for offside in the second half. It was a game Cheslea could and should have won – but you cannot win them all.

Emma Hayes had shown her intent with her selection, having made only two changes from the winning side at Wembley. Ji So-Yun came in for Melanie Leupolz, with Pernille Harder also returning to the line up for her first start in over a month due to injury, in place of Jessie Fleming. 

Hayes had also issued an injury update ahead of kick off – confirming that Maren Mjelde would likely be out until after Christmas, having picked up another knock. This was a cruel blow for the Norwegian, who had only just returned to fitness following a long-term knee injury sustained back in March. Hayes also reiterated that Lauren James would continue to see limited minutes as she is gradually eased into the side. 

Having been one of the stars of the show at Wembley – the highlight of which was a sensational chipped finish that will surely go down as one of the great FA Cup Final goals – , Sam Kerr was also at the centre of arguably the other major incident of the night, other than her disallowed goal. The Aussie was booked for barging a pitch invader who was attempting to take a photo with Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson to the floor – although few would argue Kerr was too in the wrong. 

WIth Wolfsburg having already won comfortably against Servette prior to kick off, a 0-0 draw in this game means that heading into the final match day Chelsea lead the way in Group A with 11 points, with Wolfsburg and Juventus tied on 8 points.

Chelsea will next travel to Wolfsburg, whereas Juventus face Servette – with three points for the Italians almost guaranteed. If Chelsea draw or win against Wolfsburg, we will progress as group winners – but a loss could see each of the three teams level on 11 points, at which point head to head and goal difference would determine the outcome.

It was disappointing not to have secured qualification, especially given how dominant we were over the opposition – but Chelsea came out of this one still very much favoured to progress, and in an advantageous position in the group. A result is needed in Germany – but this Chelsea side have shown time and time again that we are capable of getting a result against most teams in the world, and the sensible money would be to  back the Blues to get the point needed next week.

Final score: Chelsea 0-0 Chelsea

Goalscorers: n/a

Assists: n/a

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (C); Cuthbert, Ji (Leupolz 80), Ingle, Reiten; Harder (England 70), Kerr, Kirby

Unused subs: Musovic, Telford, Nouwen, Fleming, Charles, Spence, Andersson, Fox

Attendance: 1,808

Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (FA Cup Final) – “A historic day, for a historic team.”

Sunday 5th December, Wembley Stadium, London, England. The date and location for what was arguably the greatest day in the history of Chelsea FC Women. Remember it.

The FA Cup Final is the showpiece fixture of women’s football in England. This occasion was particularly special, being the culmination of the 50th Women’s FA Cup – and hence a time to reflect on how far the women’s game has come in that half a century. It was appropriate for this banner occasion that the two teams set to contest it are inarguably the two best in England right now. 

In the red corner were Arsenal, the traditional powerhouse of the English women’s game, who have won a record 14 FA Cups, and blazed a trail for women’s football in this country. After a few years in which they had seen their place at the top of the game come under threat, they have had a brilliant start to the 2020/21 season – and look hungry to reclaim their place at the top table. 

In the blue corner were Chelsea, the team who have taken Arsenal’s spot in the last few years as the dominant force in the English game – back to back league champions, and who were a victory in this final away from completing a first-ever domestic treble for the club, having won the League Cup back in March of this year. 

Chelsea won their first FA Cup at the first Wembley final, back in 2015 – in what was a seminal moment for the women’s game. Chelsea have won a further eight major trophies since under Emma Hayes, who has led the club into a glorious era of success and in doing so raised standards for the game in this country, both on and off the pitch. Victory in this game would see Chelsea win a third FA Cup, having beaten Arsenal in the 2018 final and lost to the Gunners in 2016. 

The December date for the final was due to the delaying of the competition owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was why the 2020/21 competition was to be concluded in the 2021/22 season. This particular weekend was chosen, however, as well as being the 50th final, was also the 100th anniversary of the FA’s ban on women’s football – a move which set the development of the game back decades. 

To mark the occasion, several pioneers of the women’s game were celebrated on the pitch at half-time – including the captains of the 1971 finalists, who blazed a trail when the ban was first lifted. The game is hugely different to the one they fought to reignite, and this day at Wembley would not have been possible without them. 

With two teams of such quality, and who have continually raised the bar for women’s football, a match of the highest quality was anticipated – and it was difficult to choose a favourite between two teams who are separated by just one point in the WSL this season. 

From a Chelsea perspective, there was reason to be nervous. Arsenal had laid down a marker on the opening day of the WSL season with a 3-2 win at the Emirates over the Blues, which is why they currently sit top of the table. That match set the tone for the opening couple of months of the season, which has seen a resurgent Arsenal under new manager Jonas Eidevall impress, and make clear their intentions to get back on their perch. 

Much has been made of Arsenal’s formidable form, but Chelsea have relatively quietly gone unbeaten since that loss, and played themselves into excellent form. That opening day defeat was also notable for the absence of Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby – the attacking duo who were Chelsea’s two best players last season, and the Kerr-by partnership have continued where they left off this season, with the Aussie leading the way with nine goals in the WSL scoring charts, and Kirby sitting second with six goals, and a league best five assists. 

We need not have worried. After all the anticipation coming in of a hotly-contested and close-fought encounter between two sides brimful of attacking talent, there was only one side who showed the quality befitting of the occasion Wembley, and they were wearing Blue. 

Fran Kirby set the tone after just three minutes. The characteristically fearsome Chelsea counter-press led to a turnover of possession just outside the Arsenal box, whose defence already looked like it was desperately missing the presence of Leah Williamson, who has been ruled out until after Christmas with a hamstring injury. Kirby burst through on goal, and finished with typical coolness past Manuela Zinsberger to give Chelsea the perfect start – and stun Arsenal. 

Chelsea went on to have a succession of great chances through some devastating transitional play, with Arsenal’s defence being continually exposed. Chelsea were able to bypass an ineffective Arsenal midfield, and Hayes’ decision to bring Sophie Ingle back into the starting line up looked to have paid off. Gunners’ keeper Zinsberger kept Arsenal in the game, with Sam Kerr also hit the bar – chances that Chelsea may have been left rueing, with the expectation that a team with the likes of Viv Miedema, Kim Little, Beth Mead and Katie McCabe in their ranks would surely be able to respond. 

Arsenal had more possession in the first half, but despite that talent rarely threatened. This is testament to the collective performance of the Chelsea team – and Hayes getting her tactics spot on – who to a woman were superb. 

Particular attention should be drawn to the performances of Jess Carter, who  is often maligned for her occasional defensive lapses, but was outstanding in this game – repaying her manager’s faith in her. Millie Bright was a behemoth , and one suspects she could have spent days heading away every cross Arsenal lofted in. Erin Cuthbert at right wingback put in a ferocious display to keep both McCabe and Miedema quiet. Arsenal were entirely neutered by the strength of the Chelsea performance, and a 1-0 deficit at half time flattered the Gunners – who easily could have been three or four goals down if Chelsea had been more clinical in front of goal. 

It was expected Arsenal would step it up in the second half, but it was instead Chelsea who found another gear – and utterly blew away the league leaders. 

A narrative heading into the game had been that of a face off between two of the best strikers in the world, in Sam Kerr and Viv Miedema. Kerr beat Miedema to the WSL Golden Boot last season, in her first full year in England, and is three ahead of her in this year’s race. She also finished third in the 2021 Ballon d’Or, which was announced last week, ahead of Miedema in fourth. Given that France Football placed Kirby at a baffling tenth, those rankings are not necessarily reliable, however. 

Nonetheless, to anyone paying attention, Kerr has outperformed Miedema over the past year and a half – and Sunday afternoon gave the Aussie to prove it, and show the wider footballing world who the best striker in England really is. Having missed a couple of good chances in the first half, Kerr, who had travelled to Australia and back in the week previously for international duty, found her clinical edge in the second half. 

Kerr’s first – to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead – came just before the hour mark, and saw her lead Lotte Wobben-Moy on a merry dance before slotting past Zinsberger. With the second goal, Arsenal looked finished – and their defence spent the entire rest of the game in a state of obvious anxiety at the rapid Chelsea passing, and direct runs at their fragile back line. 

Kirby went close to making it three with a long range effort which struck the post, before Kerr properly wrapped it up with a sensational chipped finish that is surely one of the finest cup final goals there has ever been – and the perfect goal to cap off what had been a brilliant Chelsea performance. 

With the Kerr vs Miedema question having been firmly answered, Chelsea also answered the question of who the best team in England is at the moment – and accordingly, it was the same team who have clearly established supremacy over the past several years. 

Although Kerr’s brace earned her the official Player of the Match award – and not undeservedly, it was Fran Kirby who stood head and shoulders above the other 21 players on the pitch – as so often is the case in the biggest games for Chelsea. Kirby is having yet another brilliant season, now having nine goals and eight assists in all competitions – and if anything has only improved on the form which saw her sweep the individual awards last season. Hayes called it one of Kirby’s best ever performances – she lit Wembley up with her skill, guise and vision, and by the second half was toying with Arsenal, who eventually had to turn to rough tactics to try and stop her. Kirby has this season become the first ever Chelsea FC Women player to score 100 goals for the club – and it is fair to say that she has now established herself as our greatest ever player.

Chelsea thoroughly outclassed Arsenal in every aspect – winning each individual battle on the pitch, and Hayes outmanoeuvring Eidevall tactically. In doing so, Chelsea made history by winning our first ever domestic treble – and becoming only the third English team (men or women) to do so. A day that will live long in the memories of Chelsea fans, and a privilege to witness at Wembley. 

It was the third time I had been at the home of football to see Chelsea lift the FA Cup – and for the reasons outlined, this was by far the best and my favourite of those wins. I was there for Chelsea’s first trophy win in 2015. Although that team was excellent, and went on to become double winners, what Emma Hayes has done since is simply dynastic, and the level that this team can show on occasions like this makes them a strong candidate for the best ever English club side. It was a joy to watch them play on the hallowed turf at Wembley – the speed and intricacy of the passing, the power and pace of the players, their intelligence and anticipation – it is clear to see how the advent of professionalism has improved the quality. 

With the progress on the pitch fresh in my mind, it was moving to contemplate the development of the game in the 50 years since the first FA Cup Final in 1971, as commemorated at half time. They are five words that get so often repeated when discussing women’s football these days, so much so that they’ve almost become cliched, but – we have come so far. As well as the nearly 41,000 fans at Wembley, there was a 1.3 million peak television audience on the BBC. The Southampton captain for the 1971 final, Lesley Lloyd, spoke about the players sharing tea and cake before that game, with just a few hundred fans in attendance – the contrast does not need to be highlighted further. 

A momentous day for Chelsea, but Hayes made it clear post-match she won’t be allowing the players much time to celebrate – with a mid-week game against Juventus to come in the Champions League. That game will likely decide who wins the group, and hence receives a better seeding for the quarter-finals. 

This relentless season keeps on going for Chelsea, but the Chelsea train is steaming along with it – and seems to be going from strength to strength. Arsenal still have that one point lead at the top of the WSL, but the manner of this defeat will be a psychological blow for them – and did show the inexperience in their ranks. Hayes highlighted this as a difference between the two sides – this Chelsea side know how to win the biggest games, and how to win trophies. They are hunting Arsenal down in the title race – and now Arsenal know how lethal Chelsea can be.

Chelsea have made it clear that Wembley, London and England are Blue. By painting our colours on Sunday – and all of those other trophy-winning days – we are also making our mark in history as arguably one of the best sides the women’s game has ever seen.

Final score: Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Kirby, Kerr x 2

Assists: Leupolz, Kirby

Line up (3-4-1-2) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Leupolz (Ji 86), Ingle (Nouwen 90+4), Reiten (Spence 87); Fleming, Kerr (England 86), Kirby (Harder 74)

Unused subs: Musovic, Charles, Andersson, Fox

Attendance: 40,942 (Wembley)

Chelsea 5-0 Birmingham (WSL) – “Back-flipping-brilliant”

The Kerr-by show returns – not that it ever went away. Three goals for Sam and two for Fran – one of which was assisted by the Aussie – saw Chelsea ease to a routine 5-0 win against Birmingham, on a very comfortable Sunday afternoon at Kingsmeadow. 

Jessie Fleming joined in on the fun too, being instrumental in Kerr’s first two goals. The Canadian continues her excellent autumn form, and has taken full advantage of Pernille Harder’s extended injury absence, being consistently impressive in this recent run of starts. It seems outrageous to say, but when our ‘world record transfer’ is fit again, Emma Hayes genuinely may have something of a selection headache. 

Hayes had made five changes to the team that started midweek against Servette, and went back to three centre backs – having flip-flopped between the two in recent weeks. There was still no start for Lauren James, who had excited everyone at Kingsmeadow with her brief cameo on debut on Thursday night – but she did pick up some second half minutes, as Hayes continues to ease her into the team following her injury.

Kirby had opened the scoring for Chelsea inside five minutes, with a clever lobbed finish following a Birmingham defensive error. That set the tone for what was to come, in what has been a challenging week for the Midlands side. Manager Scott Booth was relieved of his duties midweek, following a start to the season which has seen the beleaguered Brummies pick up just one point from their first WSL game – and succumb to a 4-0 thrashing in the Midlands derby, against rivals Aston Villa. 

Rather than a new manager bounce, it was more of an interim manager slide for Birmingham on Sunday.  Even at their best they probably would have struggled against the Chelsea side that came out to play in the first half, in fairness.

Kerr had completed her hat trick by the 44th minute, the third goal being a quick-thinking header following a rebound from a fearsome Drew Spence shot. The Australian celebrated in style, with her iconic yet rarely seen backflip, which the she tends to save for only the very special occasions. Kerr bringing out the backflip said it all about the manner of the Chelsea performance, the sort in which it seemed like the players were genuinely having a lot of fun playing our best free-flowing football. Chelsea’s attacking play was a stark contrast to the insipid first half performance from midweek against Servette – and was exactly the sort of response in terms of performance that Hayes would have been wanting from her side.

With a 4-0 lead at the break, Chelsea could afford to take our foot off the gas in the second half. Birmingham also improved, and as such were able to limit the previously rampant Chelsea to just one more goal – Kirby scoring again, this time from close-range.

That goal saw Kirby reach the 100 goal landmark for Chelsea – the first ever female player to reach a century for the club, and extending her lead as Chelsea Women’s all-time record goalscorer. A remarkable achievement for a remarkable player.

However, the star of the show was undeniably Kerr, who finished the game with three goals and an assist. This saw her extend her lead at the top WSL scoring charts, pulling three clear of Kirby, as well as Arsenal’s Vivienna Miedema and Kim Little – all of whom have netted six so far. Kerr has returned a remarkable nine goals and three assists in eight WSL games this season. 

Sam Kerr is on fire, and her form makes the news this week of her signing a new contract to stay at the club until 2024 even bigger. She is without doubt one of the best forwards in the world – and her partner in crime Kirby joins her in that elite group. Both players have been nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or, set to be awarded in December. The Chelsea contingent of five nominees is the biggest of any club in the world, being completed by Jessie Fleming, Magda Eriksson and Pernille Harder. The award is unlikely to go to a Chelsea player, with Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas the hot favourite – but those nominations are richly deserved, as these players keep proving with regularity. They are a joy to watch, and we are lucky to have them wear the Blue of Chelsea.

The win made it seven in a row for Chelsea in the WSL, who haven’t lost since that opening day defeat to Arsenal. A brilliant month for the Blues has seen us win all five games played in all competitions, scoring 18 goals and conceding none. Chelsea are in scintillating form right now – with the international break arguably coming at a bad time. The first game following our return will be the FA Cup Final against Arsenal on December 5th – and it is unfortunate this momentum is at risk of being arrested.

The three points and five goals kept the pressure on the aforementioned league leaders Arsenal – who are just one point clear, and one ahead in goal difference, after their 2-0 win away to Manchester United this weekend. If Chelsea keep this form up, we have every chance of reeling the Gunners in.

Final score: Chelsea 5-0 Birmingham

Goalscorers: Kirby x 2, Kerr x 3

Assists: Fleming, Kirby

Line up (3-4-1-2) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Leupolz, Spence, Reiten (Andersson 78); Fleming (James 67); Kerr, Kirby (England 78)

Unused subs: Musovic, Ingle, Ji, Mjelde, Charles, Fox

Attendance: 2,704

Chelsea 1-0 Servette (WCL) – “Lauren James – At Last!”

Another win and another three points for Chelsea in the group stage of the Women’s Champions League – but a very different game to the previous fixture against Servette, last week in Geneva.

Whereas the story of that game had been of a Swiss resistance as solid as fondue, Servette came to Kingsmeadow determined to right a wrong – and put in an incredibly resilient performance that frustrated Chelsea for most of the night.


The opening 45 minutes in Geneva featured six goals – whereas the first half in London featured plenty of Chelsea possession and territory, but little real threat outside of a succession of corners. 

The big news ahead of kick off had been the first start in eight months for Maren Mjelde, as she continues her comeback from a serious knee injury – the hugely popular Norwegian is a very welcome addition back into the fold. The return of Mjelde also saw the return of a back four for Chelsea – but after just half an hour Emma Hayes saw fit to revert to three centre backs, in a bid to exploit the space out wide that a compact Servette defence were leaving.

Chelsea amped up the pressure as the half wore on, but it was to little avail – and the 0-0 scoreline at the break was thoroughly deserved for Servette, who looked a completely different team to the one that had crumbled so easily last week. A big 45 minutes was coming up for Chelsea, who just could not let the opportunity slip to take control of the group in what was on paper our easiest fixture.

Frustratingly for Chelsea, the second half continued where the first half left off – but with Servette now adding a threat of their own. Chelsea very nearly had a penalty in a bizarre incident when the referee pointed to the spot for handball – only to realise it was Beth England who had handballed it, and not a Servette defender.

Zecira Musovic had been a complete spectator for the first hour in the Chelsea goal, but was called into action to make a crucial goal line save from the Swiss side’s very first corner in a real heart-in-mouth moment for the Blues. The young Swede may not have been involved much, but her focus and concentration should be commended here – it would have been easy to switch off in a game like this.

That first real scare gave Chelsea fresh impetus – and resulted in the deadlock finally being broken just a couple of minutes later. Chelsea’s top assister so far this season, Fran Kirby, played in our top scorer, Sam Kerr, behind the Servette defence – and the Aussie timed her run brilliantly to stay onside and finish coolly past Pereira, to finally put Chelsea into the lead.

Servette defender Amandine Soulard was then sent off for a second yellow card with around 10 minutes to play, following a nasty tackle on Niamh Charles. This made any prospect of a comeback for Servette unlikely – to the unexpected relief of all those in Kingsmeadow, who it is fair to say had not been expecting such a challenging evening.

The biggest cheer of the night from the Kingsmeadow crowd, however, came when Lauren James finally made her Chelsea debut, with five minutes left to play – and brother Reece James was amongst those applauding her onto the pitch in the stands. 

Having missed the first two and a half months of the season with injury, James looked genuinely exciting in her brief cameo,and surprisingly sharp. She was desperately unlucky not to get a debut goal when she slipped with the goal at her mercy.

A very different game to the away tie in Switzerland, but another three points nonetheless. With them, Chelsea have moved three clear at the top of Group A, with two fixtures left to play. Elsewhere, in a huge result for the Italian champions – and the outcome of the group – Juventus upset Wolfsburg to go second in the standings, and now look like favourites alongside Chelsea to progress. The Blues need just a point from the final two games to reach the knockout stage – but will need more to go through as group winners, and better performances, if we are to make any real impact in this season’s competition.

This did bring to the end a run of five away games in a row – which may explain why Chelsea looked a bit leggy. Aside from the crucial win, a full 90 minutes for Maren Mjelde and a debut for Lauren James are the major positives to take from the game. The experience of Mjelde could be vital in a season so long and congested – and based on what we saw tonight, the dynamism of James could make a difference in games like this, where Chelsea did struggle to find their spark.

Birmingham are next up for Chelsea – who have just one point from seven games so far this season, and have just sacked their manager, Scott Booth. That game could be an opportunity for more minutes for James – and a chance to see what she can bring to this Chelsea side.  

Final score: Chelsea 1-0 Servette

Goalscorers: Kerr 

Assists: Kirby

Line up (4-4-2): Musovic; Mjelde, Bright , Eriksson, Andersson (Cuthbert 68); Kirby (James 85), Ingle (Leupolz 68), Ji, Charles; Kerr (Reiten 85), England (Fleming 68) 

Unused subs: Telford, Berger, Fox, Spence, Carter 

Attendance: 1,270

Post-match thoughts: Man City 0-4 Chelsea (WSL) – “This might take some getting used to…”

Despite Man City’s troubles this season – and the absolute comfort of Chelsea’s 3-0 FA Cup semi-final at the Academy Stadium, just two weeks ago – it is still hard to feel anything other than trepidation about a trip up to Manchester. Chelsea have never won in the WSL away to Man City, and although that win on Halloween showed that this season Gareth Taylor’s side really are a shadow of their former selves, that is a lot of years of mental conditioning to be undone. 

City’s well-documented injury woes continued ahead of this one – but last weekend they had won 4-1 against Leicester, and surely their unbelievably poor form just could not continue. A loss in this game would have made it the first ever time City had lost three in a row at home. 

What’s more, with Arsenal having dropped points in Saturday’s North London Derby draw with Spurs, it was the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to make up ground in the title race. Meaning that there were plenty of both rational and non-rational reasons to think this might not be the straightforward win on paper that the form table suggested it should be. 

We need not have worried. Chelsea came away 4-0 victors – although in fairness that scoreline did not quite tell the story of the game… although it did well illustrate the gulf in quality and form between the two sides this season. 

Man City played well in the first half, having more of the ball and arguably the better chances. They lacked quality when it really mattered though, with both of Chelsea’s first half goals coming due to Man City errors in possession. A characteristic that speaks more of a mid-table side than the perennial title contenders and fierce rivals to Chelsea that they have been for the better part of the last decade. They were seventh in the league coming into this game, after all.  

The first goal came inside just two minutes. Jessie Fleming (rewarded with another start for her excellent recent form), was gifted possession by Man City’s admittedly third choice keeper Karima Benameur Taieb, and made no mistake to put Chelsea 1-0 up. City responded well, and it was very harsh for them to go into the half time break 2-0 down – but they did due to more careless passing putting Georgia Stanway under needless pressure. The always-hungry Chelsea pressing machine took full advantage of this sloppy play to counter at pace, with Sam Kerr finishing the move for her sixth goal in seven league games.

The most telling difference in quality between the two sides came at the half time break, with Emma Hayes making a tactical change which entirely took the game away from Man City – and the under pressure Gareth Taylor complicit in his failure to respond. Hayes replaced Ji So-Yun with Sophie Ingle, and switched to four at the back. 

These changes saw Chelsea take full control – and it did not take long to score a third goal to put the result beyond doubt. An excellent passage of passing play bamboozled the City defence in their own 18 yard box, before Fran Kirby rifled away a fierce finish. Just a few minutes later it was 4-0 to Chelsea, with a simple Magda Eriksson header from a corner – meaning that Chelsea had come to the Academy Stadium twice in two weeks for an aggregate score of 7-0. Man City away has been a notoriously tricky fixture for the Blues – as previously mentioned, this win was to break Chelsea’s hoodoo of never having won in the WSL at the Academy Stadium. Two away wins against Man City in two weeks is unprecedented, and really does show just how far our normally close rivals have fallen.

To their credit, Man City continued to push for a goal that their performance probably merited, but could not grab the consolation. The 4-0 final score equalled Man City’s worst ever home WSL defeat, from way back in 2014, and consigned them to those three WSL home losses in a row for the first time ever. It also meant Chelsea did move to within a single point of leaders Arsenal, in what was a brilliant weekend for the Blues.

This weekend had also been the third annual Women’s Football Weekend – the FA’s initiative to promote women’s football during the November international break for the men’s domestic game. A Man City vs Chelsea fixture would normally have been the stand-out game of the weekend – but not this year, where it instead played out as a game between an elite side, and one that competed well but ultimately could not match up to their superior opposition. 

The humblings continue for Man City – and the pressure increases on Gareth Taylor. Something surely has to change, because this team are unrecognisable from the one that has been so defining in the WSL era. The comfort of Chelsea’s two consecutive wins against them is testament to that.

Final score: Man City 0- 4 Chelsea


Goalscorers: Fleming, Kerr, Kirby, Eriksson

Assists: Reiten, Cuthbert x 2

Line up (3-4-3): Berger (Musovic 77); Carter (Mjelde 66), Bright , Eriksson; Cuthbert, Ji (Ingle 45), Leupolz, Reiten (Charles 78); Fleming, Kirby (Spence 78), Kerr (England 67)

Unused subs: Mjelde, Andersson, Fox, James

Attendance: not available

Post-match thoughts: Servette 0-7 Chelsea (WCL) – “A stroll in Switzerland.”

With a score line like that, it is impossible to resist making a joke about Swiss champions Servette’s defence having as many holes as their national cheese. 

That is somewhat unfair on the Geneva side, who do have the best defensive record in the Swiss Super League. The gulf in class between the two sides showed on Tuesday night, though, when a rampant and ruthless Chelsea tore Servette apart time and time again, in a display which featured six goals in the first half – and five in the first 30 minutes. It could have been more, but Chelsea understandably took their foot off the gas in the second half, with the win very much secured.

Chelsea had sat second in the Group A standings coming into this game after two fixtures. The dramatic and error-strewn 3-3 draw with Wolfsburg and a 2-1 win away to Juventus had left us level on points with the German former European champions, who were top on goal difference alone. 

With the back-to-back fixtures to come against Servette – who were playing only their second Champions League campaign, and had shipped eight goals in their two games thus far – Chelsea had a good opportunity to establish supremacy in the group.

Emma Hayes had issued an injury update ahead of kick off, confirming that Dutch defender Aniek Nouwen had been taken off in the Aston Villa game with a minor injury, and that Pernille Harder would be available for selection after having missed the past two games. Hayes decided she could lengthen their recovery, however, with neither player featuring in the matchday squad. 

Jess Carter, Erin Cuthbert, Melanie Leupolz, Guro Reiten, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby were restored to the starting XI, with starts also being given to Drew Spence, back up keeper Zecira Musovic, and Jessie Fleming – the latter having definitely earnt her chance with her recent performances. 

It did not take long for Chelsea to take the lead, in a dominant start that was an ominous sign of what was to come in Geneva. Millie Bright’s forward ball found Melanie Leupolz on the edge of the box, with the German cutting inside before finishing well past Portuguese keeper Pereira to put Chelsea 1-0 up inside the first 10 minutes. 

Excellent hold-up play from Sam Kerr then set up Fran Kirby for the second shortly after, which was followed by two more goals in quick succession – both from the Aussie striker – to give Chelsea a sensational 4-0 lead after just 20 minutes.

Chelsea were clearly in the mood. A fifth goal came via Fran Kirby, with Fleming having wandered through Servette’s back line with ease to square for a simple tap-in. Fleming then got a goal of her own with a superb finish from a very tight angle to make it a tennis score at half-time – Chelsea 6, Servette 0.

The Chelsea onslaught showed no sign of letting up in the second half, Guro Reiten making it seven shortly after the break. With Man City to come the following weekend in the WSL, Hayes started ringing the changes. Jorja Fox replaced Guro Reiten to make her Champions League debut, with Jonna Andersson and Niamh Charles also entering the fray. 

One of the best moments of the season so far came shortly after, when Maren Mjelde came on for Bright to make her long-awaited return from injury, after nearly eight months on the sidelines. There was a massive outpouring of good sentiment on all of the players’ social media channels after the game about the Norwegian’s return, illustrating just how adored she is, and how much she has been missed. 

The substitutions did take some of the momentum out of the game, but Chelsea were able to play out the remainder of the match with little trouble. No more goals, but seven was quite enough – and a very welcome boost to our goal difference in what could be a close race with Wolfsburg for first place in the group.

An excellent night was then made even better with the news that Wolfsburg and Juventus played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Turin – meaning that Chelsea went two points clear at the top of the group at the halfway stage, and have also established a healthy goal difference 

With Servette next set to travel to Kingsmeadow, and Wolfsburg and Juventus due to play their reverse fixture, progress through to the quarter-finals is now likely not far off for the Blues.

Tuesday just do not get much better than this. Welcome back Maren Mjelde, on a night in which the cliche “seventh heaven” could not be more perfectly applied.

Final score: Servette 0-7 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Leupolz, Kirby x 2, Kerr x 2, Fleming, Reiten 

Assists: Bright, Kerr x 2, Leupolz, Kirby x 2, Fleming assists

Line up (3-4-3): Musovic; Carter (Mjelde 66), Bright , Eriksson (Andersson 57); Cuthbert (Charles 57), Spence, Leupolz, Reiten (Fox 57); Fleming, Kirby, Kerr (England 66)

Unused subs: Telford, Berger, Ingle, Ji, James

Attendance: 12,782

Post-match thoughts: Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea (WSL) – “Job done.”

There was little to write home about with this straightforward win, in which a rotated Chelsea line-up did the job they needed to do. 

Aston Villa have made a decent start to their second-ever WSL season, sitting seventh in the table with two wins from their five games thus far. 

Emma Hayes made five changes to the starting line-up, with all of Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder rested. When Hayes had previously rotated the side this season, the stand-ins had struggled – with the games against Birmingham and Leicester requiring the introduction of the big guns from the bench in order to secure the wins. 

That Jessie Fleming opened the scoring after 22 minutes meant there was not to be a repeat of that – and that can be taken as a sign of progress. In a season with such a heavy fixture list, being able to rely on squad players in games like this will be crucial.

Chelsea had dictated play from kick off, and once 1-0 up did not look like relinquishing that lead. Ji So-Yun had created the goal with a genius through ball for Fleming to latch onto – the Villa defence had been left completely stranded by Ji’s moment of magic. 

Villa were fortunate to keep the scoreline down, with the crossbar intervening on two occasions and keeper Hannah Hampton on several others. The intensity was impressive from this relatively second-string Chelsea side, who remained in control and unthreatened the whole game, in what was a really a very professional performance.

Jessie Fleming is one of the fringe players who has looked impressive whenever given an opportunity this season, and there was more of the same in this game. The Canadian has been nominated for the Ballon d’Or following her exploits at the Olympics, and continues to make her case to Emma Hayes for more regular minutes.

Of note, Hayes continued with a back three of Magda Eriksson, Millie Bright and Aniek Nouwen. The young Dutch defender was signed in the summer, and has had a run of starts in that position, which had previously been occupied by Jess Carter. Nouwen may well be making that spot alongside Bright and Eriksson her own, as Hayes looks to address Chelsea’s defensive issues.

Next up for Chelsea would be the away fixture to Belgian side Servette in the Champions League group stage. This could be an opportunity for further rotation, but with the group still in balance, Hayes may choose to turn back to the big guns. If she does want to continue to manage the squad’s minutes, the performance on this Saturday lunchtime will give her confidence that she can ring the changes and still get the result.

Final score: Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Fleming

Assists: Ji

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Nouwen (Carter 45), Eriksson (c); Charles, Ingle, Ji, Andersson; Cuthbert (Kirby 71), Fleming (Leupolz 82), England (Kerr 71)

Unused subs: Musovic, Telford, Reiten, Spence, Fox

Attendance: Not available

Man City 0-3 Chelsea (FA Cup semi-final) – “Que sera sera…”

Games between Chelsea and Man City are generally something special. Whether they be knife-edge tension-filled title-deciders – or barnstorming basketball matches with inevitable last-minute drama. They are often the matches which decide the success of seasons for these two teams, and in recent years have been *the* fixture of English women’s football.

This match was not like that. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, although a cup semi-final, the late October slot in the calendar (due to the delay enforced by COVID-19 to the 2020/21 FA Cup) meant it didn’t really feel like a match in the latter stages of any competition – or one that was pivotal in either side’s season. 

Secondly, City’s awful start to the season has firmly entrenched them as the third wheel behind Arsenal and Chelsea in the Big 3. Three losses in their first five league games has put them out of title contention before the clocks had even gone back in the UK, and their side has been ravaged by injury. Truthfully, despite the constantly repeated caveat pre-game that City are still an excellent team with world class players, this was the most confident Chelsea could be in years heading into an away game against our Manchester rivals. On paper and form, Chelsea did look like they would outmatch City.

That expectation proved to be the case, as Chelsea eased to what ended up being a very comfortable 3-0 win, and advanced to our fourth FA Cup Final. That game is set to be played on the 5th December, and will be an all-London affair after Arsenal beat Brighton 3-0 in their semi-final. It will likely be a showpiece occasion between the two teams who have established themselves as a cut above the rest in England this season. Arsenal have already beaten Chelsea once this season, and given the pace they have set at the top of the WSL this season, will be a far tougher test than Gareth Taylor’s side proved on Sunday.

Before the international break, Chelsea had been in winning form, with back-to-back victories over Leicester in the WSL, and Juventus in the Champions League. October had been dominated by the peerless performances of Pernille Harder, and the Denmark captain had continued her fine form over the international break. Unfortunately, a minor injury ruled her out of this one, in a blow for Chelsea. 

Despite City’s weakened line up, they did start well, and there was little to separate the two sides in the opening exchanges. Chelsea had come closest with a couple of half chances for Aniek Nouwen and Fran Kirby, before Erin Cuthbert broke the deadline with a brilliant volleyed finish from a Guro Reiten corner.

Having gone 1-0 down, Man City shrunk into themselves, and Chelsea were able to take control of the tie entirely just five minutes later, when midfielder Melanie Leupolz’s lasered finish arrowed its way through the City defence and into the bottom corner.

There was to be none of the drama that so often comes with this fixture. Chelsea were able to dictate play and mainly keep their opponents at arm’s length. It was a professional and assured performance from Chelsea, and in truth City looked a shadow of the side which has caused Chelsea so much difficulty over the years. It was encouraging that Chelsea were able to win without the contributions of Pernille Harder, who has been so important for the Blues this month. The Dane’s heroics had bailed Chelsea out on several occasions this October – but we have not yet become wholly reliant on her.

Hayes was able to make substitutions late on to rest starting players, and it was two subs who combined for Chelsea’s third – a Jessie Fleming cross being well met by Bethany England’s forehead, who had impressed in her 30 minutes on the pitch. The only real threat on the Chelsea goal came in the 90th minute, with Ann-Katrin Berger being called upon to make an outstanding save from a quality Jess Park strike, which had looked destined for the top corner.

It was Man City’s biggest home defeat since 2014, and their injury-ravaged season is already looking like a write-off. Given City’s woes this season, a 3-0 away win doesn’t come with quite the same sense of triumph as it normally would against our rivals – Chelsea were too in control, too clearly a cut above. Instead, it more had the feel of quiet satisfaction and pats on the back all round for a job well done. The sense is the real challenge will come at Wembley, in early December.

Final score: Man City 0-3 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Cuthbert, Leupolz, England

Assists: Reiten, Fleming

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Nouwen, Eriksson (c); Carter, Ingle, Leupolz (Spence 73), Reiten (Fleming 73); Cuthbert; Kirby (Charles 79), Kerr (England 58)

Unused subs: Musovic, Ji, James, Andersson, Fox

Attendance:  1,343

Midweek musing #4 – “Where are they now?” – Emma Hayes’ First Chelsea XI

Emma Hayes last week celebrated her 45th birthday – and has recently also achieved two significant milestones, reaching 150 WSL games as a manager, and 100 wins as Chelsea boss. 

To celebrate Hayes’ ongoing accomplishments, this week’s midweek musing is a throwback post which will take us back to Hayes’ first ever WSL game in charge of Chelsea, on 22nd September 2012, against Bristol Academy. 

Although less than a decade ago, the coverage of the women’s game was a world away from what we are lucky to enjoy today. It took a fair bit of research to establish this was Emma’s first game in charge of the Blues, and beyond the team line ups and score, I was able to find precious little information on the match. It says a lot that it would have been easier to have found out about men’s Sunday league fixtures in 2012. 

On the bright side, the contrast to the coverage we have today – and especially with the new Sky Sports and BBC deals of this season – is yet more evidence of the rapid growth of the women’s game in this country over the past decade, and how transformative the advent of professionalism has been. 

The club Emma manages today is very different to the one who she took over from Matt Beard, on 14th August 2012 – then still being known as Chelsea Ladies. Of course that transformation is in no small part due to Hayes, who has been at the heart of driving change and increasing standards on and off the pitch. This is in many ways the club that Emma built. 

Matt Beard had resigned in July 2012, with Chelsea struggling in the then eight-team WSL, which had only been established in this iteration in the year previously. Then, the WSL still ran as a summer league, with fixtures taking place from March to October. That season the league had paused over the summer to allow an international break for the 2012 Olympic Games, which was memorably hosted in London. 

Beard went on to become Liverpool manager in 2013, and led them to back-to-back WSL titles in 2013 and 2014 – infamously pipping Chelsea on goal difference on the dramatic final day of the 2014 season. 

Hayes meanwhile, as well as having passed the aforementioned milestones, recently became the first manager to be inducted into the new WSL Hall of Fame. She is the longest serving manager in the WSL, and since her appointment in 2012 has led Chelsea to four league titles, two Continental Tyres League Cups and two FA Cups, as well as the final of the Women’s Champions League earlier this year.

That is now, but how did it all begin for Hayes at Chelsea? Given the limited information about the match itself available, I thought it would be interesting to look closely at the 11 players who she named as her first starting line up – a very different selection to the genuinely world class options she can boost of these days, but an XI with some names that will be fond and familiar to both recent and more long-term Chelsea FC Women fans. 

So – who were those 11 players named on Emma Hayes’ first team sheet, and where are they now?

Brief notes on the opposition:

Before we take a closer look at the players who Hayes named as her first Chelsea XI that day, our opponents are worth a mention. 

Today known as Bristol City, and currently playing in the Championship following their relegation last season, the-then Bristol Academy were an established mid-table WSL side. The manager in the opposition dugout is well known to all English women’s football fans – it being Mark Sampson’s final club job before becoming England Women manager, a tenure which was to end in shame and controversy that is beyond the scope of this piece. It would be remiss to not mention, however, that some of the misconduct allegations later levelled at him related to his time in charge of the Somerset club. 

Famous faces who lined up for Bristol Academy back in September 2012 included the likes of Jess Fishlock, Siobhan Chamberlain, and Natasha Harding – all instantly recognisable as stalwarts of the women’s game. Harding and Fishlock are still playing in the WSL and American NWSL respectively, whilst goalkeeper Chamberlain has gone on to have a successful punditry career with the BBC. 

The starting XI:

On to the Chelsea line up that day – and what has become of them. 

Carly Telford (GK)

A name recognisable to all Chelsea fans, and one of two players from that day who is still at the club – albeit after a period away playing for Notts County. 

As far as I can tell without official records, Telford captained the side that day and was very much Chelsea’s first choice keeper. The England international was released in 2013 – a decision which at the time had left Telford upset with Emma Hayes, and vowing to inflict revenge on her ex-boss when the two sides lined up in the 2015 FA Cup Final. Chelsea won 1-0 that day and after Notts County folded, Telford reconciled with Hayes and rejoined Chelsea in 2017, where she has remained since. The 34 year old is content to play the back up role these days, and is expected to move more formally into coaching at the end of this season. 

Having been an important part of several trophy-winning teams, Telford is highly regarded by all at the club, and her experience and reliability has been a valuable contributor of the squad’s success over the past several years. 

Gemma Bonner

The centre back currently plays for Racing Louisville FC in the NWSL, following successful spells at Liverpool and Man City. Bonner spent just one season at Chelsea, and her quality as a player is evident in the clubs she has represented since leaving the Blues, as well as her 11 England appearances. Many people think she should have earned more caps, and is widely regarded as one of the more underrated English centre backs of the past decade. 

Claire Rafferty

A player who needs no introduction to Chelsea fans. “Raff” is a bonafide Chelsea legend, who successfully traversed the two eras of pre-professionalism Chelsea Ladies, and the star-studded trophy-winning elite European team Chelsea FC Women. 

After 11 years at the club, the full back and then longest-serving Chelsea player moved on to West Ham in 2018 for her final season as a professional. Since retirement, Rafferty has worked as a pundit for BT Sport, the BBC, and Sky Sports. 

During a lengthy injury spell in her time at Chelsea, Rafferty was able to complete a degree in economics which she put to good use in a part-time finance job in the city as a player, and is now putting to use in a commercial role with Chelsea – meaning the playing legend is still very much involved with the club where she made her home. 

Dunia Susi

Susi was a versatile player who lined up for Chelsea in both defensive and attacking roles, spending a total of five years at the club in two separate spells. The England Under-21 international joined Notts County in 2014, and after the folding of the club the paper trail on Susi goes cold – and she does not still appear to be involved in the game. 

Susi does have a degree in business economics, and it may be that she is pursuing a career in that field, rather than in football. 

Danielle Bowman

Also known as Dani Buet, the midfielder had a very decent spell at Chelsea, making a total of 50 league appearances before moving on to the unfortunate Notts County – as a lot of the Chelsea prayers from this era seemed to have done. 

Buet then signed for Brighton, where she is still plying her trade in the WSL today under former England manager Hope Powell.

Laura Coombs

Laura Coombs started in midfield that day, in 2012. By 2015 her role had been reduced to more of a squad player, she remained part of the side which won Chelsea the domestic double that year – our first silverware as a club. Having seen her minutes reduced and with Chelsea beginning to recruit more and more quality players to compete with, Coombs moved on loan that year to Liverpool before making a permanent move. 

Following Liverpool’s relegation to the Championship in 2019, Coombs was snapped up by Man City, where she is again playing the role of a squad player and at the age of 30 still has plenty of years left as a top-flight player.

Sophie Ingle

Another player whose status at Chelsea does not need to be explained. This game came during the Welshwoman’s first spell at Chelsea, where she stayed for only one season before moving on to build a reputation of one of the true stalwarts of the British women’s game, at Bristol and Liverpool. 

Ingle rejoined Chelsea in 2018, and since then has added an experience and nous to the Chelsea midfield and (occasionally) defence – which has been an underrated contribution to our recent successes. Her quality is evident in her having won over 100 caps for her country Wales, who she has also captained since 2015. 

Helen Bleazard

One of the less recognisable names on the list, Blezard forged a journey-woman’s pathway through the semi-professional levels of women’s football, before spending two seasons at Chelsea. 

She left for her hometown club Yeovil in 2013, following their promotion to the WSL, and after a spell in the top flight is now playing her football in the lower leagues, at Plymouth Argyle. 

Kate Longhurst

The midfelder’s biggest claim to fame at Chelsea is scoring in the 2012 FA Cup Final, which we lost on penalties to Birmingham, just a few months before this game. 

The 32 year old has had a very respectable career in the English game – she is currently playing for West Ham in the WSL, and prior to that was a part of Liverpool’s side who won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. Longhurst had followed Matt Beard there, leaving Chelsea in 2013 to join the ex-Blues boss on Merseyside. 

Helen Ward

Another name recognisable to keen women’s football fans, Ward is the all-time top-scorer for her country Wales, and has had a long career in English club football. 

The striker signed for Chelsea from Arsenal in 2010, scoring 11 goals in three years at the club before moving on to Reading in 2013. At the age of 35 she is still playing today for London Bees in the Championship, and is a regular on the women’s football podcast circuit. 

Adriana Martin

The only non-British player to start for Chelsea that day, Spanish forward Adriana signed on a short term contract for the club, playing just six games. She is currently playing for Lazio, with the 20 goals she netted in Serie B last season pivotal to their promotion to the Italian top flight. 

Final thoughts:

There are some easy conclusions to take from this very superficial overview of Emma Hayes’ first WSL starting XI, nine years ago. Most are still playing the game, mainly in the WSL – and two of the eleven in Carly Telford and Sophie Ingle are still at Chelsea, albeit via detours elsewhere. 

What is most clear is just how different the Chelsea team is in 2021. The lineup in 2012 was reflective of our status then as a mid-table English side in the pre-professional era, made up of mainly British semi-pro players. Today, the Chelsea team has a very multinational and ‘galactico’ feel, composed of some of the biggest names in world football, who are paid superstar wages that would have been beyond the dreams of the players selected by Hayes in Bristol that day. 

Emma Hayes’ near-decade at the club has seen the transformation of Chelsea into one of the elite sides of the women’s game. That journey is evident in comparing her first XI to the team today – a progression which is also reflective of the continuing growth of the English game as a whole. 

Post-match thoughts: Juventus 1-2 Chelsea (WCL) – “Becoming a Harder habit to break.”

For the third game in a row, Pernille Harder was the hero for Chelsea. It’s becoming something of a habit. Part of the luxury of having so many world class players at the club is that when needed, there likely will be someone ready to step up to the plate. If it’s not Fran Kirby, it’s Sam Kerr, and if it’s Sam Kerr, it’s Pernille Harder – and so it proved again in Turin on Wednesday, just as it did against Wolfsburg and Leicester. 

This was an impressive win for Chelsea – who on the evidence of this game are a cut above Juventus – but nonetheless did well to demonstrate that quality across the 90 minutes. Of course, as Chelsea have developed something of a fondness for in recent weeks, we made the game more of a challenge than it needed to be by conceding just minutes after having taken a deserved lead, through a brilliant solo Erin Cuthbert goal. Like against Wolfsburg, Juventus has scarcely threatened, and yet we found ourselves pegged back after having gone ahead in the game.

Just as in those games against Wolfsburg and Leicester though, the Blues showed that cliched champion determination to keep up our level and get the result that was needed – Harder’s heroics weren’t the only consistent theme. 

Following the rotation of the team at the weekend for the Leicester game – and the lethargic performance which followed – Hayes returned to what increasingly looks like her preferred XI. Fran Kirby coming in for Beth England the only change from the team that started against Wolfsburg. This meant Jess Carter and Ann Katrin-Berger regaining their places after their howlers in the Wolfsburg game, and subsequent substitute roles against Leicester.

Despite Chelsea’s theoretical superiority on paper, an away game in Turin was still set to be no easy task. The Italian champions have won every edition of Serie A since their establishment in 2017, and brought an 11 game winning streak into the fixture – a run which included eight consecutive clean sheets at home. The relatively short Champions League history of many sides in the competition means that teams often have little experience of playing each other – this was to be the first competitive fixture between the two sides. 

There was a familiar face in the opposition dugout for Emma Hayes though – with former Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro having taken over during the summer. The Aussie has had many tactical battles against Chelsea, and knows how to beat the Blues – most notoriously with that infamous 5-0 loss at Kingsmeadow, back in 2019. 

Montemurro was able to do little about Chelsea’s dominance though, in the end. The second half was more even, but realistically there only looked like one team was going to find a winner – and as such it was no surprise and not undeserved when Harder did strike to re-establish Chelsea’s lead. It was not a goal of the sheer quality of Cuthbert’s opener, but came following good work between Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr in the Juventus 18-yard box. Our attacking trio are going from strength to strength this season – and with all three of them onsong we have to believe we can be a genuine contender in this competition. 

Hayes had a fairly standard message post game – she was pleased with the resilience shown, but also keenly aware of the areas of improvement. A statement that is hard to argue with, and a consistent message from the manager throughout this season so far.

Of note, the goal came shortly after Hayes brought Jessie Fleming onto the field, and made a tactical switch to a back four. Hayes has never been a manager afraid of making big tactical changes before or within games, but this move here shows she will not be entirely wedded to the new three at the back formation. The players ability to adjust to Hayes changes and manifest them in results on the pitch is a positive to take, also. 

Cuthbert’s goal deserves further attention too. The Scot has well and truly made that wingback role her own this season, having been thrust somewhat unexpectedly into it in the opening match of the season against Arsenal. It is a role that suits her attributes well – although she did speak to the Athletic’s Women’s Football Show podcast recently, and said it is not a position she sees herself in long term. It was Cuthber’s attacking prowess that she was able to show off here, cutting all the way in from her wide position on the right flank to dance through a Juventus defence which concedes so few goals, before finishing well past the keeper. 

The Chelsea defence – which has become so much of a concern in recent times – was not really tested. Chelsea were able to manage and see the game out through dominating possession and territory, and Juventus offered little in the way of attacking threat. That Chelsea were able to do this in the face of an intimidating nearly 17,000-strong crowd at the Allianz Arena is no mean feat. That attendancewas a record for Juventus, and for any Women’s Champions League match prior to the quarter-final stage. It is only in the past few seasons that Italian football has really started promoting and investing in their women’s teams, and numbers like that are heartening for women’s football fans everywhere. 

As expected, Wolfsburg easily swotted aside Servette with a 5-0 win in the other Group A game, to go top of the group on goal difference. Chelsea are second with four points from our first two games, and can be pleased with our start to our first ever Champions League group campaign, which sees us well positioned to qualify as one of the top two sides. 

Once again Chelsea had set themselves a greater challenge than it needed to be in a match in which we had dominated proceedings – but once again Chelsea were able to show determination and quality to get the result, thanks to the heroics of Pernille Harder. Emma Hayes would no doubt prefer if Chelsea made more of these dominant periods, and hence didn’t need to be rescued by Harder – but it is hard to be anything but delighted with the form of the Dane, who this season is truly showing why Chelsea broke the transfer fee world record to bring her to London. 

In all, an impressive win for Chelsea to take into the international break – in which many Blues will feature for their national teams in World Cup qualifying matches. Hopefully the break will not arrest the momentum of the side and the flying form of the likes of Harder, with the FA Cup semi-final to come on Halloween weekend against Man City, when the club game resumes. 

Final score: Juventus 1-2 Chelsea

Assists: Harder 

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert (Fleming 66), Ji (Ingle 75), Leupolz, Reiten; Harder; Kirby (Andersson 84), Kerr

Unused subs: Musovic, Telford, Nouwen, England, Mjelde, Charles, Spence, Fox

Attendance: 16,871

Chelsea 2-0 Leicester (WSL) – “The cavalry ride again.”

Eighty-four minutes. That was how long it took Chelsea to break down a dogged Leicester side on Sunday afternoon. Chelsea had looked at genuine threat of dropping points to newly-promoted opposition – and of failing to score in a WSL for the first time since October 2018, 56 games ago.

Pernille Harder eventually proved our saviour – just as she had against Wolfsburg midweek – continuing her superb form this season with a sharp finish following a smart Jessie Fleming cutback. 

Fran Kirby then added a second late on an injury time to give the score line a comfortable look that belied the toil of the game, and how hard Leicester had made Chelsea work for the three points. 

Emma Hayes rotated her line up, making seven changes to the side which somehow conspired to draw 3-3 with Wolfsburg – and no doubt with an eye on the away trip to Juventus to come on Wednesday. Much has been made of the strength in depth of the Chelsea squad, and you could certainly make an argument that the second string XI – which these days features the likes of 2019/20 PFA Player of the Year Bethany England, longest-serving player Drew Spence, and Ballon d’Or nominee Jessie Fleming – would be competitive in their own right in the WSL. On paper the side Emma Hayes fielded certainly has Leicester bested in each position. 

In an echo of the FA Cup quarter-final against Birmingham, however, the second string were  a bit out of tune. Despite dominating possession and spending much of the game camped in the Leicester third, an opening goal remained elusive. In fairness, Chelsea played with more intent and verve than in that insipid performance against Birmingham – and the Leicester keeper Kirstie Levell did brilliantly to keep her side on level terms. 

Just as in that game against Birmingham, Hayes was forced to turn to the bench for reinforcements. She made full use of her five substitutes to bring on all of Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr, Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-Yun over the course of the second half. The cavalry had well and truly arrived – and you have to feel for the Leicester players who had played their hearts out, and then had to contend with the introduction of such ludicrously world class reinforcements off the bench. As one would expect, it was these changes which made the difference. 

There can be cause for concern for Emma Hayes that for the second game in which she has turned to her squad players, she then had to turn back to the bench in order to get the win. With this loss, Leicester became the first team in WSL history to lose the opening five games of the season – and even a rotated Chelsea side should have had more than enough to get the job done without bringing in the big guns.

Hayes said as much after the game, describing the first half as “sluggish” to the BBC in her post-match interview (no transcript was made available). The Chelsea boss also spoke of the importance of being able to rest the regularly starting players during a season where Chelsea will be playing more  games than ever before, and competing on four fronts – and of being able to rely on these players to perform. 

From the tone of her comments, Hayes was not overly impressed with what she saw on Sunday – although she did highlight Jessie Fleming as one of the standout players alongside the obvious candidates of Harder and Kirby. The Canadian – who this week was named as one of the Ballon d’Or nominees – was at the heart of much of what Chelsea did well in the game, and judging from Hayes’ remarks post-match, her claim for more starting minutes is not likely to be ignored. 

On balance, encouragement can be taken from the manner in which Chelsea persisted with battering on the Leicester door. The determination shown by every player on the pitch – starter or substitute – demonstrates that complacency is certainly not the issue, and that Chelsea have the motivation and ability to grind out wins even when everything is not going to plan. This is often-cited as a mark of champions – and promises that this Chelsea team are game for what looks like is going to be a real fight for the title against the resurgent Arsenal. The win was also Emma Hayes’ 100th in the WSL, in a week which saw one of the true great managers of the English game inducted into the newly-established WSL Hall of Fame. 

The narrative following the Wolfsburg game had been of Chelsea’s defensive frailties. This was not the game in which the back line was to be tested further. Hayes handed a start to Aniek Nouwen in the centre of defence, and rested Ann-Katrin Berger following her two howlers midweek – with Zerica Musovic earning a rare start instead. Jonna Andersson – who had been our regular right back for much of last season,before being replaced by Jess Carter – was also re-introduced into the starting XI. It is difficult to comment on the impact of these changes on our defence, given the nature of the game – but what it does show is that Emma Hayes does have alternatives, and that might be how she looks to address what has become a key priority. 

The aforementioned Arsenal continued to steam on, swotting aside Everton 3-0 to open up a three point gap at the top of the WSL, with Spurs losing their first game of the season away at Brighton. That loss meant Chelsea also moved into second place on goal difference. With Arsenal showing no signs of slowing, all Chelsea can do at this point is keep winning matches in order to keep the pressure on the leaders. The win here was as vital as any game, but dropping any points to a newly-promoted side would be a particular calamity. 

Calamity continued to be the theme for Man City, who drew 2-2 against Manchester United in a pulsating derby. Given that City had had Georgia Stanway sent off in the first half for a horror tackle, a point here was a good result for Gareth Taylor’s injury-ravaged side – but in the context of a start to the season which sees them having accrued just four points from five games, means their title race is now surely over. 

It looked in peril for much of the 90 minutes, but ultimately Chelsea got what we needed from the game, and focus can now turn to the Juventus fixture midweek. The late-arriving cavalry of this game will be leading the charge from the off on Wednesday, in which three points will also be imperative in what is already proving to be a relentless season.

Final score: Chelsea 2-0 Leicester

Goalscorers: Harder, Kirby 

Assists: Fleming, Kerr 

Line up (3-4-3): Musovic; Bright, Nouwen, Eriksson (Cuthbert 73); Charles, Ingle (Ji 65), Spence (Harder 46), Andersson (Reiten 65); Kirby, England (Kerr 46), Fleming

Unused subs: Berger, Carter, Leupolz, Cuthbert, Harder, Fox

Attendance: 2716

Post-match thoughts: Chelsea 3-3 Wolfsburg (WCL) – “How to make a draw feel like a win, that could have been a loss, but really bloody should have been a win.”

Imagine a game in which your team created six goals, and yet it ended in a draw rather than a tennis score. That was the opening game of Chelsea’s Champions League campaign. 

It is hard to know where to begin – the very end probably sums it up well, in which an injury time equaliser from the sublime Pernille Harder earned the Blues a 3-3 draw in a game against Wolfsburg in which the need for rescue mission was entirely of our own making. 

There had been much hype and anticipation ahead of this game between two sides who have proved to be amongst the very best in Europe over the last several years. Wolfsburg’s impressive Champions League pedigree is well known, and for many years they were only real challengers to the dominant Lyon. Their power has faded somewhat, and last season saw Chelsea knock out the German giants 5-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals – our first victory in six attempts against the two-time former European champions. 

This was still to be a massive test for Emma Hayes and her side, and a fascinating early barometer of how Chelsea are shaping up against real quality opposition. The new format of the Champions League, with its 16-team group stage, presented the mouthwatering prospect of such clashes between these big teams. The network DAZN having picked up the rights, and distributing them for free online globally, meant that women’s football fans would be able to enjoy unprecedented coverage of a competition that deserves to be on show. 

A minor viral illness meant Fran Kirby was only fit enough to start on the bench, where she was joined by the very welcome sight of a first appearance in a match day squad for Maren Mjelde since her serious knee injury back in February. Chelsea could have done with the experience and nous of Mjelde in the back line, it would transpire… 

The positives from the performance came mainly in the first 10 minutes – Chelsea came flying out of the traps and dominated Wolfsburg in the opening exchanges, with Pernille Harder leading the onslaught against her former club.

With Wolfsburg pinned into their own third and a clear Chelsea strategy of targeting the left flank proving fruitful, a goal looked inevitable. Ji So-Yun, starting in midfield in place of the more defensively-minded Sophie Ingle, looped an enticing pass in behind the Wolfsburg defence, which Sam Kerr timed her run perfectly to meet with a brilliantly delicate first-time touch. Her lofted lobbed finish over the onrushing keeper put Chelsea into a thoroughly deserved 1-0 lead inside 10 minutes

Then, we didn’t so much as shoot ourselves in the foot as put a bullet in both of our kneecaps. The frailties of the Chelsea defence – which had been glaring in the 4-0 humbling handed out by Barcelona in May’s Champions League final – became apparent again. A huge communication mix up between Eriksson and Berger allowed Wolfsburg to equalise entirely against the run of play. Then, an errant pass out from her own goal allowed the Germans to take a 2-1 lead into half time – a score line that had not looked remotely on the cards, given the way the game had begun. 

Worse was to come after the break when a careless back pass from Jess Carter was pounced upon by Tabea Wassmuth, who put Wolfsburg into a 3-1 lead with her second of the game – and Chelsea were sunk further into a hole that we had ourselves dug.

A positive can be taken from Chelsea’s response – a close-range Beth England finish following a goalmouth scramble reduced the deficit to 3-2, and the Blues showed real fighting spirit to keep pressing for an equaliser and not lose our heads. It is difficult to feel too positive though, given how concerning those defensive errors were. 

Berger earned some redemption with a brilliant save from a Jill Roord shot to keep Chelsea in the game. The two errors were a massive shame for the German, who had been so integral to our run in last season’s competition – and that she was able to contribute positively will be crucial for her maintaining her confidence going forward. 

It had been a brilliantly dramatic game, truly matching the hype and excitement for the new format of the competition. The ending was befitting of the drama of the 90 minutes that preceded it. Harder had been on a mission since kick off in this contest between her current and former clubs – and her injury time equaliser was entirely deserved for her individual performance, sparking jubilant scenes at Kingsmeadow (and much relief). 

A point well earned that should have been three, but was in real danger of looking like none. Chelsea deserved something out of the game for how we had initially dominated, our attacking play, and the sheer determination of the side – and Chelsea’s 10 corners to Wolfsburg’s none says a lot about how we took the game to our opponents. 

That we needed to mount a comeback to begin with was entirely our own fault – and the succession of defensive errors will be a massive worry to Emma Hayes. The defence had been highlighted as an area of concern at the back end of last season and over the summer – and it looks as if little progress has been made. If Chelsea are to make any real impact in Europe this season – and defend the WSL title against a surging Arsenal team –  then it needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency. We will not be able to come close to the highs of last season, let alone progress as a side, with that defence as it currently is. 

Who knows what the answer is – we do know that in Emma Hayes we trust, and she is going to have to call on all of her experience and nous to fix this mess. Whether the return of Maren Mjelde will prove crucial, or whether maybe it is that the three at the back formation needs a re-think. We should be cautious about hanging our hopes on a player returning from such a serious injury though – and we hardly looked solid when it was a centre back pairing, either. Jess Carter has been playing in the middle of the three in a strategy which has raised some eyebrows – and Carter was one of the players culpable for a defensive error today, the number of which are starting to stack up. It sounds a harsh criticism for a player who did so brilliantly last year to break into the starting XI – but a lack of quality in these areas is costing us, and women’s football is at the point now where we need to apply the highest standards. 

A final take home is how brilliant it is that this game – with all of its quality and drama – was so widely available and easily accessible to viewers across the world. If that was the first time you’d watched the Women’s Champions League, you’d definitely be coming back for more – it’s a shame for Chelsea fans that part of that came courtesy of our defensive disasters, but I’ll definitely take being involved in the ties that get people talking about women’s football. Let’s just hope the conversation next time isn’t the same as the one we’ve been having since May, about that defence. It’s going to get tiresome to keep having it.

Final score: Chelsea 3-3 Wolfsburg

Goalscorers: Kerr, England, Harder

Assists: Ji, Leupolz

Line up (3-4-1-2): Berger; Bright, Carter (Ingle 87), Eriksson (C); Cuthbert, Ji (Fleming 75), Leupolz, Reiten (Charles 75); Harder; Kerr, England (Kirby 64)

Unused subs: Musovic, Telford, Nouwen, Mjelde, Spence, Andersson, Fox

Attendance: 1371

Post-match thoughts: Chelsea 3-1 Brighton (WSL) – “Routine revenge”

A relatively straightforward win for Chelsea, against a Brighton side who have made a strong start to the season. The narrative underlying this one was of Hope Powell’s “well-organised outfit” (as they are invariably known) having been the only team to defeat Chelsea in league play last season, coming back to win 2-1 after Chelsea had taken an early lead. 

As such, this was not a match to be taken lightly. Revenge was on the agenda, and we know all too well Brighton are capable of causing an upset. Brighton’s impressive early results  had seen them briefly top the league standings – and compounded the sense that this was not a match in which any complacency could be afforded. 

It was the first time Chelsea have played in the new Saturday morning kick off slot, introduced as part of the new Sky Sports and BBC television deal. Saturday morning football brings back memories for me of my youth spent travelling the country roads of Bedfordshire in my mum’s car to play junior football. It’s slightly unusual for a professional game to be taking place so early in the weekend, but thankfully Chelsea proved themselves wide awake, taking the lead after just 9 minutes through a composed Guro Reiten finish. 

Chelsea had started strongly, showing no signs of the malaise which had seemed to infect the team in the first half of the midweek FA Cup win against Birmingham. Chelsea had toiled for much of that game – which was sufficiently drab that I was not able to bring myself to blog about it. An insipid 45 minutes had forced Emma Hayes to turn to the trio of Harder, Kerr and Kirby off the bench – each of whom got on the scoresheet in an eventual 4-0 win. 

The Blues had taken the lead in that shock defeat last season, however – and so it was something of a relief when we got a second yesterday. Kirby, who had provided the assist for Reiten’s opener, sent a looping cross goalbound, and Sam Kerr showed courage to get her head to it first ahead of the onrushing Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal. It was her fifth WSL goal of the season, which sees her go above Vivienne Miedema in the scoring charts. The Dutchwoman’s widespread popularity – and Arsenal’s ferocious start to the season – earns her goal scoring prowess a lot of admiration and attention, but just as it ended last season, it is actually our Sam with more goals to her name. 

Two-nil up at the break and firmly in the ascendancy, it was looking like there would be no repeat of what happened last February. Brighton clearly wanted to have a say in this tale though – and came out strongly after the break, taking the game to Chelsea with their characteristic determination. Their summer signing Danielle Carter – brought in to add goals to a team for whom that had been a weakness – did what she is paid to do, and reduced the deficit to 2-1 with a close-range finish. 

This could have put the cat amongst the pigeons – but it did transpire to be more a seagull in a lion’s den. Chelsea did not panic, and kept on in pursuit of further goals which would put the game to bed. The third goal came from substitute Beth England, with Kirby assisting for the third time in the game, following a counter attack. Having missed a penalty when the score was at 0-0 against Birmingham midweek, it was excellent to see Beth getting on the scoresheet with her second WSL goal of the season. Even more so that it was a decisive goal in the outcome of an important league game. Beth’s opportunities are likely to be limited in a similar fashion to last season – and every Chelsea fan wants to see her make the most of them to carry on being the key contributor that she has been in the past. . 

There was some hope of Arsenal dropping points, as they been held to 0-0 at half time against Aston Villa. The Gunners stepped it up in the second half though, emerging as 4-0 winners and retaining their spot at the top of the WSL, with a 100% winning record. 

Chelsea’s win was enough to see them move up to second in the table – although that may be temporary, with Spurs due to play later this weekend. Kirby continues in excellent form with a hat trick of assists, and looks like she will be continuing to operate at the heady heights of last season. 

The goal conceded will be an irritant to Hayes – the Blues only have once clean sheet in the WSL thus far this season, and it looks like the change to a back three hasn’t yet been enough to address our unfortunate habit of leaking unnecessary goals. Fixing that remains a priority – especially with tougher opposition to come this season, and none more so than the visit of Wolfsburg on Wednesday, in the first Champions League group game of the season. 

Ultimately a professional and relatively comfortable win for Chelsea, which meant we saw no repeat of the shock defeat of last year against the same opponents – and were able to enact some revenge for that result. A team like Brighton have “bogey team” written all over them – and Chelsea were able to send the agenda from kick off that we would not be allowing that to happen. 

Final score: Chelsea 3-1 Brighton

Goalscorers: Reiten, Kerr, England 

Assists: Kirby x 3

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson; Cuthbert (Charles 77), Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten (Andersson 83); Kirby (Fleming 83), Kerr (England 77), Harder 

Unused subs: Musovic, Nouwen, Telford, Spence, Fox 

Attendance: 2480

Midweek musing #3 – Remembering the 2015 FA Cup Final, the day when everything changed

In a departure from tradition for a competition so defined by it, this week has once again seen FA Cup quarter-finals taking place in September –  thanks to the ongoing effects of COVID-19 disruption. 

Last season Chelsea lost 2-1 to Everton in the delayed 2019/20 competition, and this year we dispatched Birmingham 4-0 in the resumption of 2020/21 edition, in a somewhat laboured display. The semi-finals are set to be played on the 31st October, and the final on the 5th December. The early rounds of the 2021/22 FA Cup will already have begun by that point, which Chelsea and the rest of the WSL are set to join in early 2022.

With the oldest club competition in the world the midweek matter for Chelsea, that makes the FA Cup an apt topic for the third midweek musing of the season. The FA Cup is a competition with an easy nostalgia, and so I wanted to throw it back to just over six years ago, to the 1st August 2015 – when Chelsea FC Women won our first ever FA Cup.

That FA Cup Final, between Chelsea and Notts County, was historic for many reasons. Firstly, it was the first ever Women’s FA Cup Final to be held at Wembley. It came only two months after England’s much-vaunted run to the 2015 World Cup semi-finals, seen by many as a seminal moment for women’s football in this country. 

The FA sought to capitalise on the newfound interest in the women’s game, giving the cup final the type of backing and exposure that it had never previously been privilege to. The result was a record-breaking crowd of more than 30,000 people – an attendance record which has been broken at three FA Cup Finals since, all of which have been hosted at English football’s historic home. 

With two landmark moments for English women’s football, the summer of 2015 can be seen as a time when so much changed for the sport in this country.  

The game also had a major significance in the history of Chelsea FC Women – or Chelsea Ladies FC, as the club was then still known. It was Chelsea’s second ever FA Cup Final, following the 2012 defeat to Birmingham (which was attended by less than 9000 people, by comparison). 

It was the first final under Emma Hayes, who was just starting out on what has proven to be a  successful mission to make Chelsea one of the best women’s teams in the world. Crucial to that journey was the result on this day – the Blues won 1-0 courtesy of a scrappy Ji So-Yun goal, securing the club’s first ever silverware and kickstarting an era of success which has seen Chelsea become the club that Emma Hayes was determined to lead it to be. It was the beginning of our glory years – which are very much ongoing. 

From a personal perspective, this game also holds a great deal of meaning. I have been a Chelsea fan since watching the 2002 Men’s FA Cup Final, when Claudio Ranieri’s pre-Abramovich side lost 2-0 to Arsenal and “only Ray Parlour”. My older brother had instructed me that we supported “the team in Blue” – and the rest is history. 

As a 9 year old girl in the early 2000s, I don’t think the possibility that women also played football for Chelsea had even entered my mind. Such was the exposure and general awareness of the women’s game back in those days, it was sadly almost like they didn’t. 

I started playing football, and through joining a local girls’ team was fortunate to attend many women’s matches live in stadiums, through local FA schemes to “get girls to games”. My memory is scanty of these, but I saw England Women play at various lower league stadia across the south of England – and also am sure I saw a couple of FA Cup Finals. Those were the days when Arsenal and Charlton were the forces in English women’s football, with Chelsea a footnote. 

Like so many, the 2015 World Cup was a turning point for me. I fell for the Lionesses and their run to the semi-finals, and had my heart broken alongside and for Laura Bassett when she scored that cruel last minute own goal against Japan. 

Following the success of England at that tournament – and how much I had enjoyed supporting a group of players who evoked a pride and affection with their determination, commitment and groundedness that drastically contrasted with the serial disappointment of their equivalent men’s side – I was determined to really begin supporting the women’s game, and to put my money where my mouth was as a woman in football. 

As such, I rallied my friends together – many of whom had been made through playing football together for our university side – and arranged a group trip down to London in early August, for that first ever Wembley cup final. Bonus, my team Chelsea was playing. We were excited to be getting the chance to see the Lionesses we had followed on our TV screens earlier that summer in the flesh. I even remembered the likes of Katie Chapman from my younger days attending those England games. 

Another thread that runs through this experience was stitched by Fran Kirby. She had been the player that my friends and I had identified as our favourite from the 2015 England team. Her goal against Mexico, the “mini Messi” hype, and then our subsequent discovery of the adversity she had overcome with the tragic death of her mum had made her a very sympathetic hero for us. I had been utterly delighted that following that tournament it was my Chelsea who secured Kirby’s signature, and that she would soon be playing for my club. We were disappointed that being cup-tied meant she wouldn’t be featuring on that day – but such was our enamourment with the 21 year old (the same rough age as us) that even catching a glimpse of Fran behind the dugout was something for us to look forward to. 

The game itself wasn’t necessarily the most thrilling – but then cup finals often aren’t. As mentioned, Ji So-Yun got the winner in a narrow but deserved 1-0 win for Chelsea – Ji was a player who I delighted in telling my friends that my research had revealed was “absolutely class”. I have not stopped banging that drum since. 

Eni Aluko was player of the match – another outcome I felt delighted and vindicated by. Aluko was a player I remembered from those days touring the south of England on a mini bus with my young team mates, and I had insisted she had been underused by Mark Sampson at the World Cup – with this performance proving her quality and what she had to contribute. Of course revelations in subsequent years suggest there may have been credence to my incredulous statements about not getting what the now infamous former England manager had against Eni Aluko.

I insisted that all of my friends stay to watch us lift the trophy – and we were buzzing to see our newfound idol Fran Kirby celebrating on the pitch with her new teammates. We swear she looked at us as we cheered her name.

I came away from the game enthused and inspired – and delighted that nearly 2 million people had watched the final on the BBC, meaning that the newfound commitment that that summer of women’s football had ignited within me would no doubt have engulfed others across the nation. 

I am not sure at the time, given my relative ignorance of the game, that I truly understood the significance of this match for Chelsea. As stated, this was our first trophy, which had been so long chased, and signalled the real arrival of Chelsea as a club at the top of the women’s game. We completed our first ever double with the WSL title later that year.

In the years since Chelsea have been to two more cup finals at Wembley, winning one more – and have added a further nine trophies to a cabinet, including five league titles and two League Cups. Nobody needs reminding that we reached our first ever Champions League final this May – and we certainly don’t need reminding of this result. 

In the six years since Katie Chapman lifted that historic trophy at Wembley, Chelsea have become one of the biggest clubs in the world, women’s football has made enormous strides forward, and I consider the women who wear the Chelsea shirt equal in my heart to the men. I could not have foreseen any of this before that summer. 

A less positive note is the contrasting trajectory of the opposition to Chelsea that day, Notts County. The Magpies had been one of the historic stalwarts of the women’s game in the pre-2015 era – but less than two years after this banner fixture at Wembley had gone out of existence entirely, folding on the eve of the 2017 WSL Spring Series. Chelsea won that one-off competition, which was designed to bridge the gap between a summer and winter league. That transition had been part of the developmental and structural changes that had been undertaken as the FA sought to develop the professional game in this country. 

The landscape of women’s football in 2021 is very different to that which surrounded that cup final, six years ago. In one sense it is such recent history – in another it feels a long time ago, such has been the rate of change.

The current FA Cup Final attendance record now stands at 45,423. Women’s FA Cup Finals are now held at Wembley as standard.

During those years, traditionally successful women’s teams like Notts County, Sunderland, Doncaster Belles, Charlton and Birmingham have been displaced by the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City – with clubs like Everton and Manchester United also attempting to join the party with the kind of backing from their partner men’s sides that Notts County just could not count on. Arsenal are perennial, of course.

Of the teams that competed in the 2015 WSL, only four of the eight remain in the top flight. The opportunity that women’s football and its exponential growth represents has not escaped the notice of Premier League sides, and as such the WSL increasingly looks a facsimile of the men’s top flight. That 2015 cup final could be seen as a changing of the guard – with the new powers in the game firmly taking control in the years since. 

As for me – I’ve been to three further Wembley FA Cup finals, two League Cup finals, have attended Kingsmeadow to watch Chelsea compete in the WSL and the Champions League, and travelled to the Netherlands in 2017 to watch the Lionesses I fell for in 2015 dismantle Scotland 6-0. Fran Kirby became the player my friends and I hoped she would be – and has even overcome more adversity on the way. 

A lot has changed since 2015, and a lot of that change was driven by that summer, and that cup final – for women’s football, Chelsea FC Women, and in my own journey as a women’s football fan. 

Back in 2021, Chelsea progress onto the semi-final of the FA Cup, and will be looking to return to Wembley for the fourth time in early December. Wembley is a stadium which is no longer novel for women’s football, but familiar – and a place where these showpiece occasions of women’s football truly feel like they belong.

Post-match thoughts: Man United 1-6 Chelsea – “Pressed to pieces” (WSL)

Well, that was bloody brilliant. 

A 6-1 win away to Man United – does much more really need to be said? That was too good a performance and result not to wax lyrically about though, so here we go…

On paper, this was a potentially tricky fixture. Man United had not had an inspiring summer, with the loss of players like Christen Press and Tobin Heath, and Casey Stoney walking out on a project that was not matching her ambition. There had been fresh hope under new manager Marc Skinner, though, who had thus far led Man United to two consecutive wins against Leicester City and Villa. 

In fairness, the opposition hadn’t been up to much in those games – and hosting Chelsea at Leigh Sports Village was Man United’s first real test this season. Last season’s fourth place finishers are very much seen as part of the group challenging the Big 3 – and on the evidence of today, they still have a lot further to go.

Two former Blues started for Man United, with Maria Thorisdottir and Hannah Blundell both lining up in defence. Blundell had departed for United this summer, after having found playing time increasingly limited at Chelsea – an academy product and firm fan favourite, and a player that any Chelsea fan worth their shirt wishes only the best for. It’s great to see Hannah re-establishing herself as a regular starter for a WSL team – which she has more than enough quality to be. 

Unfortunately for Maria and Hannah, it was United’s defence that proved their undoing for the opening goal – or more specifically their new approach to playing out from the back, which Skinner is looking to implement. It was a potential weakness clearly targeted by his counterpart Emma Hayes, and Chelsea’s front three of Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder pressed relentlessly from the off, forcing a mistake – and the opening goal – after just three minutes. 

Kerr won the ball, and set Kirby up for a straightforward finish – continuing the Kerr-by connection which so defined last season’s success. The goal was also Fran Kirby’s 50th in the WSL – Fran continues to wrack up the records and milestones, and is only the third ever player to reach 50 WSL goals.

The duo combined again for the third goal, which was a carbon copy of the first… but in reverse. The Man United defence were simply unable to cope with the pressing, falling to pieces again as Kirby this time assisted Kerr. Pernille Harder provided the glorious meat in this pressed sandwich with a superb solo goal – her storming run took her past what seemed half the United team, and ended with a dinked finish past Mary Earps that possessed a finesse contrasting to the ferocity of the run which led to it. 

Man United looked simply shell-shocked, with their system having been blown to bits by the Chelsea press. In the second half, a massive stroke of luck saw them hit back through an unfortunate Millie Bright own goal – and Alessia Russo did strike the bar shortly after – but these proved minor notes in the game as the Chelsea train steamed on. It seems like that opening day loss to Arsenal has galvanised this Chelsea side, who based on the past two performances seem determined to remind everyone just which team are back-to-back WSL champions. 

Sam Kerr got her second of the afternoon almost straight after Russo had hit the bar – Kirby again the provider, although there was more than a slight suspicion of offside. With the 3 points secured, Chelsea were able to retain full control of the game without really exerting too much energy. With the FA Cup quarter-final against Birmingham to come midweek, Hayes rang the changes, introducing Andersson, England, Fleming, Fox and Spence to the fray.

It was two of the substitutes who put a deserved gloss on a sensational Chelsea performance. Drew Spence netted the fifth with a characteristic calm finish in the box following unselfish play from fellow substitute Beth England. Jessie Fleming then scored a tap in for her first ever goal for the club, following a counter attack that she had superbly led. 

Chelsea ran out 6-1 winners in what could have been a testing away fixture – but instead served as a firm reminder to Man United of the gap they still have to make up to the Big 3 – and to Man City and Arsenal that if they want to take our title, they are going to have a mighty fight on their hands. Emma Hayes certainly set her stall out post-match, calling this Chelsea team “miles better” than the side that won two trophies and reached the Champions League final last season. Keep putting in performances like the one, and it’ll be hard to disagree.

The other two members of the Big 3 faced off later that day at Meadow Park, with Arsenal thrashing alleged title contenders Man City 5-0, in another statement win for the Gunners – and another very concerning loss for Man City. The Manchester side currently have an injury list as long as Jill Scott’s legs, and are missing key players like captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, and Ellie Roebuck. However, two losses from three to start the season has already left a big points gap to make up, and they look way off the standards being set by Arsenal and Chelsea. Although it is still early days, it very much seems it’ll be those two London clubs fighting it out for the title this year.  

Final score: Man United 1-6 Chelsea

Goalscorers: Kerr x 2, Harder, Kirby, Spence, Fleming 

Assists: Kirby x 2, Kerr, England

Line up (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson; Charles (Andersson 58), Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten (Fox 78); Kirby (England 78), Kerr (Spence 84), Harder (Fleming 78)

Unused subs: Musovic, Nouwen, Ji, Telford

Attendance: Not available

Midweek musing #1 – “Trying not to catastrophise”

The first of what will become regular midweek reflections on the weekend that was, the weekend to come, and other matters of Chelsea FC Women.

Now that the dust has settled from the weekend’s game, the first of what will become regular “midweek musings” is on the topic of fatalism and the characteristic tightness of the WSL title race – which can make losses like that against Arsenal on Sunday feel season-defining.

We don’t need to talk about what happened. Anybody reading this will already know. Arsenal, mainly in the form of Vivienne Miedema and Beth Mead, brutally exposed Chelsea’s defensive frailties, which had become apparent at the backend of last season. The third Arsenal goal should never have stood, with Mead being clearly offside. Chelsea became the first defending WSL champions since Liverpool in 2014 to lose the opening match of the season. We lost 3-2, and are now 3 points off the pace set by Manchester City and Arsenal in the opening exchanges of the title race. 

Part of the intention of the midweek timing of these posts is to offset the reactivism that comes with on-the-whistle reports. It is hard not to catastrophise about a result like this though, as a fan. The loss feels season-defining because the results in games like these often are. Chelsea were undefeated against Man City and Arsenal last season, the second and third place finishers who together with the Blues have become the established ‘Big 3’ of English women’s football – winning each of the past six titles between them. The point won against Man City away was cited as the result which clinched last season’s league title, by the narrow margin of 2 points. Of course the pandemic-afflicted 2019/20 season was won by an even narrower margin of 0.1 points-per-game – a victory courtesy of another away season at the Academy Stadium. 

The relatively few number of fixtures in a 12-team league, and the dominance of the Big 3 against the rest of the competition places huge emphasis on the results between the teams. Arsenal have only lost to one team other than Man City or Chelsea since the 2017/18 season – and that was Manchester United. The reaction to these results is therefore equivalently and to an extent understandably seismic. 

To make up for those 3 points already lost, we are now reliant on our rivals being upset by the rest of the field in results which are historically unlikely – or necessitates us being flawless in the three remaining fixtures we will contest in this Big 3 mini-league. That is a huge amount of pressure, and it colours the rest of the season with a sense of “we cannot afford to drop any more points”. 

This feels dramatic and extreme, and a slightly absurd situation to be laying out after just one match-week of the season, but any WSL fan will recognise the truth of the sentiment. There is an constant stress attached to being a fan of one of the title-contending WSL teams – of obsessively following the scores of your rivals, clutching at the straws of any potential upsets, and scouring the fixture lists for any slight opportunity of dropped points – “Everton away could really be a banana slim for City…”

Not so it proved on Saturday, as Man City utterly thumped this season’s newly-announced dark horses in a 4-0 win at Goodison Park which made our loss feel even more glum. 

So given all that, I am trying, but it is really hard not to catastrophise. The fixtures do not get much easier for Chelsea this month either – just as Chelsea fans had hoped Everton would be a banana skin for Man City, so too will Arsenal and City fans hope the same when we host the Toffees at Kingsmeadow on Sunday. They were disappointing against City, but we know they have the quality to get a result – and knocked us out of last season’s (well, the season before) FA Cup. Drop points at the weekend…  well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Following the international break we then travel to face Man United away. Wake me up when September ends, at which point there genuinely could be the prospect of our title defence having already ended with it. 

Emma Hayes had a slightly more balanced take on the opening weekend disappointment, pointing out in her post-March comments that “the league isn’t won or lost now”. She is right, of course – and for all the fatalism of this post we do still have the opportunity to make us the points lost when we host Arsenal at Kingsmeadow in February – and we haven’t lost to Man City in any competition for over 2 years. There is no reason why we should not be capable of getting the results we need in those games – and having these fixtures and the entire rest of the season to play means we have plenty of time to make up the deficit, if you are taking a glass half-full approach. 

We will be playing catch up now. The pressure will be on Chelsea not to drop any more points, but it is important not to forget Arsenal and Man City will be operating under that same pressure. Given it is now three seasons since Arsenal’s last title win, and over five years for Man City, you could argue their squads are not as accustomed to managing the pressure of holding a lead in the title race – and of getting over the line to become champions. 

By comparison, we know this Chelsea squad are imbued with that winning mentality, and have shown the ability to get the results when it really matters over the past few seasons. Those are credentials we can claim to have the edge in over our rivals – and the best way for Chelsea is by getting the results week in, week out – and aiming to give Arsenal and Man City sore necks from all the time spent nervously looking over their shoulders. 

An important midweek note s the exit of Man City at the hands of Real Madrid in the final qualifying round of the Women’s Champions League, meaning that Gareth Taylor’s side will not compete in the inaugural group stage of the revamped competition. 

A pessimist would argue that this means City can now focus entirely on domestic affairs – bad news for our title hopes. An optimist would argue that failure to progress to the group stage represents a big blow to City’s ambition to establish themselves as one of the elite sides in European football (like last season’s Champions League finalists Chelsea) – and that losing a game like this shows that Man City are beatable in those season-defining league fixtures we are yet to contest. Maybe it suggests City don’t quite have the nous to get the results in those very biggest of games… 

That is harsh of course, given Man City’s current injury concerns, and that this is just one unfortunate result which we should not overreact to. But, if I’m going to catastrophise about a Chelsea defeat, it seems only fair to react as extremely to the losses of our rivals – and you can bet Man City fans will be wringing their hands about that game in much the same way many Chelsea fans have cast themselves into despair this week. The City players certainly looked pretty devastated – and the shockwave of that loss may even reverberate into their league form. We hope.

Such is the nature of competing for the WSL title, and of supporting a member of the Big 3. I am trying not to catastrophise, honestly, despite the majority of this post feeling quite contrary to those efforts. We do need to fight those pessimistic instincts, remember the words of Emma Hayes, and not lose perspective on a season that has 21 games left to contest, and 63 points left to play for. Three of those points are much needed this weekend – and hopefully our title challenge resets at Kingsmeadow on a Sunday lunchtime. We hope. You have to.

An introduction to the Kingsmeadow Chronicles

I am 27 years old, living in South Yorkshire but hailing from the South of England. I am a junior doctor, a punk and indie rock enthusiast, a keen runner and film lover… and a Chelsea fan. 

There was a time when that would mean only one thing – supporting the boys in Blue, and following the King’s Road to take trips to South-West-Six (as Suggs once sang). In 2021, I very much use this demonym to describe my support of both the men’s first team of Chelsea Football Club, and of Chelsea FC Women. We are all Blue, after all. 

Of course, such is the recent history of the women’s game in England, that in 2002 at the age of 8, it could only really be the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Frank Lampard who inspired within me a love for a sport and a club that has followed me ever since, leading me to become a supporter, an amateur player and grassroots level coach. 

The first Chelsea game I remember watching was the 2002 FA Cup Final (“it’s only Ray Parlour…) I cannot recall the first time I saw women representing my club in a competitive game – but I was there when we won our first ever FA Cup (and trophy) at Wembley in 2015.

I have been there every step of the way since, watching and supporting as Emma Hayes has built a glorious and ongoing dynasty that has taken the former Chelsea Ladies from a team reliant on the charity of John Terry, to Chelsea FC Women – a firmly established powerhouse of women’s club football, and a major force for driving change and progress on and off the pitch. 

In a story familiar to many of my generation, although I had a passing interest in women’s football (that had undoubtedly been boosted by the 2012 London Olympics and Team GB’s participation there), it was the 2015 World Cup in Canada – where our now very-own Fran Kirby set the tournament alight for England – that truly ignited my committed following.

That tournament was a major turning point for the women’s game in this country, leading to unprecedented interest and investment from the mainstream media in regards to coverage and access into the game, which made it much more possible to become a dedicated fan. This growth has only been exponential since, with the 2021/22 Women’s Super League season that has just kicked off being seen as a seminal moment, following the securing of a £7m television deal for the top flight which testifies to the progress that the sport has made, the positive direction of women’s football – and that if you promote the game, people will watch it, and people will back it. 

None of that is novel, of course, being the well-worn themes that any informed women’s football fan will enjoy espousing about. There is unlikely to be much too novel about this project – I am just another football fan, shouting into the crowd. But, as we are so often reminded, we all know how those crowds are smaller for our women’s teams than the men’s equivalent – and if my voice can add to the rapidly rising cacophony, well, then it’s good to have as many people shouting about Chelsea FC Women and the sport as we can. 

I intend to use this space to collate the regular monthly reviews of Chelsea FC Women’s seasons which I already contribute to another platform, as well as further blog posts on Chelsea and the women’s game at large. Content will likely be at least weekly, and much of these posts will be more reflective than informative – although I also intend to manually (and potentially painstakingly) tally the appearances, goals and assists of the Chelsea FC Women players throughout the course of the season. Statistics is one big area for development within the women’s game, and it can be desperately difficult to find this information. 

From SW6 to KT1, being a Chelsea fan means more these days – and what you mean when you say you follow Chelsea requires specifying in a way unimaginable back in 2002. I often take a step back and reflect on how it must feel as an 8 year old girl, to be able to go to Kingsmeadow, Stamford Bridge and Wembley, or turn on Sky Sports or the BBC, and see people who are like you wearing the shirt of the sport you love, and competing under the name Chelsea. Coincidentally, I was informed by a social media platform earlier that today is the two year anniversary of Chelsea beating Spurs 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, courtesy of a Beth England screamer. That game kicked off the 2019/20 WSL season, and was the first Chelsea FC Women home league game hosted at Stamford Bridge – in front of a record 24,000 fans.

A landmark anniversary for the club, and as good a day as any to launch a blog. We are a world away from 2002, and this world of fresh opportunity, inclusion and progress is a vastly better one to exist in as a woman in football, and a women’s football fan. Now when you say you support Chelsea, “the men’s or the women’s team?” is a question to be asked. I am proud to answer that I support both – but there will only be one chronicled here.