After making some of the most expensive WSL signings ever this year, Chelsea have certainly put their money where their mouth is. But splashing the cash on a world class roster of players doesn’t guarantee plain sailing throughout the season.
Emma Hayes has made it clearer than ever that her sights are firmly set on the Champion’s League. After a spirited 2017/18 season, Chelsea have not had the chance to make a comeback following their 2-1 defeat against Lyon in the semi-finals. But with last season’s WSL trophy safely in the Blues’ hands, they will be rejoining the ranks of Europe’s best this year.
To not only hold onto the domestic silverware, but also bring their game abroad, Hayes’ side certainly have their work cut out for them.
No surprise then, that the boss has invested in the depth of her squad, particularly the midfield. Already sturdy with the likes of Ji So-Yun, Guro Reiten and Sophie Ingle, Hayes has recruited Melanie Leupolz and Canadian youngster Jessie Fleming.
Up front, the arrival of Sam Kerr in January had already caused a stir. The signing also provided some healthy competition for the Blues’ top goal scorer Bethany England. But with the new additions and the return of Fran Kirby, the forward spots are more hotly contested than ever.
An uncertain start to the WSL season has shown that returning as English champions has not only boosted the Chelsea squad’s confidence, but also piled on the pressure to perform. Whilst the league title is still very much within their grasp, the Blues have not had it easy thus far.
Case in point: an unnerving loss to Everton which knocked them out of the FA Cup and dashed their hopes of a domestic treble.
The team is undoubtedly stacked with talent, and expensive talent at that. However, the continuing teething problems within Hayes’ squad reveals how the boss hasn’t necessarily made her job any easier.
Keeping players happy and regularly rotated is no easy feat. Especially when trying to link up new partnerships and develop less-experienced players who are struggling to make it off the bench.
Despite not having lost in the WSL yet this season, Chelsea have been missing some of the goal-scoring prowess of last term. It’s certainly not for lack of gifted strikers, so perhaps the tactical change-ups are responsible.
Winger Reiten held the record for assists last season, but she has been mysteriously absent from most lineups since the summer. Instead, Pernille Harder appears to have been given this role. Even though she’s recognised as a formidable central attacking midfielder, or second striker, with the ability to drop deep and inspire creative link-ups with the No.9.
No doubt a manager like Hayes will have a grand plan for her new signings, and is likely still feeling out the cooperative abilities of her new squad, but it does increase vulnerability in big games as players adapt to unfamiliar roles.
Kerr has enjoyed a series of starts in the striker position whilst England was recovering from appendicitis, but has been relegated to the bench for the Blues’ last two fixtures. Being able to bench a player as expensive as Kerr is a sign of Chelsea’s plethora of playable talent, but nevertheless, will players like Kerr be happy about this long-term?
Many world-class players have joined Hayes’ side in pursuit of silverware, but this could come at the price of watching some of the victories from the dugout.
Fortunately, consistency has been provided in the reliable performances of club staples like Magdalena Eriksson, Ji and Erin Cuthbert. Their knowledge of both the Chelsea set-up, Hayes’ mindset and their roles within the team have helped to maintain the solid foundations of the side, despite all of the new faces.
It’s also great to see how well the players seem to get along both in and out of training, showing that the fierce competition within the squad needn’t come at the cost of friendships and a sense of belonging.
As the Champions League rolls around again, Chelsea will certainly be fierce contenders for the European title. If they find themselves in the position they did three years ago, facing the likes of Lyon or Wolfsburg in the final rounds, what is going to make the difference this time?
With time, patience, and Hayes’ unwavering faith in her club, the calibre of the current squad could have the Blues play their way to victory.
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