After almost 18 months unbeaten, Chelsea had a domestic treble snatched from their grasp after a 2-1 loss to Everton in the Vitality FA Cup quarter-final.
With the 2019/20 campaign finally resumed, Chelsea were strong contenders to win the FA Cup. After winning the Continental Cup in March, and securing the prematurely curtailed Women’s Super League on points-per-game, the Blues looked in control.
After a long break and a busy transfer window, the squad are getting to grips with the new team set-up. But after a sensational 9-0 league win against Bristol City two weeks ago, what went wrong?
Just a Bad Day for the Blues?
Returning from international break last week, the semi-final lineup was noticeably lacking skipper Magdalena Eriksson. Her clear vision from the backline and suave control of her team was sorely missed.
Instead, her fellow centre-back Millie Bright took the armband to lead the Blues against Everton.
A reliable goal from Erin Cuthbert inside the first five minutes spelled out a soaring start for Hayes’ side. Promisingly, Everton struggled to keep contact with the ball for the dominating first quarter.
However, commentator Gabby George remarked confidently on the quality of the Toffees’ defence, held strong by captain Danielle Turner.Embed from Getty Images
Sure enough, Everton’s backline became gradually more impenetrable. Midfielders Izzy Christiansen and Lucy Graham took charge in securing a goal by the end of the first half.
Despite Hayes bringing on stars Beth England, Guro Reiten, and finally making a last-ditch attempt with new signing Niamh Charles, the Blues failed to push past the Everton defence.
A second goal by substitute Valerie Gauvin only dimmed hopes as the clock ticked on.
A final chance was taken in the form of a dependable free kick by Reiten, eager to create chances after being brought on late. The ball was smoothly aimed but unfortunately failed to meet with a Blue in the box.Embed from Getty Images
This disappointing final attempt at an equaliser forced the team to reckon with their first loss since April 2019.
It was inevitable that Chelsea’s exponential success over the last eighteen months would come to a halt at some point. But what does this loss mean for the Blues and the season ahead?
Hopefully, a wakeup call.
The Higher You Climb, The Harder You Fall
Winning trophies and signing some of the world’s best players does not guarantee immunity from lethargic games against lesser-threatening teams. Especially when those teams have made their own formidable transfers over the summer.
Many are shaping up to shatter the glass ceiling between the top three teams and the rest of the Women’s Super League table.
This was teased by a tricky 1-1 draw against Manchester United in the league opener, but fans hoped this was just a rocky start for the Blues.
However, something isn’t quite connecting with Chelsea’s current squad despite the clear level of talent and experience across the players.
Kerr’s arrival was highly anticipated and the Aussie seems to be getting on well with her teammates. Yet her finishing ability has yet to show its true potential this year.Embed from Getty Images
Meanwhile top goal-scorer of last season, England, has been so far resting on the bench. With the competition of newly-recovered Fran Kirby, and recent signing Harder, Chelsea are stacked with famous goal-scorers. However, it is taking some time for Hayes to find just the right partnerships between her forwards.
A lacklustre midfield couldn’t be saved by Ji So-yun in a creative free role against Everton. Neither could her later switch-out for Melanie Leupolz, who scored a gutsy header against Bristol.
The world-class midfield is undoubtedly the pride of Chelsea’s current squad, but the price tag on the players shouldn’t equal complacency for the club or the fans.
The defence suffered from Eriksson’s absence and the decision to slot in Jess Carter and Maren Mjelde out of their more comfortable positions. This was a potential risk for a semi final performance, and one that did not pay off.
Learning from the Loss
With all the energy of a home ground advantage, Everton were able to capitalise on the disconnect between the Chelsea side and keep them chasing after the ball until the final minute. When they did make it into the box, shots lacked the usual power and height to slip past the capable hands of Sandy MacIver.
Despite a disappointing result at Goodison Park and a piece of silverware lost, the Blues are far from out of the race this season.
With Hayes’ vision for her team and Eriksson’s leadership on the pitch, there is so much potential for the team to soar to new heights and take on the highest quality teams at home and in Europe this season.Embed from Getty Images
Upcoming fixtures will put this to the test. An away game with Birmingham City will give the Blues a good chance to prove themselves before meeting Arsenal at home in defence of the Conti Cup.
One thing is for sure – this season will be a fierce competition.
Chelsea are clearly able and willing to invest in their women’s side, and this capital should not be put to waste.
With a draw, a win, and a loss apiece, it’s not been the start to the season fans expected. But there is equally a lot to be learned from these opening games.
If the team can exchange these recent mistakes for new strategies and a more cohesive formation, there’s no reason we shouldn’t keep the blue flag flying high.