Two-thousand and twenty has been, if nothing else, awful. This affected everyone on the planet — which, mind you, is a vast and varying place — in a personal way. From you and me, to professional athletes, we were all whittled down to our vulnerabilities, and mortality. It has not been a fun year, and it is surely not over.
However, slowly and cautiously, our professional athletes have gotten back onto courts, fields and pitches. Some seasons are shortened, others became a jumble of made-up tournaments and competitions. For Chelsea, whose historic season was cut short at the end of February, after having won the League Cup and later being awarded the 2019-20 WSL title on sporting merit, it means the opportunity to win the treble on the pitch — an entire weather season later.
All we needed to do is defeat Everton at Goodison Park, in the 2019-20 FA Cup quarterfinal round. Things did not go as planned.
Chelsea lineup: Andersson, Carter, Bright, Mjelde; Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji; Kerr, Harder, Kirby
Subs: Telford, Thorisdottir, Blundell, Leupolz, England, Reiten, J. Fleming, Charles, Spence
The Blues, wearing the worst kit the club have probably ever sanctioned and released, started the match brightly. Chelsea were a pressing machine and didn’t just keep Everton in their own half, but their own penalty area. Five minutes in, Erin Cuthbert received a cutback from Pernille Harder that rolled behind Fran Kirby then Sam Kerr; but the Scot did well to dig it out of her feet and deliver a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner.
‘5 – GOAL: Cuthbert, 1-0
After that it was still all Chelsea, with Everton resigned to knocking the ball into the channels and hoping to run onto it. After about a half hour, Chelsea’s frantic energy levels dipped just a bit and Everton’s low block and good goalkeeping would soon pay off with an equalizer. Some good combination play from Everton saw Moe Wold deliver a good cross which was buried past Ann-Katrin Berger with a diving header from Lucy Graham.
’40 – GOAL: Graham, 1-1
Chelsea’s rip-roaring start was a distant memory, entering halftime shellshocked to be all even in a match we had thoroughly dominated. It was up to the Blues to bring the same level of intensity and regain the lead. Except Everton had other plans.
Emma Hayes reverted to the tactic from last season which included throwing on as many attacking players as possible while leaving Sophie Ingle as the lone midfielder with any defensive responsibility. This led to nervy moments anytime Everton were able to steal possession or be first to a 50/50 ball. Eventually, Everton took the lead by scoring a carbon copy of their first on the opposite flank.
’64 – GOAL: Gauvin, 1-2
Hayes responded immediately by replacing attacking midfielder Ji So-Yun with central midfielder Melanie Leupolz. After another scoreless ten minutes, Hayes took off defensive midfielder Sophie Ingle for winger/attacking mid Guro Reiten, and swapped Sam Kerr for Bethany England.
Still, Everton packed the box, repelled shots, and their keeper saved any shot that wasn’t hoofed away before it could reach her. In the 82nd minute Hayes replaced center-back Jess Carter with winger Niamh Charles.
Chelsea lobbed the ball into the box time after time but could never get a clean shot on target or be first to a loose ball in a shooting area. The Blues finished the match with Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder, Bethany England, Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert and Niamh Charles all on the pitch, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
FT: Chelsea 1-2 Everton
There are some tactical reasons why Chelsea lost the match; Hayes going for the instant killshot, Everton withstanding it with minimal damage via good defending, a little luck and some poor finishing from Chelsea, and the Blues’ backup gameplan being fairly non-existent, then desperate. However, I choose to blame Chelsea’s putrid third kit. Both the women's and the men's teams played in them this weekend, and both played below our levels against less talented opposition. If the mantra ‘look good, feel good, play good’ is true, then so must be the reverse. Burn the kit.
Anyway, with Chelsea now out of the 2019-20 FA Cup, all focus is on 2020-21 competitions. The Blues have a lot to do to live up to the standard our collection of well-known names projects. Beating Bristol 9-0 is fun, but we should be expected to show up in big matches and get big results. Though a double-winning season is still a fantastic achievement, right now it feels like Chelsea’s star-studded squad is underperforming a bit, and that stings more than crashing out of last season’s FA Cup in late September.
Next match: Birmingham City away, 4 October, 2:30pm BST/9:30am EDT