Chelsea’s impressive 6-0 League Cup Final win on Sunday was marred by the echoing wails of pain from Maren Mjelde with ten minutes remaining.
The Blues had carved Bristol City apart repeatedly, at will and with ease, and were counting the seconds until the trophy-lift and all the celebrations. Then Mjedle received a ball, attempted to turn away from pressure, was nudged from behind, and went down in agony. It was a gutting moment. Physios rushed in as the expectant joy of winning the trophy drained away from her teammates, who were now more concerned with the well-being of one of the team’s most important players on and, especially, off the pitch.
Mjelde was eventually stretchered off, with an oxygen line hooked up, and the teams got back to the business at hand. Fran Kirby held Mjelde’s shirt up throughout all of the celebrations, and many others posted photos of the trophy at Mjelde’s locker back at Kingsmeadow.
On Monday came a slight bit of better news. Mjelde herself took to social media to update everyone on her status. The good news is that the injury isn’t as bad as initially feared. “Just” an MCL, instead of the dreaded ACL. The bad news is that she will still miss the rest of the season.
On the personal side of things, that is terrific news given everyone’s worst fears. If Mjelde’s recovery goes according to schedule, she’ll be able to re-join the team over the summer and being next season as normal.
On the football side of things, especially as it relates to this season, the news is worse. Mjelde had been an undroppable part of Chelsea’s back line. She’d made the right back position her own, and grown in her ability to not only defend, but link play with the midfielders or the right-sided forward (usually Fran Kirby), and pick the right times to go forward. She also served as a backup centre back, trusted to deputize for team captain Magdalena Eriksson next to Millie Bright.
Chelsea’s primary weakness has been defensive depth. Mjelde and Jonna Andersson may not top many best-fullback lists, they are utterly reliable players who understand Chelsea’s system and are a part of an extremely solid defensive unit — the Blues sport the best defensive record in the WSL, with only eight goals conceded.
With Mjelde out and Chelsea headed for the stretch-run in the league (tough matches against Everton and Manchester City among those remaining), the start of our FA Cup campaign, and of course the Champions League, we now have a mighty hole to fill in our quest for all the trophies.
Emma Hayes might turn to Hannah Blundell, who has filled in for Mjelde in the past, or young Niamh Charles, who played right back while Mjelde was playing in the center against Atlético Madrid.
Great teams are almost always asked to overcome some measure of adversity, beyond just the opposition themselves. Finding a way to replace Mjelde will surely be one of Chelsea’s toughest tests this season.