Less than two months after winning and lifting the FA Cup trophy, we are already being tasked with defending it. Yet more evidence that in a pandemic, time ceases to be real. In any case, Chelsea’s defense of the cup begins in the fourth round against WSL side Aston Villa.
This will be Chelsea’s third match this week, and with injuries and players away at the Asian Cup (Sam Kerr and Ji So-yun), Hayes has had to work a juggling act once again. The last time Chelsea had a run of rapid-fire games saw us held scoreless at home by Juventus, lose to Reading, and get bounced from the Champions League by allowing an avalanche of goals versus Wolfsburg, to cap off a disastrous end to 2021 — losing back-to-back games for the first time in over 30 months.
We’re doing a bit better this time around. Last Sunday provided only a 0-0 draw with Brighton, but on Wednesday we celebrated a 2-0 win over West Ham — and our first league goals since November. However, this one is also poised to continue beyond this weekend. After Aston Villa, the Blues face Manchester United midweek in a League Cup semifinal, then Manchester City in the league four days later, and a massive rematch with Arsenal five days after that.
First things first though, Villa away to begin our defense of the FA Cup trophy we just won!
Date / Time: Saturday, January 29, 2022, 13.00 GMT; 8:00am EST; 6:30pm IST
Venue: Banks’s Stadium, Walsall, UK
Forecast: Cloudy; 41°F/11°C
How to watch: 5th Stand App or ChelseaFC.com
Chelsea team news: Though Emma Hayes believes formations only apply out of possession, the personnel named against West Ham certainly set up to defend in a more traditional back-four. Jonna Andersson was in at left back and Niamh Charles slotted in at right back again. Expect something similar in this match, if only to get players more comfortable in the system.
Given the short turnaround from midweek, don’t expect many changes in terms of available personnel. Lauren James will likely once again be on the team sheet but not ready to start or play significant minutes. But Jess Carter, Bethany England and Drew Spence, who all came off the bench, could be called on to start.
Aston Villa team news: Villa have had a horrid run in the league recently, receiving 5-0 batterings from both Manchesters to end 2021 and following it up with another lopsided loss in the new year via a 3-0 scoreline to City. However, Villa got a major boost through a 93rd-minute stoppage time goal from Alisha Lehmann against bottom-of-the-table Leicester City last weekend. The three points have given them a cushion in the relegation fight, and kept Leicester from closing the gap any further after recent wins over Birmingham and Brighton.
Villa also got a boost from the loan acquisition of Jill Scott from Manchester City. Though she joined just days ago, don’t be surprised if she starts for a team who need stability in midfield.
Previously: An unexpectedly tight league match in November. Jessie Fleming scored the only goal in the 22nd minute. However, Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr and Melanie Leupolz didn’t start, and Pernille Harder was still recovering from an injury.