Chelsea have been behind the eight ball all season after that unfortunate loss against Arsenal on opening day, but after a relentless campaign full of injuries, delays, and rescheduled games, we have now managed to not only close the gap, but finally pass our rivals at the top of the Women’s Super League.
The margins at said top are so narrow that every goal matters. With additional inspiration provided by the last-minute postponement of our midweek match, Chelsea turned up at the King Power on Sunday ready to crush the opposition to literal smithereens. With the tantalizing reward of first place now firmly in our hands, we will be loath to relinquish it.
Chelsea have recently reverted to a back-three formation, departing from the 4-4-2 shape that had revitalized the team. With Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby out, head coach Emma Hayes turned back to the successful formula of 2018-19 by pairing Sam Kerr and Bethany England up top and allowing Guro Reiten to provide service from the left wing.
The 3-5-2 formation allows Chelsea to maintain an aggressive attacking shape while keeping enough presence behind the ball as well. Jess Carter and Millie Bright cover behind the wingbacks but also have license to step up and carry the ball. Aniek Nouwen sweeps in behind them while Sophie Ingle keeps a close watch on opposition players who take up traditional No.10 positions.
In this particular game however, Chelsea had little to no defending to do. We had 75% possession of the ball and with the early goal having broken Leicester’s defense, the license to be creative and have some fun. Chelsea would take this opportunity with both
This game was fun. Leicester had no idea how to deal with England’s and Kerr’s movements. They so very easily pulled the backline deeper by moving in tandem and creating opportunities for Chelsea to play one or the other in behind. When two strikers play together, they usually try to stay close to each other to take advantage of lay-offs and combination play. However, England and Kerr were often on the opposite ends in early buildup play. Kerr and England targeted the left and right channels outside of Leicester’s backline. They were both happy to drop deep and receive to feet or run in behind. One particular example of this is the build up to the second goal.
Kerr in particular enjoyed an extremely productive afternoon on the ball. Her movement was so varied that she gave her teammates many options to reach her and her teammates obliged by finding her time and time again in positions ready to trigger an attack. She often received in the left sided halfspace looking to either lay it off or turn and run at the defense. She received 18 progressive passes (5 more than her average) and was extremely tidy with the ball with a passing accuracy of 81%, 5 shots taken and 3 chances created. She was rewarded for this performance with a brace of goals and an assist.
As impressive the England-Kerr duo were, they were overshadowed by Reiten whose goals bookended the first half. She opened the floodgates with an outstanding freekick and then put a cherry on top with a delightful chip at the end of the first half. She was aggressive, ambitious and ruthless on the ball and she picked out the strikers at ease. Her combination play with Ji So-yun and Kerr was a sight to behold.
Reiten has stepped up in the second half of this season and has scored and assisted many important goals. She played a key role in Chelsea reaching the Conti Cup final and in the FA Cup as well. While she may not be the most comfortable in a wing back position, she has nevertheless continued to give her best for the team by taking a more active role in releasing players into the final third. However, we would still be best served by asking her to play as a left winger in a 4-4-2, as has been proven time and again.
In the second half, Chelsea continued to press for more goals and played with a swagger befitting defending league champions. Some of the one-touch play was exquisitely fluid despite making 6 substitutions. The goals of both Lauren James and Jessie Fleming came after periods of quick play and sustained buildup in the Leicester final third. Fleming’s goal in particular had yet another backheel involvement from Drew Spence following on from her backheel heroics in the FA Cup quarter final.
Chelsea have five games left in the WSL with Reading coming up before the international break. After the break, Chelsea will face Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal and then have to play Tottenham twice, Birmingham City and Manchester United on the final matchday of the league season. It’s not an easy stretch of fixtures but if the squad return from the international break fully healthy and fit, we should be able to defend our title for the second consecutive season and reach the FA Cup final as well.