Chelsea FCW were meant to begin our third consecutive title defense in a packed Stamford Bridge against West Ham, then the Queen died. As a result, The FA cancelled all football, from grassroots to professional, pulling the plug on festivities to celebrate the champions taking the pitch at Stamford Bridge for just the second time in three years.
Instead our season will start with a trip to the North to face Liverpool at the Prenton Park mud pit, pretty much the exact inverse of being home, in London and on the well-manicured pitch of Stamford Bridge.
Anyway, no time for fussing about all that, it’s time to get started on winning our trophy, again. No, again. Ah, and again.
Date / Time: Sunday, September 18, 17.00 BST; 12pm EDT; 9:30pm IST
Venue: Prenton Park, Birkenhead, England
Referee: Emily Heaslip
Forecast: 59°F/15°C; Mostly cloudy
On TV: Sky Sports (UK); elsewhere
Streaming: SKY GO Extra (UK); Paramount+ (USA); elsewhere
Liverpool team news: Forward Katie Stengel netted nine goals to help the club earn promotion, and over the summer they bolstered their attack further by bringing back winger Shanice van de Sanden.
Defensively, they signed Brighton standout Emma Koivisto, and in midfield they rely on young star-in-the-making, Missy Bo Kearns. They’ve also brought back Chelsea’s Charlotte Wardlaw on loan again after a successful stint last year that led to their reentry into the WSL.
Chelsea team news: The final international break before the season was a rough one on Chelsea’s defense. Captain Magda Eriksson was seen after the match with a heavily strapped knee and giant ice pack inside. An injury forced new signing Kadeisha Buchanan to withdraw from Canada’s latest round of friendlies. The delay may have helped both be more prepared from the start.
If social media photos are to be believed, Eriksson and Buchanan are back training, though the latter is now sporting some athletic tape around her knee.
Fran Kirby was also kept out of most friendlies as a precaution and to give her time to recover from the Euros, so we’ll have to see if Emma Hayes believes she’s fit enough to start or if she’ll need more time.
3 things to watch
Liverpool’s season was supposed to begin against Reading, a team without the access to the resources they have (whether they’re given or not is a different conversation) and are exactly the type of team they need to get results from if they are to stay in the WSL this time. But now, here come Chelsea. The Reds could sense that the task of putting on a show for their supporters in their welcome back just got significantly harder. Or they could view it as a release of the pressure to get a result.
Chelsea, on the other hand, can only treat the game one way. Even a 2-0 win would be encouraging to a slew of other teams vying to be the ones to snatch the title from the Blues this year.
Emma’s next trick
Part of the reason Emma Hayes has had such a successful, enduring run at Chelsea has been her ability to give herself and the team new tasks to master. A couple years ago it was a hellacious pressing system, last season she introduced a three-back formation. This season there have been rumblings that Hayes could be switching to a possession-based system.
Buchanan instantly bolsters central defense into a unit that might be the best in Europe. Hayes could use this solidity as a base to press higher, or lean on the vision and passing range of Buchanan, Bright and Eriksson to involve them in slow buildup play.
Had PSG let Grace Geyoro join Chelsea as she wanted to, Hayes would have a near unlimited amount of variations to develop and utilize. Since Geyoro remains in France (for now), Hayes’ midfield options are rather limited until Melanie Leupolz returns from pregnancy. Still, Hayes’ tendency is to avoid external predictability and internal stagnation, so it’ll be fun to learn how she plans on accomplishing that task in 2022-23.
Of all the players Chelsea brought in this summer, Čanković is the most intriguing. Her technique and creativity seem to make her a solid replacement for Ji, who left this summer to return to South Korea. Čanković is somehow a 27-year-old playmaking midfielder who has been excelling in the Damallsvenskan for a few years now, but is taking a massive step up in her career.
One of the reasons Hayes pushed Ji deeper in midfield the past two seasons was to address the team’s struggles with organized low blocks. Playmaking had to start from a bit deeper and gaps needed to be seen and attacked quickly. Čanković’s skill set is tailor made for both. There’s also a distinct flair in the way Čanković operates, never shying away from a flick, backheel or nutmeg.
WSL defenses are, on average, a bit quicker and more physical than the ones Čanković is familiar with in the Damallsvenskan. Given Chelsea’s attacking talent, a midfield playmaker find endless joy in spraying the ball about the pitch into dangerous areas. There’s no guarantee that Čanković is that player, but there also isn’t a whole lot to suggest that she can’t be. Only way to know is to find out together. Let’s!