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Know Your Opponent: Chelsea Women

A Q&A with André Carlisle of WAGNH about Chelsea Women.

Chelsea Women v Aston Villa Women - FA Women’s Continental League Cup: Quarter-Final Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Ahead of the top of the table clash between Arsenal Women and Chelsea Women, we asked André Carlisle of We Ain’t Got No History questions on Chelsea, Sam Kerr, and their tactical approach. You can read our questions here, and follow André on Twitter @cariisie.

TSF: I’ll start with the obvious: how has Sam Kerr looked so far in her short time at Chelsea? What are your expectations for her for the rest of this season, and then next season?

WAGNH: The interesting thing is that she looks great so far as a complementary piece and not a goalscoring dynamo. She’s definitely had her chances, but she’s notched an assist and been instrumental in the buildup to other goals, but has yet to score her first. I for one am hoping that changes, oh, hmm, well Sunday would be nice.

Kerr could of course lead the line of just about any club she wanted, and just led her former team, the Chicago Red Stars, to the NWSL Championship by leading the league in scoring for the third year in a row. It’s an interesting thing to suddenly see her playing a part in an attack but she’s done it well, and her partnership with Bethany England already looks like it’s 50-matches old.

TSF: Chelsea have a very deep squad, particularly upfront. Thus far, Emma Hayes has seemed committed to a partnership between Beth England and Sam Kerr. How has that affected the tactical structure of the team?

WAGNH: I’d hoped Emma Hayes would give them a lot of time together, and so far every minute of Kerr’s Chelsea career has been spent alongside England.

In Kerr’s first match Erin Cuthbert dropped to the bench; in the second half versus Bristol City, Kerr came on as a sub for midfielder Drew Spence (Ji So-yun dropped deeper in midfield); and Guro Reiten wasn’t in the 18 for Wednesday’s Conti Cup win versus Aston Villa.

Basically, it’s been a juggling act for Emma Hayes so far, but she’s done well with it. But I have absolutely no idea how she handles it all when Fran Kirby is fit again.

TSF: On a similar note, do you expect any outgoings from Chelsea as a result of signing not only Kerr, but also Jamie-Lee Napier?

WAGNH: I sure hope no one leaves during this window. Even without Champions League football Emma Hayes has done well to keep everyone involved, and even get one two academy products (one of which, Emily Murphy, scored her first Chelsea goal this Wednesday).

The summer could be a different story for Chelsea. Right now the collection of attacking talent is simply ridiculous: Sam Kerr, Bethany England, Fran Kirby, Ji So-yun, Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert and Ramona Bachmann.

Jamie-Lee Napier only being 19-years-old definitely buys us some time to not only develop her, but see where her best fit is in the team. So far she’s already made appearances at fullback and winger, though her best route is probably to become the attacking type of fullback Emma Hayes wants. But I don’t see her becoming a nailed-on starter this season (or maybe even next) so her arrival shouldn’t cause any familiar faces to depart.

TSF: Chelsea have been nearly perfect in the league so far this season, but have drawn against Brighton and Liverpool, having also drawn against some of the lesser sides in the WSL last year. Why is it that Chelsea can be comparatively really good against the best sides in the league, but occasionally struggle with the other teams?

WAGNH: That’s the question we brought in Sam Kerr to be an answer to, lol. A bit tongue-in-cheek, nobody gets Sam Kerr to beat bottom table sides, but like you said, that’s been Chelsea’s only blemish — and unfortunately it has cost them quite substantially. It is very frustrating to not lose a single match, beat your title rivals, and still need to do even better than that to ensure Champions League and battle for the title. Of course we have a game in hand to make up, but it’s still disheartening to look at the table after all that and see that you’re third.

Tactically it’s hard to point to something other than not being clinical. In both matches Chelsea conceded first (an annoying habit they have) then couldn’t muster more than an equalizer. Brighton’s 84th minute goal didn’t give them much time to do it, but Liverpool scored in the 5th minute — Chelsea responded with 20 shots but only 4 on target.

So really there’s no great tactical reason, instead it seems like some matches end up being a lot harder than expected, the other team gains confidence, Chelsea grow frustrated, and next thing you know they’re playing against the clock more than their opponent, thus making mistakes and losing their sharpness.

TSF: How would you expect Chelsea to line up and prepare tactically against Arsenal on Sunday?

WAGNH: This is the sort of match you get Sam Kerr for, so I expect her to be on with England and Cuthbert or Reiten dropped to the bench. We know Arsenal like to possess the ball so it will be about remaining compact and not conceding an early goal. In our last meeting, Chelsea had 22 shots with only 41% possession, which suggests they were just waiting to force a turnover then counterattack. I think we’ll see the same tactic since it (eventually) worked. Arsenal giving up 20+ shots to England and a goal-starved Kerr would be a dream scenario.

TSF: Finally, predictions!

WAGNH: Ugh, I hate these. I think Arsenal was a bit shell-shocked last match, they were in control after Danielle van de Donk’s 9th-minute goal, then Chelsea got two in the second half (the winner at ’85) to steal the points.

I think Arsenal know a draw would be more of a win for them than Chelsea, and I expect that as long as they score first or equalize, they’ll try hard to keep the point. Though I am also personally scared of Miedema wanting to start a personal rivalry with Sam Kerr and going nuclear.

Ok fine, I’ve stalled long enough: 2-2