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Know Your Opponent: Chelsea look to run it back this season

The view from the other side of London on the blockbuster WSL season opener at the Emirates for the Gunners and Blues.

Chelsea Women v Reading Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League - Chelsea Women Win WSL Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Arsenal kick off their Women’s Super League campaign on Sunday with a cracking match-up at the Emirates — current champions Chelsea make the short trip (or maybe not so short depending on traffic) across town for a London Derby. We checked in with André Carlisle (@not_carlisle) from We Ain’t Got No History for his thoughts on Chelsea’s summer window, expectations for the season, and how things might go this weekend.

Make sure to also check out our answers to André’s questions about the Gunners.

TSF: Let’s dive right in from the top - no pulling punches. Y’all added just two players to the roster that won the WSL. Will that be enough to repeat as Champions?

André Carlisle: Well this depends on the tournament. I think it’s enough to win a scrap for the WSL title, but this team, by their and their manager, Emma Hayes’, own admission, it’s all about the Champions League. Aniek Nouwen and Lauren James are fun signings and I’m interested to see them at Chelsea, but neither are fullbacks and neither improve our chances at winning the Champions League.

TSF: Talk a little about Aniek Nouwen and Lauren James, how will they fit in?

This is a great question! I think Nouwen is instant solid depth at center back, which we’ve needed. The Eriksson-Bright partnership is incredible, but keeping them fresh is important. I also have a sneak suspicion that Hayes might try a back 3. As for James, that’s the biggest tossup. She’s an incredible young player, fantastic dribbler and very strong. She can make any defender look silly. But Chelsea’s attack is bursting with talent, even Bethany England and Guro Reiten struggled to find consistent playing time. However, if she can play LWB……..

TSF: By my estimation, Chelsea needed a full back. Am I right and are you concerned they didn’t get one?

AC: Oh you are very right and it’s the most confusing part of our offseason. Not only did Maren Mjelde, our usual starting RB, tear her MCL in March, but Jonna Andersson took some steps backward last season and was eventually benched for Jess Carter or Niamh Charles, who is a winger. Barcelona totally exposed this weakness in the Champions League Final, and while not many teams can do what Barcelona does, it’s still shocking that it wasn’t addressed.

TSF: How about the Champions League? What is the expectation there? Another final? Winning the final? Can they do it?

I believe the team has that expectation overall but I just don’t see it. Unless there are some surprise January signings at fullback, I think that we’ll struggle to get to another Final. The run last year was magical, but also required a couple of pretty impressive escape jobs, from multiple saved penalties to surviving 20+ shots in one match versus Wolfsburg and a freak deflected goal against Bayern Munich. Now, if there truly is something to the 3-back rumors and they take to it well, that could make things more interesting.

TSF: Chelsea have a lot of big names - Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, Fran Kirby - who is your unsung hero, the player who doesn’t get the recognition she should?

AC: The player I have in mind hasn’t received recognition at Chelsea but that’s because she hasn’t had many opportunities. Jessie Fleming could be just what this midfield needs. She showed her level in a terrific Olympic performance to help guide Canada to a gold medal. She’s a phenomenal player with a profile no other Chelsea midfielder has.

TSF: How do you beat the Chelsea women? Where are they most vulnerable?

This is the conundrum! The easiest way is to literally be Barcelona. But beyond that, attacking the fullbacks is the next easiest way. Getting the ball behind them consistently unsettles the team and draws the midfielders wide. Then switch the play to feed far side runners who will have plenty of time and space to do something dangerous. It’s not easy, and will be much harder if Fleming is in midfield, as she reads these things very well, but it’s their most consistent weakness.

TSF: And a prediction for Sunday?

AC: It wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea were the rustier team on the day, and Arsenal have pieces that could take advantage. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a bit worried about this match, so I’m going to go for a bit of a bonkers 2-2.