Over the years, 2020 hasn’t been bad for Chelsea women.
They have lost just once in 12 months, completed a WSL and Continental Cup brace and broke the world record for women’s transfers to land Pernille Harder.
2021 has some big shoes to fill, and he may only be 21 days old, but it already looks great for Chelsea.
The Blues started the year with a 5-0 blow to Reading – the four-goal hero Fran Kirby – and picked up the pace with a 2-1 win over Manchester United. Chelsea ended the Red Devils’ unbeaten league record and edged them to the top of the WSL in the process. Kirby was the winner of the match again.
Captain Magdalena Eriksson, UEFA Player of the Year Pernille Harder, PFA Player of the Year Beth England and one of the WSL’s most technically gifted players Ji So-yun have all been left out of the starting lineup for their victory over Reading. It is a scandalous bench.
Kirby – in the form of her life this quarter – fell on the bench for Chelsea’s Continental Cup quarter-final match with Manchester City on Wednesday night. It was not a problem.
The England international remained an unused replacement for the entire 90 minutes, as three other players were called up to the bench to make a revealing impact – players who have played a smaller role so far this season – as Chelsea varied the depth of his scandalous team. .
Niamh Charles signed from relegated Liverpool this summer and at 21 he’s still seen as one for the future, a nod to the long-term vision Emma Hayes has for the Blues.
The Liverpool academy product was a rare bright spark in the Reds’ 2019/20 relegation campaign, his fearlessness, poise and ability to overtake a player like Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly. England won’t be short of quality options for years to come thanks to the trio.
Given his age and the wealth of wide options available to Hayes, Charles has understandably been used more sparingly by the Blues this season – although his athleticism and first contact impressed on a rare WSL start against Reading. at the beginning of the year.
However, as Chelsea trailed 2-1 against City, Charles appeared in the 90th minute with a moment of pure magic. The winger picked up the bent Guro Reiten substitute, swiveled and sent a superb volley, arching Karen Bardsley’s outstretched glove and into the top corner. Absolutely classy.
In extra time, it was two of Chelsea’s star performers from last season’s title-winning campaign who played a bit more this quarter who were the game winners.
Reiten and Sophie Ingle – both regular starters last season – have had their minutes tighter this campaign, Reiten due to the sheer volume of attacking talent at Chelsea and Ingle due to the arrival of German midfielder Melanie Leupolz ( which was typically excellent against City).
Like Charles, the couple were introduced from the bench in the second half at Academy Stadium. Reiten gave Chelsea the lead in the 94th minute with a stretched finish before Ingle tried to compete with Charles for the game’s goal, joining Reiten’s perfectly weighted layoff and sending a spectacular effort into the top corner .
It’s a testament to the judicious management of Hayes’ players that she was able to keep Charles, Reiten and Ingle – players who would start every week in the majority of WSL teams – happy despite giving them more sporadic playing time, this which allows him to effortlessly invite them to achieve a winning performance.