Today marks Chelsea’s opening fixture of the new Women’s Super League season away at Manchester United, as well as almost 200 days since they last played a competitive match.
Unlike the Premier League and EFL Championship, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all divisions of women’s football were permanently suspended for the 2019/20 season. Subsequently, on a points per game basis, Chelsea were crowned champions of the WSL and will be looking to defend their title whilst becoming serious contenders for European silverware.
Chelsea have managed to retain pivotal members of last season’s squad, with key figures such as England centre-back Millie Bright and midfielders Guro Reiten and Ji So-yun likely to often appear in the starting eleven. However, it is the side’s renewed attacking prowess that will pose the greatest challenge to each of their opponents in the upcoming season.
Player of the 2019/20 season, Beth England will certainly remain one to watch after an impressive bout of prolific goal-scoring. She will be joined up-front by Fran Kirby, who’s return to the WSL has been eagerly anticipated after she fell ill with pericarditis in November 2019. The illness left the England forward “unable to do anything that would put stress on her body,” with retirement a genuine possibility for Kirby at one stage.
The demands I place on the squad this year will be, at times, excruciating
– Emma Hayes
Perhaps the most high-profile WSL signing is this month’s transfer of Danish forward Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg to the Blues. It has resulted in the striker becoming the most expensive female footballer in the world, after a record-breaking fee of £250,000 fee was agreed upon. Having just bowed out of a Champion’s League final with her old side, Harder, who has labelled her move to Chelsea as a “no-brainer”, is certain to bring both experience and flair that could help carry her new squad to Europe.
Manager Emma Hayes has emphasised the importance of a tight Chelsea defence against first opponents Manchester United, who she describes as “well organised, well drilled, aggressive and direct”. However, the side’s greatest challenge will be posed by fellow title-chasers Manchester City, when they first meet this season at Kingsmeadow on 11 October.
Last season’s runners-up recently suffered a 2-0 defeat, conceding the 2020 Community Shield to the Blues. Despite this, with summer signings of World Cup winners Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, and the added possibility of the return of high-profile right-back, Lucy Bronze, they remain strong contenders for silverware.
Hayes’ has vowed that “the demands I place on the squad this year will be, at times, excruciating, but I want to win more titles.” With a seriously impressive selection of players that are beaming with the same drive and ambition, there is little doubt that she will be able to achieve her goals with Chelsea.