Chelsea Women’s WCL Group Analysis
Where Things Stand
The 2020/21 season for the Chelsea women’s team was utter dominance except for the Champions League final game. A disappointing (understatement) showing left most of the fan base wanting more. Roman Abromovich still visited the players after the match, and in quotes coming out post-match, the players told him they would be back. That quest begins in earnest on October 6th with their first-ever Champions League group match against VfL Wolfsburg.
For the first time in the women’s champions league history, they have added more matches by introducing the group stage to the competition. Four groups of four will play over six match days from October through December. The top two teams in each group will be in contention for the quarter-final and semi-final draws with matches in March and April, respectively. These will whittle the field down to the final two to compete for the title on May 22nd in the Allianz Stadium in Turin.
A quick reminder, the games will be streamed for free on Youtube through DAZN.
The Opposition – Champions League Group A
Drawn into a group A with VfL Wolfsburg, Juventus, and Servette, Chelsea will be expecting to get through to the knockout stages and push for their first WCL title.
Historically speaking, it is not an actual Chelsea Champions League run if they do not match up with VfL Wolfsburg. In Chelsea’s previous five campaigns, they have faced them four times for eight matches. In those matches, Chelsea has lost four, won three, and drawn once. Last season’s tournament saw Chelsea finally get the proverbial monkey off their back and knock Wolfsburg out in the quarter-finals with a 5-1 aggregate victory. Wolfsburg has outscored Chelsea, but in the more recent matches, they have been closer.
Overall these matches have provided some fantastic goals and moments, but there will be genuinely one special one to round out the group. Current Chelsea striker Pernille Harder will return to VfL Wolfsburg for the first time fans since her sensational move before the 2020/21 season. While she did play against them last year, this year will be something special. Harder was a prolific player for Wolfsburg, scoring 103 goals in 114 games winning the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Twice.
Similar to Chelsea, Wolfsburg will be expecting to get through to the knockout rounds.
Chelsea has never faced Juventus before. Bringing a new opponent to the table is one of the exciting things that the Champions League brings to fan bases. Juventus has made the Champions League every season except their inaugural one. While they have the experience in the competition, they never made it past the Round of 32 in their previous three attempts.
While Juventus have a near-perfect track record in Italy, the opposition faced in Wolfsburg and Chelsea should be a road too hard to travel to get to the knockout rounds this year. They will still be expecting to challenge for the second spot in the group.
Second-year combatants in the Champions League, the Swiss champions’ first time, are another new opposition for Chelsea. Similar to Juventus, Servette has never made it past the Round of 32. In last year’s competition, they were knocked out by Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.
Located in Geneva, the Swiss side in 2017 became attached to Servette in a merger between two clubs (Servette FC and Football Féminin Chênois Genève). Promoted to the Swiss Women’s Super League in 2018, they reached the Champions League for the first time in the 2020/21 edition due to their position at the top of the table before the 2019/20 season was abandoned due to Covid.
While there is no history between these two clubs, the Swiss side should not challenge Chelsea during the group stage. Servette will be hoping to get some good experience and global recognition to grow their side for future challenges in the Champions League.
The Champions League Squad
Chelsea returns the majority of their Champion’s League Runner Up squad for the 2021/22 campaign. They lost longtime defender Hannah Blundell (still bitter) in the summer transfer window as she moved to Manchester United to see Lauren James return to Chelsea. They also added twenty-three-year-old Dutch center-back Aniek Nouwen to strengthen their defensive core.
Returning all but one player (yes, I know Beever-Jones is on loan) from the WCL Final squad will help with the continued growth and continuity of the team. It also allows for more trust in the team from the manager and further understanding of the tactics, be it old or new.
In attack, you have a healthy Beth England to help support the trident that is Sam Kerr, joint golden boot winner Fran Kirby, and Harder. Combining for 16 goals and 5 assists in last season, these four should continue to show why Chelsea was one of the most feared attacks in Europe. Adding talented young attacker Lauren James will also be an asset, once healthy. James has shown a knack for finding goals in the WSL and while never playing in this competition can add more depth to a dangerous front.
To start this season, Harder has seemed like a player possessed and fully settled. The change in tactics has let her play as almost a number ten and stay more central than last season. This has brought out the best form we have seen her in for Chelsea. As the connections between Kerr, Kirby, and Harder continue to develop and grow with added width from the wingbacks, this attack could terrorize the WCL even worse than last season.
The midfield depth Chelsea have should scare their opposition. The current 3-4-3 employed by Emma Hayes has allowed both Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert to operate on the wings and provide width, crosses, and energy while not sacrificing stability. Recent national record goal-scorer Ji So-Yun can continue her creative freedom and be defensively supported by Sophie Ingle or Melanie Leupolz.
Recent Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Fleming can also come off the bench to provide cover and championship experience in a show of depth. Niamh Charles, who was deployed as a right-back last season, will also play a more advanced role on the wing. This change will allow her to be in more natural positions, creating a more cohesive unit overall. Chelsea academy prospect Jorja Fox impressed in pre-season, adding to the list of potential options on the wing, while being a defender.
Defensively is the one place I have some questions in this squad. While they are talented across the back, I do have some concerns. Millie Bright and Magdalena Eriksson have shown that they have a good understanding between themselves but can that translate to a back three. I have concerns over Jess Carter defensively. She looked better against Everton, though she did not have much to do and was protected by Bright and Eriksson. She struggled against Barcelona and Bayern in last year’s Champions League and Arsenal in the opening game of the WSL. Her passing is a significant asset to the squad, but that alone does not make her a regular. With Maren Mjelde working her way back from an ACL injury, Chelsea has a strong reinforcement waiting.
Chelsea has not addressed Hannah Blundell’s departure. If her first two appearances of the WSL season are anything to go on, she could fit in very well as a wind back for Chelsea this season. The change from a 4-4-2 they played last season to the 3-4-3 may have to do with the squad’s lack of natural outside backs. Niamh Charles is not one by trade, which leaves only Jonna Anderssen as the only experienced outside back on the roster, as Jorja Fox has not yet seen the field for the first team outside of pre-season. Nouwen is a talent, but she is being brought into the side slowly. Once fully acclimated, she could also find her way into the center of the back three, but that is not a like-for-like replacement with Blundell.
Similar to the attack, the goalkeeping has never been in question for this Chelsea side. Since the signing of Ann Katrin-Berger, they have solidified their number one. In last year’s Champions League run, Berger was pivotal in reaching the final, making several standout appearances. She saved three penalties against Atletico Madrid, helping to ensure that Chelsea made it through to the quarter-finals.
Primary back Zecira Musovic showed well in her first half-season with Chelsea, giving the squad a solid number two if needed to be called upon. Alongside Musovic is long-serving player Carly Telford, another reliable option to have in case of emergency who has experience with the club and competition.