How do Chelsea maintain their dominance of women’s football in England? That’s the only question to ask of the side going into the start of the new season but, as they are aiming for a fifth consecutive title, it is less of a question and more an expectation of what will come to pass. The manager, Emma Hayes, is the master of building squads capable of winning when at their best or in transition and even out of kilter.
Last season was less of a cruise than the preceding ones, with Fran Kirby and Millie Bright among those on the absentee list for stretches of the campaign, but still they finished with a WSL and FA Cup double.
They have a target on their back, as always, but the goalkeeper Zecira Musovic says “that’s the privilege [that comes] with playing for such a massive club”. She adds: “When you come to the club you know what the demands are, what’s expected of you, and to win everything that’s possible is something we don’t have to talk about. It’s an unwritten thing for us.”
That will be the goal again this season, with the Champions League the elusive trophy. Hayes has added the experienced Canada defender Ashley Lawrence from Paris Saint-Germain and the exciting US forward Catarina Macario to help cover for the outgoing Pernille Harder and Magda Eriksson. Chelsea have also added young talent in Mia Fishel, the Germany midfielder Sjoeke Nüsken and the England goalkeeper Hannah Hampton.
As part of her recruitment process, Hayes focuses in on the type of person a player is, something Johanna Rytting Kaneryd describes as a “key to the success of the team. You don’t just need good players; you need good people as well. I think you can tell from the outside [that we have that].”
How Hayes navigates the team through a first season without club captain Eriksson and manages her squad rotation as they fight on four fronts once more will be interesting to watch. Can Chelsea win it all? The Champions League might be a step too far still but you can never bet against them.
Emma Hayes is a master of squad and people management and has a trophy cabinet that is the envy of most managers in the game to show for those skills. Hayes is so good in her game analysis, as shown by her TV punditry. Last season her tactics were questioned after Chelsea’s defeat to Arsenal in the Continental Cup final, but that was a rare blip in an otherwise extraordinarily impressive tactical edge across the course of the campaign.
This season should be Lauren James’s season and we are all lucky to be along for the ride. After shining at the World Cup, and learning an important lesson after her petulant stepping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie and subsequent sending-off, James is ready to make her mark for Chelsea. Having been wrapped in cotton wool as she developed and was integrated into senior football, she is now 21 and it is time for her phenomenal talent to be unleashed.
High-profile summer signing
Catarina Macario is one of an elite group to have won the Hermann Trophy – awarded to the top college player in the US – twice while starring for Stanford. The United States international, who was eligible to play for the US or Brazil, joined eight-time European champions Lyon in 2021. She suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the final match of the 2021-22 season, which also ended her World Cup ambitions but the hugely talented forward will be back and ready to shine in London.
World Cup 2023 delight/heartache
The poster-girl of the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Sam Kerr’s tournament did not go to plan. A calf injury picked up in training scuppered her campaign. The talismanic forward played 10 minutes of Australia’s 2-0 last-16 defeat of Denmark and came on in the 55th minute of her side’s remarkable penalty defeat of France. In the semi-final against England, Kerr started and scored a wondergoal to cancel out Ella Toone’s first-half strike but it was not enough, with Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo delivering heartbreak. It was, however, a glimpse of what might have been had the forward been fully fit and leading the line from the off.
Social media status
Chelsea have close to a million X (formerly Twitter) followers and it is no accident. The Blues keep the content coming and it has got increasingly diverse with behind-the-scenes footage and a playful tone. With their season opener at Stamford Bridge, the club has gone all out on social media to drive ticket sales.