WSL1 Season Review: Chelsea

Double delight for the Blues

WSL1 Season Review: Chelsea
Chelsea celebrate their FA Cup win | Photo:Jordan Mansfield/ Getty Images

After the disappointment of the 2016 season, Chelsea have come back better than before. They marked their intent when winning the 2017 Spring Series but it was yet to be seen if they could continue that success into the new winter season. Here’s how it progressed.

Transfers

Firstly we have to talk about the transfers that Chelsea have made. The Blues have really strengthened and have got some depth to their squad. They renewed Carly Telford’s contract. She was without a club after the sad demise of Notts County and joined back in May 2017. She was of course part of the strong GK union at Chelsea which consisted of Hedvig Lindahl, Becky Spencer and Fran Kitching.

Kitching went out on loan to Watford to gain some first team experience with opportunities of that looking limited at Chelsea for the time being. Drew Spence and Claire Rafferty extended their contracts. There were a couple of players brought in but that meant letting others go. Ana Borges left to go to Sporting Lisbon and Jodie Brett to Everton. Beth England left on a loan deal to Liverpool much like former Blues player Laura Coombs. The arrivals, who have been key this season, were Magdalena Eriksson and Maria Thorisdottir.

Goalfests and Germans

Chelsea started off the season as they meant to go on when they gave Bristol City a taste of what things could be like in a full WSL1 season with a 6-0 win at Kingsmeadow, the new stadium. It had been a bit strange to say goodbye to Staines after getting so used to it but things settled pretty quickly on the pitch at Kingsmeadow. It took 13 minutes of the game before the first goal was score by, who else? Drew Spence. Of course, Fran Kirby, or Super Fran as she’s affectionately known by the fans, got onto the scoresheet. She had an amazing return of goals (6 in 5 games) in the Spring Series and claimed the Golden Boot. Having come back from an injury then, she wasted no time here now that she was healthy, fitter and stronger. Maren Mjelde grabbed the first brace of the season with Ericsson and Gilly Flaherty finishing up the scoring.

A different opponent followed the next game but the same scoreline occured. It took a bit longer for the Lady Black Cats to concede but Kirby popped up yet again with a goal. Gemma Davison opened her account in the second half. In fact, the rest of the scorers on the day hadn’t yet scored this season so it was good for them to get a goal early on in the season. Ji got her first with Erin Cuthbert and Eni Aluko all doing so too within a nine minute window.

October marked the start of the Champions League knockout stages and much tougher opposition than normal. It wouldn’t be Chelsea and the Champions League if they weren’t drawn against a German team at some point. However, it wasn’t Wolfsburg this time. It was Bayern Munich. The Blues kicked the UWCL campaign off as they meant to go on with a close 1-0 with Drew Spence giving them hope of progression. It was to be another 1-0 win for the Blues against Liverpool in the league with Maren Mjelde securing the points. The Blues then went to Munich to go and seal progression.

It couldn’t have gone any better then an hour in. Ramona Bachmann sent in a great pass for Kirby to run onto after she’d run from her own half. Fran sprinted on with it and sent it over the Bayern Munich goalkeeper into the top corner to give Chelsea the lead and an all important away goal. It was later proved crucial to progression as the Blues later conceded two goals but they had done enough.

Chelsea were clearly buoyed by this success when they won their next four games in WSL1, Conti Cup and the UWCL.  Yeovil faced the wrath first with Crystal Dunn, Eni Aluko and Karen Carney all getting a brace of goals in a 6-0 win. Brighton were up next in the cup and there was a hat trick of scorers this time with Kirby, Dunn and Ji scoring. They then survived a late scare in the Conti Cup on a chilly Bristol night. New rules had been brought in which saw games go straight to penalties should they end in a draw. Aluko scored in the second half but Millie Turner scored a few minutes from time to salvage something from the game. It was a well deserved goal as well with Bristol clearly not wanting a repeat of the previous fixture. It was heartbreak for the Vixens with Karen Carney securing all three points late on.

Rosengard were the next European side to face Chelsea. Rosengard are highly regarded in Europe but just haven’t seemed quite the same as previous times. The Blues won quite impressively at home with Kirby, Bachmann and Flaherty pretty much ensuring yet another round in the UWCL.

Stopped in their tracks

It all seemed to be going fairly well with a great win streak in all competitions forming. More crucially, this was great form for them to be in in the league with Manchester City being their main title rivals. However, Reading were in their way. This team before has looked fairly good and a team on the up. They came into their own here really causing Chelsea trouble.

They left them shellshocked when Remi Allen put the Royals ahead. This woke the Blues up and later on Carney and Aluko put the Blues ahead. It was late heartbreak however, when Eriksson was judged to have scored an own goal. Two points dropped for the Blues but a point gained by the Royals.

They soon got back to winning ways with a 1-0 win against Rosengard. They then went on a December goal gifting spree to their fans and the oppositions goal with plenty to be merry about this month. Yeovil Town faced the Blues yet again and yet again, there were plenty of goals against them in a 8-0 win with 4 of those in added time. Tottenham were the final Conti Cup group opposition and another goal filled 4-1 win happened with Kirby getting two goals.

She then improved with a hat-trick against Liverpool. This was the first Conti Cup knockout game this season and finally a win in that stage of the Conti Cup for the Blues. The winter break then happened with players able to go, rest and enjoy the festive period with their friends and family.

Clearly both Arsenal and Chelsea were still in a generous mood putting on a goalfest for all to see in January. Mjelde scored first but Vivianne Miedema drew the Gunners level. There was another exchange of goals with Ji and Dominique Janssen trading the goals. The win for Chelsea unfortunately came down to a mistake by Sari van Veenendaal. She was judged to have dragged the ball over the line.

Chelsea were competing on four fronts this season with the FA Cup still to come but one cup, the Conti Cup, proved elusive with Chelsea getting knocked out by eventual runners up Manchester City. The goal from Nadia Nadim sealed the deal. Back to the WSL and the Blues just edged Everton who were a tricky team for all this season. It was going to be deja vu in February with the first of two league fixtures between Chelsea and Manchester City. They drew a blank at Kingsmeadow but it could have been a Chelsea win.

They definitely found the net a lot more next game with a 10-0 thrashing of London Bees at the Hive. After the sting of the previous result, they knew they couldn’t underestimate their opposition. Erin Cuthbert starred with a hat trick of goals with the first goal being a lob. Kirby added a couple more with the Bees having conceded an unlucky 13 goals from her having faced her when she was at Reading.

They continued February on with three more wins against Birmingham City, Doncaster and Yeovil Town. Both Birmingham and Yeovil conceded  two goals each in these matches in the league. Doncaster were the opposition in the next round of the FA Cup and Chelsea seem to love coming up against them in this competition. A 6-0 win ensured more progress. Another game and it was City yet again. Chelsea went into a 2-0 lead with Millie Bright scoring a rocket of a goal. Georgia Stanway had the same idea and scored a goal which would later become the best goal that season. That goal secured the draw.

Business end of the season

March. 3 points ahead with several games to go in the league and they couldn’t afford to slip up. Liverpool were the opposition in the FA Cup quarter final and Chelsea won 3-0. They then rejoined the Champions League after a few months away. Montpellier were added to the list of teams that Chelsea had beaten in the Champions League with a 2-0 and 3-1 win respectively.  That win for Chelsea made history for them as the furthest they’d gone and the first time two English teams had made it to that stage in this current iteration. Reading proved tough opposition in the league again and went into a 2-0 lead with Brooke Chaplen and Fara Williams on the scoresheet. Jonna Andersson and Fran Kirby secured a point. 

April arrived and the Blues could have made themselves look like fools against Arsenal. Kirby opened the scoring but Beth Mead equalised in the first half. The game had plenty of action but no one else could make the difference. The FA Cup Semi Finals came next and it was yet another familiar face. Chelsea have a great record against City in the FA Cup with the previous fixture being won in the 120th minute by the Blues. Fran Kirby made the difference that day and she did so this time with two goals. Back to league action and it was another tough game against Everton with only one goal for Eriksson in it.

There was a break from the league as Wolfsburg were up next for Chelsea. Despite all the belief and all the effort put it, Wolfsburg were simply too good yet again. Their Champions League pedigree showed and the 5-1 aggregate showed that. Yet another cup gone but positives to be taken and history made.

Revenge is best served hot

It was the final month of the season and finally time for Chelsea to grab some silverware. The only problem? They faced Arsenal. 2016 saw the Gunners lift the FA Cup with Danielle Carter scoring a great goal that day. 2018 saw a rematch on a hot day in London.

Chelsea weren't going to let that happen again and showed just why they deserved to be called one of the best teams in the WSL not just this season but possibly in the WSL era. The pairing of Ramona Bachmann and Fran Kirby has been a scary prospect for the opposition this season but it’s paid off so well for Chelsea. It really showed here. Bachmann opened the scoring and doubled the lead. Fran had assisted one of the goals. Vivianne Miedema looked to have got the Gunners back in it after some skilful buildup  by Beth Mead. However, Fran Kirby crushed those hopes with a great goal. 

Even before the Blues had kicked a ball back in the league, their main title rivals had lost to Liverpool. That opened up room for Chelsea to push on and reclaim the title. They had to make sure that they got all the results and points they needed. They started off well with a 2-1 win against Birmingham who are always a tough side to play against. They then followed that up with a 2-1 win against Sunderland. The same day, Manchester City dropped yet again, this time losing to Arsenal. This meant that Chelsea could win WSL1 in their next game. Win they did as they beat Bristol 2-0. All that hard work and graft put in and two trophies to show for it.

However, with one game left, could they go unbeaten? That looked to be in jeopardy when Liverpool went up 2-0 in just nine minutes. Jess Clarke put the Reds ahead just a minute in and Niamh Charles doubled their lead. It wasn’t til late on before the Blues started their comeback. Eni Aluko started the charge with a goal 71 minutes in and a quick fire double from Ji ensured the unbeaten run would be secure. This result really gave you an idea of Chelsea’s character and summed up their season. Others may have lost it at that scoreline down but Chelsea didn’t give up and went for it.

It was quite the season for the Blues and the summer rebuild looks to be happening again. Katie Chapman has retired and that means a new captain will take charge. Will they be able to lead them to more triumphs? We will have to wait and see.