###The Chelsea FC Women October round-up – a 100% winning record, as Chelsea move through the gears
Welcome to the second Chelsea FC Women monthly round-up of the 2022/23 season.
These reviews will be posted on a monthly basis throughout the season, featuring a summary of the exploits of Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side, as well as a brief preview of the month ahead.
This post is a ***long*** read, so feel free to skip to the end for a brief overview, and the November preview.
Despite the month beginning with an international break, it was still set to be a busy October for Chelsea FC Women.
The start of the Champions League group stage, and three more WSL fixtures, meant that the season was really starting to take shape – and a month that could be crucial in determining the outlook of the season, for the Blues.
The start of our involvement in European competition would also mean the depth of the Chelsea squad was set to be tested, with the fixture list ramping up to two games a week.
Chelsea were to answer the questions October posed with aplomb – winning five of five games, for a 100% winning record.
This was not without facing significant tests though – on the pitch, but more importantly off it, as manager Emma Hayes was sidelined following emergency surgery. This could have a big effect on our season, but also serves as a reminder that they are more important things than football, after all.
**Emma Hayes has emergency surgery**
As mentioned, the biggest news of the month was that of the health of our manager, Emma Hayes.
Hayes underwent an emergency hysterectomy at the start of October, to treat complications of the condition endometriosis. Emma’s operation was a success, but a hysterectomy is a major abdominal surgery – and hence meant she would be sidelined for the foreseeable future, as she takes all the time necessary to recover and recuperate.
Of course, Emma being Emma, she has remained closely in touch with the squad via videolink to the training ground, -and assistant manager Denise Reddy has had the voice of Hayes in her ear on the touchline at games, via a headset.
Hayes’ recovery continues, and was able to be in the stands for the final fixture of the month – so may be back with us sooner than first expected.
**Champions League group stage draw**
October saw the group stage of the Champions League begin, and Chelsea were handed a very challenging draw. Despite being a top seeded team, the Blues were drawn alongside two of last season’s semi-finalists, PSG and Real Madrid – with Albanian champions Vllaznia completing the quartet.
Success on the European stage is a key metric by which Chelsea define each season. Last year, Chelsea failed to get out of the group – and that must not be repeated.
Unfortunately, by landing in the Group of Death, it does feel like a distinct possibility, and Chelsea would therefore need to bring it from the off if we are to avoid another European failure.
**New contracts for Jess Carter and Jessie Fleming**
Defender Jess Carter [signed a new deal]( to keep her at the club until 2025, with Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming also [extending her deal for another two years](
This news is of some note, as despite being a breakout star of the team last year, Carter’s role has been reduced to a peripheral one this year, following the summer signings of Eve Perisset and Kadeisha Buchanan. Carter clearly wants to stay and fight for her place, though – and must still be valued by the club.
Similarly, although Jessie Fleming’s role in the squad grew last year, the highly talented 24 year old faces strong competition for minutes at Chelsea – and some had worried she may seek a move for more guaranteed playing time elsewhere.
Great news on both counts, as Chelsea retain the service of two very valuable players to the club.
October had started with an international break, in which the play off rounds of the 2023 World Cup qualifiers were contested. Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert were to agonisingly miss out on qualifying, after Wales and Scotland lost their respective games.
The banner fixture of the international break was a friendly between Euros champions England, and 2019 World Cup winners the USA, at a sold out Wembley. England took bragging rights with a 2-1 win, with Millie Bright captaining the side to victory, and Fran Kirby also starting for the Lionesses.
**2022 Ballon d’Or**
October also saw the awarding of the 2022 Women’s Ballon d’Or. The coveted prize was won for the second year in a row by Spain and Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas. Chelsea’s highest ranked player was Sam Kerr, who came third – finishing behind Arsenal and England’s Beth Mead, whose performance at the Euros this summer boosted her campaign significantly. A result which was in spite of Kerr winning every single individual honour in England ahead of Mead, last year.
Millie Bright came 15th, which again felt lower than it should have been, considering how superb she was for England and Chelsea last year.
**Everton 1-3 Chelsea (WSL)**
To the action!
Everton away is a tough match at the best of times – and felt even more of a tall order, given that it was the first fixture following the news that Emma Hayes was to be absent from the dugout following her surgery.
The Toffees had had a poor season last year – and rotated through three different managers before settling on Brian Sorensen.
The Dane has got his side off to a good start so far this year, and heading into this game the two sides had the exact same record of two wins, one loss and a goal difference of +3 – being separated only by alphabetical order.
The Blues (of London) were boosted by the return of Pernille Harder to the starting line up – her first appearance of the season after a hamstring injury sustained in the warm-up for the season opener. Fran Kirby meanwhile missed out with illness.
Chelsea (alongside the men’s team, in their fixture that day against Aston Villa) [wore warm up shirts in support of the absent Emma]( – whose presence was nonetheless not too far away, as she was connected via video and audio link to the dugout, and assistant boss Denise Reddy.
Hayes’ absence may have contributed to a rusty start from Chelsea – although the first match after the international break is notorious anyway for being a rhythm disrupter. Chelsea toiled through the opening 30 minutes. There was stern resistance from a very different Everton side, to the one we had comfortably dispatched by an aggregate scoreline of 7-0 in our WSL fixtures, last year.
It was the returning Harder who got the breakthrough for Chelsea, around 10 minutes before halftime. Her header from a Guro Reiten cross finished off Chelsea’s best move of the opening 45.
The match was far from over though, and Everton immediately applied the pressure in the second half – leaving the Chelsea defence desperate, at times. Their equaliser had a great deal of fortune – with Ann-Katrin Berger’s smart save rebounding straight off the unfortunate Kadeisha Buchanan for an own goal – but it was deserved.
Chelsea had had plenty of other chances to score, with Lauren James looking lively and going close several times, including hitting the bar – with the woodwork also thwarting Johanna Rytting Kaneryd.
It was looking like it might be a frustrating afternoon – but only for seven minutes, at which time Chelsea were given a penalty for a foul from Everton keeper Courtney Brosnan on Reiten. Harder, the woman of the hour, stepped up to coolly convert, and restore Chelsea’s lead.
The work was not yet done, and Everton kept up the intensity, meaning Chelsea had to fight to defend the lead. The match was only finally over when Niamh Charles broke through from the halfway line, and finished off a brilliant solo run with an excellent finish to give Chelsea a 3-1 lead in injury time – and the three points.
It was a win that meant Chelsea kept hold of third spot in the WSL, with Man United and Arsenal also winning their fixtures to ensure they stayed ahead of the Blues in first and second place respectively.
Watching on, Hayes would have been proud of the effort and determination – though no doubt wanting more quality, especially amongst a backline that did not look at its assured best.
Chelsea would certainly need to be better for the next fixture – a huge away trip to PSG, in our first game of this season’s Champions League group stage.
**PSG 0-1 Chelsea (WCL)**
The daunting task of Chelsea’s Champions League group – featuring two of last season’s semi-finalists, PSG and Real Madrid, as well as the Albanian champions, Vllaznia – illustrates just how high the level is in the competition.
The toughest game of the group was to come first, away to PSG. It felt like especially bad timing too, in that Chelsea had not yet hit top gear – and performances had felt patchy, despite the three consecutive wins heading into this fixture.
Fran Kirby missed the trip with the same illness that had kept her out of the win against Everton. Three changes were made from that game, with Mjelde, Charles and Ingle coming in as starters. Denise Reddy remained the touchline presence for Chelsea, with Emma Hayes’ recovery ongoing.
The game got off to a cagey start, with few clear cut chances for either side. Chelsea were looking the slightly better team, with the energetic Erin Cuthbert running proceedings from midfield.
Cuthbert, alongside Sophie Ingle, went on to win the midfield battle. Their performances were such that PSG’s Grace Gueyoro, who Chelsea had very publicly pursued over the summer, only for PSG to block the move, look like she may not have earned a place in this Chelsea team anyway.
In a game this tight, set pieces were always likely to make a difference – and so it was to prove for Chelsea, when Millie Bright ghosted in at the back post to meet a Cuthbert corner with a beautifully controlled volley, and put the Blues 1-0 up just before the half-hour mark.
The match remained in Chelsea’s control for the rest of the half, with PSG scarcely threatening Berger in the Chelsea goal – and the Blues looking more likely to add to their tally than concede an equaliser.
PSG looked sharper after the break, but were wasteful from the set pieces they did earn. With the Parisians’ threat increasing, Chelsea were forced into a low block – and defended with resilience, meaning that despite their possession and territory, PSG failed to create any real chances.
Chelsea looked dangerous on the break, but could not find a second that would have secured the victory – making for a tense final 10 minutes. PSG had scored in each of their past 15 Champions League games, so could not be written off.
PSG likely suffered from missing some of their attacking players due to injury – such as Lieke Mertens and Marie-Antoinette Katoto. This did mean an opportunity for former Blue Ramona Bachmann – the mercurial winger was brilliant in parts in her time at Chelsea, but beset by inconsistency, and this game was another performance from the Swiss woman where she failed to really make an impact.
Ultimately, the Blues were able to see the game out with little alarm, to earn a vital three points – it was not a glittering performance, but a disciplined and professional one.
An archetypal hard-fought European away win, that meant we came away from Paris with maximum points, in arguably our most difficult group fixture – and got our Champions League campaign off to the best possible start.
**Brighton 0-2 Chelsea (WSL)**
The Blues next faced a third consecutive away trip, travelling to Suffolk to face Brighton in the WSL.
Although a slightly less formidable opponent than PSG, Brighton were not to be underestimated – and especially by Chelsea, as the Seagulls have proved something of a thorn in our side in recent years.
Hope Powell’s team had not had the best of starts so far this season, however. They lost several key players in the summer, including highly rated young defender Maya Le Tissier (not related to Matt) – who is now at Man United. They sat 10th of 12 teams heading into this game.
They have been beaten 4-0 both by Arsenal and Man United so far this season – but Chelsea fans know better than to expect an easy ride against a team who seem to get it up when they face the Blues.
Grim weather across the UK meant that a late pitch inspection was required, but having passed, the game went ahead. It was quickly apparent conditions were going to be a big factor – with Chelsea’s quick passing clearly impeded by the waterlogged pitch.
Eight changes were made from the midweek game. With two games a week for most of the season, making use of the whole squad will be crucial. This meant opportunities for players with not many starts this season, like Beth England, Aniek Nouwen, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd – and a stalwart of last season, Jess Carter.
Chelsea dominated possession from kick off, with Lauren James looking particularly threatening in a deeper role, and Rytting Kaneyrd a constant menace on the right wing.
Brighton grew into the game, with Chelsea slightly losing their grip on the midfield – and the game became a relatively open one. Brighton keeper Walsh was however required to make two sharp saves before the break to deny Chelsea the lead. We were left with honours even at half time – and a step up in intensity needed.
Chelsea almost instantly had the ball in the back of the net at the start of the second half, but it was ruled out for offside. Brighton then very nearly took the lead themselves – Berger had been caught stranded out of her goal, but about three Chelsea defenders packed the line to cover their keeper, and clear the ball.
The breakthrough finally came through a set piece. Niamh Charles had looked threatening from dead ball situations all evening, and met Erin Cuthbert’s corner with a looping header. It danced on the line – so England made sure with a poacher’s finish, for her first goal of the season.
Berger then made an outstanding save from point blank range to prevent an instant equaliser from the Seagulls – and remind us all she remains one of the best keepers in the league.
This set off a very lively last 30 minutes, with Chelsea and Brighton both having chances – including Eve Perisset hitting the bar, and substitute Sam Kerr nearly scoring a minute after coming on. Sophie Ingle was introduced as our final substitute in an attempt to bring calm to proceedings.
It was Ingle who was crucial in Chelsea getting the second goal that finally settled the game – combining with two fellow substitutes in Kerr and Harder. Ingle played in the Aussie, who played in the Dane, who rifled past Walsh for her third goal of the season.
Another hard-fought and well-earned three points, against a stubborn opponent – and in genuinely horrendous conditions. It meant we kept pace with Arsenal and Man United, the two sides above us in the league standings, who again both registered straightforward wins.
**Chelsea 8-0 Vllaznia (WCL)**
After three consecutive away games, Chelsea finally returned to Kingsmeadow for the visit of the Albanian champions, Vllaznia.
It was our second game of this season’s group stage, hot on the heels of that brilliant win away to PSG. The three points there could prove vital in what is likely to be a highly competitive group, between Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.
In good news ahead of kick off, Real Madrid and PSG played out a 0-0 draw in Spain – an advantageous result for Chelsea, that meant we would go two points clear with a win in this game.
If we are to progress from the group, maximum points against the Albanians would be a necessity. Vllaznia are minnows in terms of European competition – but are also used to winning, having won *nine* consecutive Doubles domestically. They proved tougher opposition than most expected in a 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in their opening group game – and were complete unknowns to Chelsea.
There was the very welcome sight of a fit-again Fran Kirby, on the bench – after having missed the past three games with illness. Kirby started the season on fire – and hopefully would be able to pick up where she left off, once back in the team.
With so many games on the fixture list, there was more rotation necessary. Millie Bright and Erin Cuthbert were amongst those rested, there was a start for Zecira Musovic in goal, and Guro Reiten, Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder were among the big names to return (after having played pivotal substitute roles at the weekend).
Chelsea were utterly dominant from kick off – and took just 10 minutes to open the scoring. Harder slid through a perfect pass to Kerr, who finished with a confidence that belied her slightly slow start to the season.
A stat that told the tale was that by the time Chelsea had completed 100 passes, the Albanian champions had completed just eight – Vllaznia were barely able to get out of their defensive third.
The biggest surprise was how long it took for Chelsea to find a second. It was Kerr again, this time finishing off some excellent wing play from Reiten, who had cut through the Vllaznia defence. Two soon became three, with the third also assisted by Reiten – and finished this time by Harder.
3-0 at half time was a score reflective of Chelsea’s dominance – and with two quick fire goals before the break, there was a sense the Vllaznia resistance may have been broken.
So it proved, with the floodgates well and truly opening in the second half.
The scorer of the fourth was up for debate – Kerr claimed it for her hat trick, but it was first credited to captain Magda Eriksson after both had challenged for the corner that had been swung in.
Undeterred, Kerr scored again anyway – and brought out her first iconic backflip of the season to make her hat trick.
Chelsea rang the changes after this, but the procession marched on, with Harder the next to add to the tally to make it 6-0 to Chelsea. Svitkova, on as a sub, made it seven with a powerful header for her first Chelsea goal – and assisted by a great cross from the lesser-seen Alsu Abdullina, in her first appearance of the season.
There was time for Harder to complete her own hat trick – meaning her and Kerr would have to fight it out over the match ball. The Erikkson goal was then awarded to Kerr after all – meaning maybe the Aussie had the stronger claim.
It honestly could have been more – but it was to end Chelsea 8-0 Vllaznia, in a free-flowing attacking performance that was the closest to Chelsea’s top form we had seen so far this season… with the caveat that it was probably the weakest opponent we had faced. Vllaznia had been a non-entity in the game – and their presence was most felt in the very vocal and raucous travelling support, who brought a brilliant atmosphere to Kingsmeadow.
There were too many contributors to Chelsea’s attacking display to discuss them all – but Reiten’s four assists deserves a special mention.
The win meant Chelsea were the only team in Group A with a 100% record – and moved top ahead of Real Madrid and PSG.
**Chelsea 3-1 Aston Villa (WSL)**
The Blues were next back in action against Aston Villa, in the WSL. Villa had started the season well, winning their first two games – with the summer signing of England international Rachel Daly seeming to have inspired the whole team.
Their form has subsequently tailed off, but they remain a side with dangerous players, and a very well-regarded manager in Carla Ward – and can provide a test to any team in the league.
Chelsea named a strong line up, with Sam Kerr being joined by the in-form Pernille Harder and Guro Reiten in attack, and Lauren James returning to start. Fran Kirby was rested entirely from the squad, as her fitness continues to be managed following her recent illness.
The opening 20 minutes were well-contested, with Villa taking the game to Chelsea despite being the away side, and further down the league table. The Blues had a game on their hands.
Despite Villa maybe having made the slightly better start, it was Chelea who had the first chance – Reiten producing a good save from Villa keeper Anna Leat.
As has so often been the case this season, it was to be Reiten who got the assist for the Chelsea goal – to add to the four she notched midweek against Vllaznia. The Norwegian did well to find James on the edge of the Villa box, whose brilliant first touch gave her the space to stroke home, and put Chelsea into the lead midway through the first half with her first WSL goal for Chelsea.
Villa responded well – and when their equaliser came on 38 minutes, it was deserved. Their danger-woman, Rachel Daly, was the one to get it, turning home a close at the near post for her fourth goal in five WSL games this season.
Chelsea needed a big second half – and it was off to the perfect start within five minutes, with James again the woman to put the Blues ahead. Having broken the Villa line on the counter, Harder slid in James, who had charged up the pitch alongside her (showing an industry some claim is lacking from her game) – and the 21 year old produced a finish arguably even finer from the first, to again beat Leat from the edge of the box.
Villa pushed again for a second equaliser, but Kerr was to put the game to bed shortly after the hour mark. Undoubted Player of the Match Lauren James was again involved – with her pressing off the ball turning over possession, before she slid the ball into the Aussie to score her sixth goal of the season.
The Blues were then able to see the game out with little discomfort, the job having been done – to record our seventh consecutive win in all competitions.
There had been a slight hope of rivals Arsenal dropping points, after they had fallen 1-0 down to West Ham in the later evening kick off – but the Gunners fought back to win 3-1. The weekend’s results meant there was no change in the standings, with all of Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea having 15 points, but with Chelsea having played a game more.
###October results in brief
Fixture | Result | Competition | Goal scorers
Everton (A) | 3-1 W| WSL| Harder x 2, Fleming (Reiten assist)
PSG (H) | 1-0 W | WCL | Bright (Cuthbert assist)
Brighton (A) | 2-0 W| WSL| England, Harder (Charles and Kerr assists)
Vllaznia (H) | 8-0 W |WCL | Kerr x 4, Harder x 3, Svitkova (Harder, Reiten x 4, Abdullina assists)
Aston Villa (H) | 3-1 W| WSL| James x 2, Kerr (Reiten, Harder, James assists)
Five games, five wins – to make it seven in a row in all competitions.
With October said and done, Chelsea sit top of our Champions League group after two games – clear of Real Madrid and PSG – and joint-top of the WSL alongside Man United and Arsenal (although having played a game more than our rivals).
And all without the presence of manager Emma Hayes, who was absent from the sidelines following an emergency hysterectomy.
In all, not only a hugely successful month for Chelsea in terms of results – but one in which we were eventually able to elevate our game, as our form had been lacking in the opening weeks of the season.
We remain short of our best – but are shifting through the gears, and still found a way to pass each test we faced whilst doing so.
First up in November would be arguably our biggest test in the WSL so far – away to Man United, who have won all five of their games in this season, and are in red-hot form. The Red Devils have famously never beaten Chelsea since their re-establishment as a women’s team – but this is arguably their best ever chance, and one that will be a serious test of their title credentials.
The WSL will then pause for another international break, following which Chelsea will host London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge, in a banner fixture for the club. It was originally intended that the season opener at West Ham would take place at the Bridge – only for the fixture to be postponed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Chelsea fans instead will have the chance to see the women in action at our club’s main stadium, in an even bigger London derby.
Chelsea then return to Champions League action with our home game against Real Madrid, in Group A action – win there, and Chelsea will be in a brilliant position to progress to the knockout stage.
It may well be that this may all be done with Emma Hayes back on the sideline too – with Hayes having been in attendance at Kingsmeadow for the last match of October, to see the 3-1 victory over Aston Villa. Her presence would be a huge boost, in another big month for the Blues.
###If you are interested in learning more about Chelsea FC Women, and keeping a closer eye on the progress of our women’s team, then check out our subreddit, /r/chelsealadiesfc!