Chelsea Women travelled to Birmingham to face another blue team that had just recovered from a loss against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final last Wednesday.
On paper, like most times, this was another ‘easy’ match for the Londoners. But as we are used to, out on the pitch, it’s not that easy.
Carla Ward, head coach in Birmingham, could see her team fight till the end and was with no doubt, very proud of her side when the final whistle sounded. As a Chelsea fan, there was a surprise to witness Chelsea youngster Jamie-Lee Napier, who is at Birmingham on loan for the season, in the hosts starting formation.
Emma Hayes, yet again surprised us all, when our line-up was presented. We are in for many of those surprises; we are all aware of that. The only player, except our defenders, that has started every single game so far is superstar, Fran Kirby.
For this game, which marked a start for a tough week for the London Blues, with upcoming matches at Kingsmeadow vs Arsenal in the Continental Cup (Wednesday) and then a massive slash with last season’s runner up; Manchester City in the league (Sunday), Chelsea’s line-up was:
Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson (defenders)
Cuthbert, Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten (midfielders)
England and Kirby (upfront)
It was also Kirby that put us ahead, already in the 9th minute, with a header coming from a set-piece from the left-hand side, just outside Birmingham’s box. With Kirby not being the tallest attacker in the league, it looked like the hosts forgot about her, and Kirby came flying through the air, totally unmarked to head in the lead for Chelsea.
With this start along with having most of the possession it looked like Birmingham were in for a heavy and long afternoon at Damsun Park.
From time to time it looked like Chelsea played with a 2-5-3 formation, where Eriksson and Bright were at the back alone, but still found themselves often over at Birmingham’s side, when Chelsea pushed hard for more goals.
First half offered only offered one dangerous chance to score another one for Chelsea. That was when Reiten took a shot just outside the box and hit the crossbar. Chelsea had a hard time to find space inside the box, and the play looked very ‘straight’ along the sidelines where the Londoner’s weapon looked to come from crosses out by the corner flags.
Chelsea’s pressure and possession continued in the second half, but the Blues still had trouble to find space to create chances from outside the box and the lack of pace accompanied with some sloppy passes along with some unwillingness to take a shot, didn’t make much danger for the Birmingham defenders.
With 30 minutes left, Hayes, decided to strengthen her offensive and made a triple substitution. Reiten, Cuthbert and Ingle had to make room for Niamh Charles, Ji and Kerr. Not too late after the ball was put into the goal from England. But, it was called off due to a suspected off-side situation where Kerr came from behind on the side. According to the assistant referee, she had enough impact on the play. England later had another huge chance to score from a rebound but missed out on the opportunity to make a distinct finish.
With about 15 minutes left, Kirby was taken off in favour for Harder. The Dane fired off a massive shot from outside the box, and it would’ve been hard for the Birmingham keeper to save that if it had gone on target.
Chelsea played the same all through struggling in the small space inside of Birmingham’s penalty area with no luck to create any more space. A small change noticed after the subs came on, and when Harder entered the pitch you could clearly see her waving and pointing to get the ball inside the box, but instead, the wingers chose to play out the sideline or back to the inner midfield or even worse, about as far as Eriksson and Bright were situated. The shot Harder took, she fired off after she had managed to create the space outside the penalty area, which is one of her strengths.
Still, Chelsea won this 1-0 and the three points were in the bag. Compare with their strongest opponents, Arsenal and Manchester City, that both managed to get more goals into the back of the net, Chelsea need to improve things ahead of this week’s massive matches vs the two top teams.
What’s needed? A faster pace in passing and a dare to go for it outside the box more than once a half and stop building up all of their play from the sides with crosses.