For a club of Chelsea’s stature, having strengthened considerably prior to the 2013 campaign, seventh place was not in the script for the club, its supporters and manager Emma Hayes last season.
Not there weren’t significant moments of promise, they were one of only two teams to beat champions Liverpool and the form of striker Enni Aluko was consistently outstanding, continuing her development from promising Birmingham youngster to established England international. In fact goals weren’t especially much of an issue for The Blues – 20 goals in 14 games was a decent return.
On the debit side, their other two victories were against Doncaster – the only side to finish below them in the table, and all too often there was a soft underbelly about Chelsea. They went two goals up away at Liverpool before losing and there were some games where they simply did not show up as a team- the 1-4 home defeat to Everton was the low point.
Time for Chelsea to shine?
But that was then and The Blues have been extremely busy during the off season adding seven new players to the squad. This Chelsea side has the look of one that means business for the first season of a two division WSL. Boss Emma Hayes, who took over from Matt Beard in June 2012, is a leader with vast experience, especially in North America and she now has a squad to choose from that will be the envy of many of her peers.
Starting at the back, new Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Elder has been brought in to help stem the flow of goals (27 conceded last term) and with Marie Hourihan as a more than able keeper too, Chelsea’s squad will be deeper than 2013. Emma Wilhelmsson is a fine addition in defence with the former U23 Swedish international complimenting Gilly Flaherty, signed from Arsenal Ladies, and experienced Laura Bassett. Interesting that the majority of the additions have been in defence. Throw into the mix Danielle Buet (another former Gunner), Claire Rafferty (a dependable defender) and there is a real feeling that Chelsea will be a much tougher nut to crack this season.
More “marquee” signings in midfield with Rachel Williams (again from Birmingham) and exciting South Korean playmaker and three-times South Korean player of the year, Ji So-Yun beefs up an already strong midfield. Perhaps the icing on the cake is securing one the country’s finest players in Katie Chapman (again tempted away from Arsenal) a player who on her day can be almost unplayable. Also watch out for Belgian attacking midfielder Jackie Groenen who will bolster Chelsea’s attacking options.
So a much more solid defence, creativity and resilience in the middle of the park – what about upfront? Well, Eniola Aluko needs no further introduction, and her confidence will be sky high being an established England player. Yuki Ogimi is an undoubted class act, having previously played for German powerhouse Potsdam. A women’s World Cup winner with Japan she is vastly experienced and will have benefited from beginning a second season in the English game. Not only that, she literally puts bums on seats with London-based Japanese fans flocking to Wheatsheaf Lane to watch her every move and secure a prized autograph!
So, it would appear that Chelsea have added the missing pieced to the jigsaw puzzle and the signings made have showed a real intent to compete for honours this season. I would certainly stake my meagre reputation on them NOT finishing seventh this time. For me, they should and will be up there challenging. Whether they can go the distance or not, I don’t know…but Chelsea fans have lots to look forward to.
Prediction: Top 3 at least
Key Player: Eniola Aluko
Chelsea’s first match is away to Bristol Academy on Thursday night at Stoke Gifford Stadium.
Check out Neil’s other previews: