Carly Telford reflects on Chelsea’s bumpy start to the new season, the new players rotating into the Lionesses squad, and the upcoming landmark for England captain Steph Houghton.
Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who sent messages after my last column and thank those who reached out.
I was surprised at how many messages I got from people who said they hadn’t thought about their parents passing until reading that column and had been stuck in a dark place and were now going to get some help.
It was an honour to receive those messages and think I’d helped people who now felt more comfortable reaching out and talking about their own experiences.
Bumpy start to new season
At Chelsea, the mood is a lot better now we have a few wins under our belts, but maybe we’re not scoring as many goals in the league as we’d like to.
We knew the league would be harder this season because it’s the first season where every team is full-time and the quality has gone up a level.
Teams know what we’re good at from last year and teams have defended a bit more against us and played more counter-attacking football. It’s taken a while to adapt to that. Last year, we were very free flowing and teams came out at us with a little bit more freedom.
When you’re not scoring it becomes a confidence thing. You’re worried about conceding because it becomes even harder to score. Last season, if we conceded nobody would have battered an eyelid because we were scoring four or five goals in some games.
We tried to change formation at the start of the season, we went to a 4-3-3 and played a few games like that but it just didn’t work for us, we couldn’t create chances at all really.
On top of that we were also conceding more chances than we were last season so after reviewing a few games we had to go back a little bit. We went back to a bit more of what we did last a year, what you could class as a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2.
Being in a Chelsea team can be hard because you don’t actually get that much time to train or work on things during the week. It sounds weird but it was only between the Birmingham and Liverpool games where we’d had the chance to get in and do a full week of training.
We were just going from a Sunday game, to Monday recovery, to Tuesday preparation, for a Wednesday game. It repeats and then we were travelling for Champions League games, it’s what you expect and it’s why we have a big squad, but it can be hard in terms of working on new things.
I think Nick Cushing mentioned it last year, it’s hard to work on tactical changes when you don’t have that time on the training pitch. It’s not an excuse, because we managed it last year, but teams didn’t really know what we were going to do against them whereas this year maybe they do.
We found, in the Champions League, 3-5-2 became a very hard system to defend with so, this season, we tried 4-3-3 to be a bit more defensively solid but it didn’t work for us in the league.
We had to go back to basics a little, but we weren’t doing terrible until the Arsenal game came along. I class it as the anomaly of the year. It was a highly built up game, but if you took the score away and looked at the stats it would seem like a close game.
We had more of the ball, similar shots on target- I think they had seven to our five- but the difference wasn’t huge. It was a derby and a lot of disappointment, we came out at 2-0 and the next goal is a big one but Jordan [Nobbs] manages to swing a cross into the goal and all of a sudden it’s 3-0.
Do you shut up shop and just lose at 3-0? Or, go and try and get back in the game? We changed formation, but then we conceded another deflection before they played some really good football to get a fifth.
I remember just looking into the crowd and thinking ‘What the hell just happened?’. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where I’ve lost 5-0 and I couldn’t have done much about any of the goals.
You have to credit Arsenal, they’ve been brilliant in front of goal. They’ve taken that chalice off us a bit and are so rampant in terms of scoring that they’re the team to beat at the moment.
They have that little bit extra time, extra training because they’re not in the Champions League and that will be an incentive.
We’re sticking together, working hard, we know it’s in Arsenal and Man City’s hands now. We have to play both of them again, we have to play Reading twice still. It’s been a difficult start, but it’s hard now to do get back-to-back league wins and if we do it then it’ll be pretty special.
Back with the Lionesses
With England the mood is good. We’ve qualified for another World Cup, it’s probably the tightest group games we’ve had and I think we’ve seen that in a lot of groups during qualifying.
It shows how much the game is growing, but you could see the delight for the girls after the Wales game. It’s always a big deal to qualify for a World Cup, but it was a tough test. Teams are tougher now, they’re savvier and teams can pick up points against you.
Once upon a time, the shoe was on the other foot and we were defending for our lives against some teams and now it’s teams doing it to us, we just have to find a way and we did that against Wales which was brilliant.
It meant we could go to Kazakhstan and Phil [Neville] could give games to players like Bruts [Lauren Bruton] and Stanny [Lucy Staniforth] and give caps to a few other players. They’ve earned the right and it was really nice to see so many new players involved in that match.
Then we went on to the Brazil and Australia games last month. It was tough competition on paper, but I don’t think Brazil turned up with the bite that we wanted, but after a really nice week it turned out to be a cold, rainy day in Nottingham which probably didn’t suit them very well.
There was lots of attacking play and we could have won more comfortably. The second game was a little bit disappointing because we dominated for a good 60 minutes and they found a way back into it.
We’ve got to be smart, in major tournaments teams are going to be good at set-pieces and we got caught out. We have to be better at attacking and defending them.
Phil is not afraid to rotate, make those decisions and give players those opportunities. It’s going to be interesting to see when he starts settling the team or even if he’s going to do that or whether he’ll continue rotating.
He’s refreshed the squad with a few new chances and we’ll have the Under 21s with us this week too. It’s a little bit like what Gareth Southgate’s done and there’s probably players who will be asking the question as to why they’re not selected but you have to keep your head down and opportunities will come.
I waited 10 years to get an opportunity and now I might be finally getting one. Fans can have an opinion but at the end of the day there’s only one opinion that counts and that’s Phil. He picks the team, picks the squad and you’ve just got to do you and keep delivering on the pitch.
New kids in the squad
Georgia [Stanway], El [Ellie Roebuck] and Chi [Chioma Ubogagu] have earned that right this time around. I think it’s fantastic for Chi, as anyone with English heritage now knows that if they want to play for England someone’s watching them.
I remember speaking to Bruts and she didn’t think she’d be on camp and the next thing she knew she was starting in Kazakhstan and it’s probably the same for Stan and she’s now getting picked regularly.
Ellie’s come into our goalkeeping department and I remember being in her shoes when I first got called up for a camp in La Manga.
I was 18 and it was my first game against Scotland. You were held in high regard as a youngster coming through and it’s the same for Ellie and it’s great to see her coming through and be selected.
She’s a great kid, she seems very humble and very clever. She sees the game in this new way. She’s what I’d class as a very Man City player. You see their male keepers like Ederson and she’s like that, she sees the bigger picture with her distribution, but she’s got the ability to stop the ball going in the back of the net too.
Distribution is the new thing for goalkeepers but we have an obligation to keep the ball out of the back of the net, if you can do both then even better. It’s always nice to have a couple of whipper snappers in and she’s coming in with her mate.
It’ll probably help her because I remember being so nervous coming in and there was Kelly Smith and Rachel Brown, players like that, but there’s so many Man City players in the squad and we have a job to do to make Ellie and the others feel welcome.
Me and Jill [Scott] used to sit in our room, not because we didn’t have any friends, but we were just the new kids, we just wanted to be on time for everything, wear the right kit and not annoy anyone.
But it’s so different now, nothing’s new to them, it’s so professional and they know so many of the girls already. They’ve earned the right to be there and it’s the biggest compliment I can give to both Ellie and Georgia, it’s one of the best feelings to come together with your mates and play football for your country.
Hopefully they have a long time doing it too because I was 18 when I first got my first cap and to think 12 years have gone by is crazy, but I wouldn’t change any of it because I’ve been to a lot of tournaments and had a great time doing it.
The 100 cap club
Obviously, this could also be a big camp for our skipper, Steph Houghton, who is on 99 caps at the moment.
I remember when we first came into camp together and she was playing as a number nine. We were playing Under 15s and Under 17s for Sunderland and she was scoring goals and now she’s rated as one of the best centre halves in the world.
It’s a phenomenal achievement for what she’s been through. She broke her leg the day before the 2007 World Cup and did her ACL before Euro 2009. She was another one you hung your hat on and said: “This girl has massive potential”.
With those injuries you just wondered if it was ever going to happen, but she sought of managed to work her way backwards into the team.
She went from a nine to a seven, to midfield and then to full-back, centre midfield and now captaining her club and country as a centre back.
I just think of us all being kids and standing at Roker Park or doing mad runs down at the beach. Probably myself, Jill, Stan, Lucy [Bronze], Jordan, Beth [Mead] are going to be the proudest because we’ve all stood with her at some point during her career from being about 13 onwards.
Some of us played with her at Sunderland and now she’s going to get her 100th cap for her country. It’s such a hard thing to do, only 10 others have done it and as years go on it will become even more competitive and those who do get to a 100 are good players and there’s a reason those players stick around for so long.
Steph’s not just a good person but she’s a great leader. I hope she keeps playing for longer but I know she’s dealing with things outside of football and getting to 100 caps will hopefully be a big weight off her shoulders.
As footballers, there’s landmarks you want to hit and I’m sure this has been looming over her for a long time. Now she can hopefully tick it off the list and get it off her back.
I don’t know how Phil will do it. She could play in Austria and have the presentation in Rotherham or he could hold her back and she could get everything at home in front of the fans. It’s a hard one but Phil wants to win every game and if that means the skipper playing both games he’ll go with it.
But I can’t speak highly enough of her. With Ellen White out of the squad, I’m lucky enough to share a room with Steph and will be with her when she gets her 100th cap.
It’s going to be pretty special and I’m sure if she could go for another 100 caps she would because she’s a great player, a great person and I’ve been lucky to be a part of her journey.
Follow Carly on Twitter @carlytelford1