It is one of the biggest signings ever to take place within the Women’s Super League, both in terms of ability and finances, and this Sunday, women’s football fans will hope to see Sam Kerr line up as part of Chelsea’s squad against Reading.
Yet there have been question marks over how Kerr fits into a Chelsea side which is already bursting with international pedigree. The WSL fixture list throws up nowhere near the same number of matches as the Premier League and EFL, and without Champions League football, there is little opportunity for rotation within this squad.
Hayes is no stranger to managing an extensive squad list and it is a requirement of a successful modern manager to do so. The success of Guardiola’s Manchester City in the past two seasons has seen him balance the demands of managing Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus to fill his front four.
It is likely that Hayes will use both Kerr, and new midfield arrival from Hibernian Jamie-Lee Napier, to keep her players fresh but what’s the most likely set up for Kerr to come into?
This season Emma Hayes’ Chelsea have predominantly set up in a 4-4-2 with Bethany England as the number 9 partnered by either Ramona Bachmann or Fran Kirby depending on fitness. This 4-4-2 can pivot into a 4-3-3 with either Guro Reiten on the left wing pushing up and Erin Cuthbert on the right sitting back or vice versa.
Earlier this season, in a fantastic counter-attack against Arsenal, Chelsea equalised as a result of Reiten pushing up on the left to play in a front three with Kirby and England. Chelsea went on to win that game 2-1.
Ostensibly Kerr has played an almost identical role to England for the Chicago Red Stars and internationally with Australia, but it is unlikely that England will miss out given her continued impressive form this season. Having made her senior international debut in August, she has scored six in nine this season and only seems to be growing in confidence.
Instead, it seems likely that Bachmann, who is yet to score this season, will make way and Kerr will partner England up front. Chelsea have looked like they need Kerr’s goal scoring ability, after being held to costly draws against Brighton and Liverpool as a result of failing to convert their pressure into goals. This may lead to playing in a more rigid formation due to their similar abilities.
But that does leave the question as to what happens to Fran Kirby. Seemingly constantly ruled out by injuries or illness, Kirby has been a peripheral figure at Chelsea having made only two starts this season, after a disappointing World Cup.
An ideal scenario for Chelsea would likely be if they could fit all three of Kerr, England and Kirby into the team. Whilst Kirby prefers to play in a number 10 role, it is possible Hayes could try and fit her in on the wing. Erin Cuthbert’s age makes her an obvious rotation option but realistically, Kirby’s lack of fitness means it’s wise for Hayes to opt for a more reliable front partnership.
Hayes has made clear of her admiration of Kerr for a long time and there is no reason for her not to build her team around her. She has often fallen under the radar due to extensive focus on international women’s football ahead of the leagues, but her consistent dominance of the NWSL over the past three seasons places her among the top three players in the world. Regardless of how Chelsea look to make best use of her talents, it is to be expected that Hayes will have been planning this for a while, defences in the WSL will be looking on nervously.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph