Chelsea win Continental Cup: Blues revert to last season’s formula for victory

Jessy Parker Humphreys provides analysis of Chelsea’s 6-0 Continental Cup win over Bristol City.

There was always a sense that Chelsea had already played the final of this competition when they beat Manchester City in the semi-finals. Few expected the final against Bristol City to be a close game but the completeness of the 6-0 win by Chelsea was impressive. No team had previously won the Continental Cup final by more than three goals, and Chelsea had scored four before the end of the first half. 

Chelsea lined up in the 4-4-2 formation with which they were so effective last season. This year, with the arrival of Pernille Harder and return of Fran Kirby from injury, Chelsea have tended towards playing either a diamond in midfield or a 4-3-3. Yet with Bethany England out injured and players like Harder and Ji So-Yun rested, this was the return of the flatter set-up.

Depending on which side of the pitch Chelsea were building up on, their midfield pivoted on a diagonal, pushing either Jessie Fleming or Guro Reiten up alongside Kirby and Sam Kerr.

Bristol City were trying to play a high line – Matt Beard was incessantly shouting for them to push up whenever they won the ball back. The idea was to reduce the playing space so Chelsea had less room to manipulate the ball but the reality was that the speed of Kirby and Kerr was devastating to the Bristol defence.

Case in point was Chelsea’s opening goal, scored after only 90 seconds. Reiten played the ball between Bristol City’s two central defenders for Kirby to run onto. Kirby outpaced Jemma Purfield to square the ball back across goal for Kerr to tap in.

Bristol City did not make things easy for themselves, with errors brought on by the Chelsea press leading to the second and third goals. Chelsea were pushing Fleming and Reiten high up to make a 4-2-4, and it was noticeable how Kerr kept pulling out to the same space she plays when she is Chelsea’s left inside forward. Reiten would then fill in centrally.

Hayes’ rotating forward line has been a feature of Chelsea’s tactical approach this season, heavily influenced by the way Harder likes to play. The use of it in this flatter system showed how much Kerr has adapted and enjoyed playing that wider role. If there were any lingering doubts about her ability in front of goal, her hat-trick surely ended them.

The game had pretty much petered out even before Maren Mjelde’s gut-wrenching injury. After Emma Hayes took Kerr and Kirby off in the 60th minute, Niamh Charles and Erin Cuthbert were playing as Chelsea’s forward pairing, neither of whom are natural attackers. With Mjelde withdrawn and Chelsea having made all their substitutions, Chelsea played the final 15 minutes with only 10 players. 

It is hard to read too much into a game where the opposing side made so many individual errors, but there was a stunning efficacy about Chelsea. At times when Hayes has looked to play all four of England, Harder, Kerr and Kirby, the line-up has felt a bit bloated. The quick combinations of passing, aided in particular by Reiten’s return to the side, gave Chelsea a zip that was missing in the recent win against West Ham and even more starkly, in the loss against Brighton. 

Kirby was also typically brilliant and her two goals and four assists were plentiful evidence of how essential she is to this Chelsea side. When Kerr joined Chelsea, she reportedly messaged Kirby to say how much she was looking forward to playing with her. It is safe to say that opposition defences do not feel the same way. 

Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph

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