Three is the Magic Number – How Chelsea can win the UWCL

Back in the season 2017/2018 Chelsea dominated domestic football ending up winning the double. Few would have thought that the domestic season that followed would become a struggle for the Blues. Ending up third in the table they missed out on the Uefa Champions League for the season 2019/20. Ironically, a magic three could take them to this elusive title.  

The magic three - Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby.
The magic 3. Image Credit: Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images.

Although, ahead of the current season, Chelsea have been up there to compete with the best teams in Europe in the fashionable tournament. First, in 2017/18 when they got knocked out by German titleholders Vfl Wolfsburg in the semifinals followed by a narrow defeat vs multi-years UWCL champions Lyon in another semi-final the following season. 

Even if last season got cut short and was decided on PPG due to COVID-19, Chelsea showed that they were not happy about the previous year’s performance.

So, the differences from the season Chelsea themselves might want to forget about, 2018/19 and now? And can the Blues go all the way, already this season, to go on and win the Champions league? Three is, as the song says, a magic number.

Fran Kirby

First, Fran Kirby has been a key player for Chelsea throughout the years. Described from her current performances; Kirby performs as a central attacking midfielder who is good at finding space between the lines. Her decision making is quick, one thing you can notice as an example because she often tries to make a key pass to a teammate right after meeting the ball. Fran Kirby has scored 11 WSL goals this season while playing 13 games. Back in 2018/19 she played 16 games scoring 9. Yet, there are still 6 rounds to play this season. 

In total she has scored 15 goals in all competitions and has made 7 assists. Fran Kirby, world-class player before this season, will probably from the looks of it end up having the season of her career. Before this season, Kirby mostly operated as a center forward and an attacking midfielder in the central parts of the pitch according to her heat map.

But previously she used to operate a more fluid role.
Previously, Kirby had occupied a much more ‘floating role’ in 2018-19. Credit: WyScout.

This season we have mostly seen her operate on the right-hand side of the Chelsea attack. 

Fran Kirby is the most positionally rigid of the three.
Fran Kirby is starting to really dominate the right hand side. Credit: WyScout.

The Need for The Three

With Australian striker Sam Kerr joining the Blues as well as Danish attacker Pernille Harder, Chelsea’s attack has started to take a form that delivers the extra bit and parts that one might have thought was missing from the 2018/19 season. Chelsea scored 46 goals in total that season in the league. The current season, upon till now says 47.

Chelsea start their buildup play from the back, and even here we can see differences. Without going in on it at a deeper level, the stats tell us that the Blues’ skipper and centre-back Magdalena Eriksson has played a greater part to get the ball moving forward this season. Chelsea play with more connection from the back up to the front. 

Without anything away from every single player in the team, in a squad that has more depth then perhaps any other of the WSL teams, the attacking trident of Kerr, Harder and Kirby have led the way for the Blues in many crucial games so far. In total through all competitions the numbers speak for themselves.  

Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder

The Aussie has scored 13 goals and has made 4 assists in all competitions so far. She is described as a mobile centre-forward, effective in passing through oncoming motion from the goal. Manages to move back towards the goal quickly, too. Extremely dangerous in proactive plays and lob pass receptions behind opposition backs. Good at positioning, always searching for a shooting opportunity. But more than ever when Chelsea were down to ten players in the first leg of Champions League round of 16 vs Atletico Madrid she showed her through quality when moving from wide to central areas on either side of the field, to drop and act as a hold-up player. 

Pernille Harder has the most freedom of the three players.
Pernille Harder was everywhere against Atletico. Credit: WyScout.

Naturally, Chelsea’s defensive play had to kick up a notch after Sophie Ingle was shown off with a red card already in the 12th minute. And what was more even unexpectable, perhaps, was the fact that Chelsea managed to win the first leg 2:0 despite two penalties given to Atletico.

It was a strong team effort where every player played their great part. Still, the differences of having ten players vs eleven might have been spelled Kirby-Kerr-Harder. Three players of outstanding, world class quality.

Kerr and Harder were both involved in more duels than any other Chelsea player on the pitch at Kingsmeadow last week. Harder in total 33 of which she went successful out of 14 and Kerr; 32, winning 19 (!) of them. Defensively Pernille Harder was up in more duels than any of the Blues’ defenders; 12, winning 5 of them. Kerr 3 duels, successful in 2. 

The Three Combine

Yet these two played a huge part in the two goals Chelsea scored to win this game. Kerr with her running ability managed to give Chelsea a penalty for the first goal and second, when Harder had made a move up on the pitch on the left-hand side of the pitch quite far outside the Atletico box to serve Kerr, who had ran inside the box on the right-hand side, with an accurate cross. That cross ended up perfectly at Kerr’s feet who just put the ball into the central parts of the box for Kirby who took a shot and scored. 

As was Sam Kerr! . Credit: WyScout.

Harder with 11 goals and 4 assists throughout the season in all competitions; is an attacking midfielder with great mobility, always making herself available in the build-up phase. Due to this, she is also able to provide cover to teammates in a fast way. She is able to reach the opponent’s half coming from deep, as well as being uncompromising in counter-pressing was everywhere in this game. ‘Taking one for the team’ when being down to ten players is no question for a player like Harder. This is true for all the three, actually.  

It’s obvious, after the first leg vs Atletico, that it’s no question for all of the Chelsea players to take one for the team. What is also obvious is that the Blues’ fluidity and flexibility in attack, their determination and strong winning mentality in the defence along with every single player’s knowledge of which part each one of them were playing and contributing;  gave Chelsea a clear advantage ahead of the away game on Wednesday.  

How far will the three take the Blues?

To win games and titles you have to score goals. What was missing in the 2018/19 season was just that. Goals scored to win the much needed games to get points to win the title and to grab one of the attractive spots for the Champions League. Chelsea sit top of the WSL league table, they’re back in the competition of the Champions League and on Sunday they play the Continental Cup final vs Bristol City. 

Chelsea’s ‘new’ attacking trident have contributed with 39 goals so far this season in collaboration with each other. Three world-class and absolute quality players with both similar and different skills, helping each other to be the best they can for their team to win. Three players as a champion unit within a team full of champion players. This three on paper are the best triumverate in the world, and with their performances so far, should be able to compete to become one of Europe’s best. 

With thanks to WyScout for the Heatmap Graphics.

Written by Mia Eriksson (@mia_eriksson)

Edited by Rob Pratley

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