I’ve taken it upon myself to start the Aniek Nouwen Fan club and nobody can take that from me. I made this choice before watching her perform in a Chelsea shirt: brave I know.Embed from Getty Images
I am now more sure than ever that she deserves a lot more praise than she has received this season.
Aniek Nouwen – A Relatively Quiet Signing
To most Chelsea fans the signing of Aniek came fairly out of the blue. Usually, you hear a bit of buzz around new signings, but I hadn’t heard Aniek’s name until the announcement. Going back and watching some highlights from her time at PSV I was excited. She was a fine player and looked like she was only getting better.Embed from Getty Images
In an interview before she linked up with Chelsea, she claimed “I want to develop myself and Magda Eriksson and Millie Bright have a lot of experience, so I hope to learn from them.”
Fast forward to December. Captain Magda suffers a nasty injury in our 4-0 defeat against Wolfsburg. As any other Chelsea fan would tell you we were worried our defence has never looked the same without Magda.
With Aniek being new, we were all worried to see how the team would cope.
Having Faith in The Player
Did we have faith, or were we just living on a prayer? I had faith, I have probably never had as much faith in a player as I did Aniek after Magda’s injury. I wanted her to succeed and prove that we didn’t need to rely on the captain’s presence.
With Millie taking the armband, all eyes were on Aniek. The 22-year-old was a fresh face in the squad with a lot to prove. As we now know Emma doesn’t start players just for the fun of it. “We give you everything. Get better or we get someone else in” is an indelible reminder from DAZN’s documentary.
Aniek got limited minutes in the first portion of the season, so we’ll skip to the good parts. Below I’m going to dissect some of Anieks’ standout performances this season.
A First Start and a Shining StarEmbed from Getty Images
10th October 2021 Kingsmeadow
Chelsea are playing at home against Leicester. Aniek earns her first start in a Chelsea shirt. The back line consists of Millie, Aniek and Magda with Zecira Musovic backing them up in goal. It’s a strong defence by any standards. I believe this was when Aniek showed her class. A formation that has never really suited the team with 3 atb Aniek was a shining star for our defence.
Sitting centrally, Aniek was strong and allowed both Millie and Magda to push the Leicester team up the pitch. We were so convinced at times that Magda found herself on the edge of the box on multiple occasions. Now granted, Leicester may not have found themselves on the attack a lot during that game. However, this was partly due to the strength and consistency of our defenders.
We could also mention the fact that Aniek should have got her first goal in the 23rd minute. A free-kick was pinged onto the top of her head by Jessie Fleming. A very strong header with a resounding thump that unfortunately made its way straight into the arms of Levell.
Overall this game was a catalyst for my Aniek Nouwen love-story. 1 header on goal plus an impressive 90 touches, 81 attempted passes with 70 completed an impressive 86.4% and 5 progressive passes. She put on a very strong display making one tackle, three interceptions and two blocks.
An almost faultless display for the new young defender in her first start was a relief. Because nobody expected us to lose our captain to injury in just two months.
A Hammering Display
26th January 2022 Kingsmeadow
Post-Magda’s injury Aniek got another start against Brighton and then West Ham: by no means her greatest performances. However, I think West Ham was an underappreciated performance all the same.
Injuries plagued us at the time of this game, while Sam and Ji were away for the Asian Cup. This was a must-win game after a disappointing 0-0 draw against Brighton only 3 days earlier.
We went into this game again trying out the 3 at the back formation which we’d struggled with on and off. A back three of Aniek, Millie and Niamh Charles seemed like a bit of a risk, and within 5 minutes we were pushed right back and West Ham were almost punishing us.
There were a few shaky moments for Aniek but nothing that couldn’t be cleaned up easily. Once we found our feet we were off and controlling the game. Aniek ended the game with 61 touches, 1 tackle, an impressive 12 interceptions and 2 blocks.
Of an attempted 48 passes 41 were completed a percentage of 85.4% and 3 of these were progressive. Considering this was a game we took maybe 15 minutes to find our feet in Aniek coped well with attacking threats.
A clean sheet and a strong defensive display in a game where we had to show our winning mentality.Embed from Getty Images
The Celebration Says it All For The Attacker
13th March 2022, Kingsmeadow
After sanctions were imposed the pressure was on the girls to perform. To prove that we would not be knocked by the challenges presented to us.
Going up against Aston Villa we knew we would have a challenge on our hands. At this point in the season, we were neck-and-neck with Arsenal for the title. Any dropped points would have been the difference between a great and bad season.
Starting with a solid back 3 consisting of Aniek, Millie and Jess we were expecting a tough battle. With both Niamh and Jonna Andersson on the wings, we were playing some beautiful football controlling the game well. Considering this game ended 1-0 in our favour we started on the back foot. We conceded a free-kick early on and let Villa in on goal one too many times.
Aniek was solid at centre-back she had a couple of poor touches early on but made up for it easily. With Jess Carter and Millie either side of her she was consistent and didn’t let Villa get too close for comfort. Coming up against the likes of Alisha Lehmann she was solid on the ball and didn’t let herself get caught out often. With 82 touches, 3 tackles, 1 interception and 4 blocks Aniek made herself known in this game. A game which challenged us both physically and mentally.
Having to wait until the 92nd minute was unexpected and stressful as a fan sat at Kingsmeadow but worth it. Our defence celebrated like they’d scored the winning goal and they might as well have. There were a few instances where I honestly thought Villa were going to catch us out.
My Final ThoughtsEmbed from Getty Images
Not only do I think Aniek has been underappreciated this season but I take pride in making her my call for the Signing of the Season. A young player with so much room to grow could have easily crumbled under the pressure. Aniek instead chose to thrive and develop her game, slotting in easily to our defence. Bringing in a piece we had always been missing when Magda wasn’t present.
I think it has gone relatively unnoticed just how much of a difference Aniek made. Being able to trust a back 3 was a foreign concept to most Chelsea Women fans. Even early in this season, we struggled to use it effectively.
However, Aniek Nouwen has allowed us to see this formation at its best and see just how good it can be when done properly. With our defence back at full strength this test will continue to let the team and our game grow.
In short: Aniek Nouwen, you have outdone yourself this season.
Written by A Bradley