After three steady years competing at the top of the FAWSL, Chelsea Ladies enjoyed another historic year in 2017. We look back at what the last 12 months has brought for the Blues, and look ahead to what will surely be a fruitful 2018…
2017 started with a bang when Chelsea announced the signing of American superstar Crystal Dunn. League MVP and top goalscorer in the NWSL in 2015, Dunn followed an already impressive recruitment period for the Blues. At the back end of 2017 Chelsea had brought in internationals Maren Mjelde, Ramona Bachmann, and Erin Cuthbert.
The new players weren’t the only pieces of significant contract news; club favourites Hannah Blundell and Millie Bright were tied down to two- and three-year extensions respectively.
The Blues faced another tough preseason schedule, which including three teams that were still active in the Champions League, but they came away unbeaten, with four wins and a draw. This included a 2-2 draw with a star-studded Rosengard squad. That match was the fans’ first chance to catch a glimpse of Deanna Cooper, who signed a professional contract after an impressive trial period. The defender went on to be one of the stalwarts of the team during the Spring Series.
The first team weren’t the only title-winning squad in 2017, and February saw the Development Squad pick up a massive three points in a memorable encounter away at Arsenal – 5-3 the final score in favour of the Blues.
Many of the squad went away to international friendlies tournaments at the start of the month; the highlight being Bachmann’s Switzerland meeting Ji So-yun’s South Korea in the Cyprus Cup final (the Swiss ultimately came out on top). Millie Bright also impressed for England in their SheBelieves Cup matches, and helped the Lionesses to a historic victory over the States.
The squad met back up and cruised to the FA Cup semi-final thanks to home wins over Doncaster Rovers Belles then Sunderland.
April started bitterly, with a penalty shootout defeat to Birmingham City in the FA Cup semi-final, despite Drew Spence’s dramatic late goal which sent the tie to extra time.
However the Blues used the heartache for good, thrashing Yeovil Town 6-0 to start the Spring Series campaign the next weekend.
With both Hedvig Lindahl and Becky Spencer carrying long-term injuries, the Blues recalled former captain Carly Telford, who was club-less after the liquidation of the Notts County. The England keeper kept a clean sheet on her debut – a 4-0 win at Reading.
Spence, who was in the form of her life, scored what looked like the winner in the 90th minute of the league match against Arsenal, but celebrations were cut short when the Gunners equalised five minutes into the four added at the end of 90 minutes.
This didn’t dampen the spirits of the Blues however, who bounced back with a 7-0 victory at Sunderland, Scottish teenager Cuthbert bagging a double in the match closest to a home tie for her.
Another close defeat up in Manchester gave City the advantage in the league table, but luckily Arsenal played party poopers once again, beating City on their own turf. On the same day Chelsea pulled off one of their finest performances to thrash Liverpool 7-0, leaving the Blues in the driving seat thanks to their enormously superior goal difference.
The match against Liverpool also marked the final one at Wheatsheaf Park; the ground will be remembered fondly as the sight where Chelsea won their maiden league title.
A midweek victory away at Bristol City set the stage for a dramatic final match, where a win at Birmingham would confirm the Spring Series title as Chelsea’s.
May also saw the Development Squad seal the deal on their second-ever Development League title, ultimately recording 16 wins from their 18 matches – a remarkable feat.
Birmingham City proved a tough test but Chelsea were clearly the superior side, coming out 2-0 winners. Karen Carney’s ice-cool penalty opened the scoring in the first half, before Fran Kirby made sure the trophy was heading back to London (and secured the Golden Boot for herself also).
Although the Spring Series was a ‘filler tournament’ to bridge the gap whilst the WSL moved to a winter season, the Blues used it to really showcase the quality they’d brought in.
Inevitably the end of the season saw a couple of departures, as three members of the double-winning squad of 2015 – Ana Borges, Jodie Brett, and Niamh Fahey – all moved on to pastures new.
Chelsea also confirmed the signing of Swedish international defender Magdalena Eriksson.
Eight Blues travelled to the Netherlands for the European Championships in July and August, and results were mixed. There were disappointing showings from Sweden, and Mjelde’s Norway, whilst Switzerland exited at the group stage but Bachmann picked up two Player of the Match awards for her efforts.
Cuthbert was the scorer of Scotland’s first ever goal at an international tournament, but one win from three was not enough for the Scots to progress.
Bright was a key part of England’s squad which beat France to reach the semi-final, but the hosts proved too strong in the semi, and they eventually went on to win the tournament. Former Blue Jackie Groenen was undoubtedly one of the players of the tournament.
A preseason tour to Austria saw Chelsea lose to both Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich, but Emma Hayes and her squad remained positive about the experience.
There was a second new addition ahead of the new season, as Norwegian defender Maria Thorisdottir joined the Blues.
The season started perfectly, with a 6-0 win over Bristol City, Spence continuing her fine form in 2017 with the first Kingsmeadow goal. Six days later the squad travelled to Sunderland, again coming out 6-0 victors.
Controversially unseeded in the Champions League Round of 32, Chelsea got one of the toughest draws they could, against Bayern Munich. However a dramatic 1-0 victory at home, thanks to another Spence goal, sent the Blues on their way. Kirby’s brilliant individual effort put the Blues well in the driving seat in the away leg, but two late Bayern goals made for a frantic last ten minutes. Chelsea hung on however and progressed due to the away goal rule, despite defeat on the night.
The Bayern matches sandwiched a league tie against Liverpool, where a Mjelde strike was enough for the three points in a 1-0 victory.
November saw the start of the Continental Cup, with the Blues winning 3-0 and 2-1 vs Brighton and Hove Albion and Bristol City respectively.
They also faced 10-time Swedish champions Rosengard in the Champions League, but passed that test with flying colours; a 3-0 home win was followed up by a professional 1-0 result in Malmo.
The only league match of the month was slightly disappointing, as the Blues surrendered the lead very late on with an own goal – 2-2 the final score.
More comfortable victories, this time against Yeovil and Tottenham Hotspur, secured progression to the Continental Cup quarter-final. A 5-1 victory over Liverpool rounded off the successful year with another piece of history – Chelsea’s first ever Conti Cup knockout stage win.
The match against Spurs was also significant for another reason; it was the testimonial for left-back Claire Rafferty, who was celebrating a remarkable tenth season at the club.
2017 was historic, but there is opportunity to make 2018 even better. The Blues face tough matches in both the Champions League and Continental Cup, against Montpellier and Manchester City respectively, as well as sitting second in the league with 13 matches still left to play. The FA Cup also gets underway in January, and the Blues will be desperate to return to Wembley again.
Jonna Andersson and Anita Asante have been unveiled as new players for the new year, strengthening what is already a remarkable squad.
Following the Chelsea Ladies in 2018 should be fun!