Chelsea vs. Aston Villa, WSL preview: back into the swing of things

With the men’s team once against hitting a wall in the Premier League, the Chelsea Women are back to save the mood of CFC fans everywhere The women’s football international break flew by with west Londoners showing out all over the world. Sam Kerr netted a hattrick for Australia, Niamh Charles won the Lionesses’ Player of the Match against Belgium, and Mia Fishel scored her first USWNT senior goal in her hometown. Those were just a few of the highlights.

Now, women’s football turns back to the club side of things. If one examined the schedule before the campaign began, you would have thought this fixture following the hiatus would be between two clubs at the top half of the table. That is not the case.

If this were a marathon, the west Londoners’ would be the one flying in the front of the pack. Aston Villa, the competitor gasping for air all the way in the back.

It’s not that simple though. Villa is well-prepared to turn the tide. It has done these races before, and in fact last year was its most successful. The west London outfit may be looking back now, but it has to be able to keep pushing forward with intent like it always has under the current leadership.

With just one day of full training, the Blues are going to have to dig into their alter ego as “mentality monsters”. According to Hayes in the pre-match press conference on Friday morning, there will be no Melanie Leupolz or Guro Reiten while a few others will be examined ahead of the match. One of them is most likely Lauren James who dropped out of the England’s Women’s Nations League squad due to a concussion. Erin Cuthbert could be the other one. The Scottish midfielder has been nursing a quad injury, forcing her to miss out on the first friendly of this past window against the Netherlands.

No player has more @BarclaysWSL assists than @NiamhCharles7 this season. 🅰️

— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) October 27, 2023

Expect a Sjoeke Nusken, Sophie Ingle pivot similar to the Brighton and Hove Albion contest. Considering how the start of the previous fixture went, Hayes will most likely deploy a back-four with Eve Perisset being preferred on the right to Ashley Lawrence at this point in time. Niamh Charles has been in top-form no matter what color kit she has donned. Just a few months ago in the league, No. 21 assisted Kerr for the third and final goal of a WSL shutout triumph.

Carla Ward, Rachel Daly and Aston Villa are one of two clubs with zero points through four contests. Equipped with even more firepower in the front line from an offseason of moves that included former Houston Dash forward Ebony Salmon and Canadian winger Adriana Leon, Villa was on track to finish possibly even closer to the top-four.

Some thought the club turned the corner, finding the back of the net against Tottenham Hotspur ahead of the international break, but Martha Thomas had other plans. Despite the form the Villains are currently in, there is something frightening about a team fighting for its life.

One of the reasons for concern is the return of Kenza Dali. The French midfielder has not competed in a single league match this campaign, but could return based on information from her manager on Saturday afternoon. In the league last season, Dali sat at the top in goal-creating actions with 20. If she is able to go, that could spark the beginning of a turnaround in form.

Ward said that there was “no pressure” on her team to secure a result ahead of the international break. Now, that opinion has to have changed. Sure, it is a long campaign, but the points have to come sooner rather than later. There’s an unsympathetic hill to climb on Saturday to achieve that goal. The Birmingham side has not earned a single point against the west Londoners in its history. Hayes’ team has outscored the west Midlands outfit 7-1 in the last three contests across all competitions.

Chelsea Goalkeeper: Zecira Musovic

Defenders: Jess Carter, Millie Bright, Eve Perisset, Niamh Charles

Midfielders: Sjoeke Nusken, Jessie Fleming, Sophie Ingle

Forwards: Mia Fishel, Lauren James, Fran Kirby

Date: Saturday, November 4

Time: 13:30 (BST), 8:30 a.m. (EST)

TV Broadcast: Sky Sports (UK), CBS Sports Network (USA)