The ultimate Chelsea Women season preview: Can Hayes, Kerr and co make WSL history?

Chelsea Women compositeGetty/GOAL

The Women's Super League is back and the champions, Chelsea, are ready to show what they've got.

Spearheaded by stars like Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby, Emma Hayes' side have won the last three league titles, more than any club has managed in a row since the rebranding of England's top tier.

However, Arsenal were not far from denying them that feat last season and the Gunners will be determined to go one better this time around.

It's clear the Blues will have another fight on their hands to retain their trophy but they have an incredibly talented squad - one they will hope can finally deliver the European glory they so crave, too.

  • Johanna Rytting Kaneryd Chelsea Women 2022-23Chelsea FC

    The Squad

    If there is one certainty about Chelsea, it's that they will score goals. Sam Kerr holds so many records for this that it's hard to keep track. Fran Kirby is her electric partner-in-crime and Pernille Harder, formerly the most expensive women's footballer in history, is renowned for her ability to both create chances and put them away.

    This summer, Hayes has brought in even more firepower. Winger Johanna Rytting Kaneryd arrives with quite a reputation from her native Sweden, the same country in which midfield reinforcement Jelena Cankovic has been one of the best players on show for the last few years. Katerina Svitkova, a playmaking Czech international, has also come in from West Ham and forward Lauren James is back to full fitness.

    With defenders Kadeisha Buchanan and Eve Perisset also signing, and the long-serving Jonna Andersson, Ji So-yun and Drew Spence all moving on, it's been quite a summer of change for the champions.

    The challenge for Hayes now is to get all of these players to gel while also fitting them into a system that brings the best out of them and the team.

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    The Hopes

    Chelsea's aims each year are the same: win as many trophies as possible. Last season, they picked up two, the league and the FA Cup, but lost the Continental Cup final and went out of the Champions League in the group stages.

    The latter was a remarkable surprise given the Blues reached the final in Europe the year before, but they did land in a tough group with old rivals Wolfsburg and Juventus, a club massively on the rise in the women's game.

    That exit will have only fuelled their desire to claim the continental crown that has so far eluded them. Hayes and her players treat all the competitions they compete in with huge respect, but to win the Champions League is a huge ambition of this club. They will hope this summer's business can get them closer to achieving it.

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    The Fears

    Chelsea may have one of the most well-stocked squads in Europe, but that doesn't mean it is faultless. With Melanie Leupolz on maternity leave, and Spence and Ji leaving, they are lacking a bit of steel in midfield.

    This summer, they tried to bring in Paris Saint-Germain captain Grace Geyoro to fix that, but the French giants stood firm and rejected what would've been a world-record fee despite the player wishing to try a new challenge.

    Hayes has got creative to try and strengthen the area, transforming tenacious winger Erin Cuthbert into a deep-lying midfielder in pre-season. It's not the only experimenting she's done, either.

    Harder has dropped into "a bit more of a midfield role", as the Dane described it to GOAL, while captain Magdalena Eriksson looks like she will move from centre-back to left-back due to a dearth of options. The Swede is more than comfortable there, but she is certainly at her best in the heart of defence.

    Will these positional changes be enough to address gaps in the squad? Only time will tell.

  • Sam Kerr Chelsea 2021-22Getty Images

    The Hero

    If there's an easy way to sum up Sam Kerr's incredible goal-scoring, it's in the fact that she has now won seven successive golden boots - across three leagues, in three different countries, on three different continents.

    Those who doubted her ability to bring the quality she showed in Australia and the United States to England have now been silenced as she continues to show she is one of the best forwards in the world.

    "The best have it both sides of the ball," Emma Hayes said of Kerr after she had scored twice to help the Blues win the title again in May. "Defensively from the front, she can make it a nightmare for the opponent and once spaces open up, she's scored all different types of goals."

    She's formed deadly partnerships since signing for Chelsea with Kirby and Harder, and this season she has some more exciting attacking options to terrorise defenders with.

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    The Villain

    There is only one ambition Chelsea are yet to realise and that is to win the Champions League.

    For a long time, it was the same team that kept crushing that dream, with Wolfsburg knocking them out in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

    When they finally avoided them the following year, serial winners Lyon sent them home instead. When they finally beat the German side in 2021 and reached their first final, they lost to Barcelona. And when they came back last year with even higher expectations from the outside, having reached the showpiece event, a 4-0 defeat to Wolfsburg in the group stages sent them crashing out.

    The 'She-Wolves' are certainly the villain in Chelsea's pursuit of European glory, but it could be any of that elite trio that they have to overcome if they want to achieve that dream this season.

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    The Player to Watch

    It's an old cliché, but Lauren James will be like a new signing for Chelsea this season.

    The 20-year-old joined her brother, Reece, at the London club last year but spent her first campaign recovering from injury problems that plagued her final year with Manchester United.

    She's had what team-mate Harder described as "a great pre-season", even scoring against eight-time European champions Lyon during Chelsea's summer tour of the United States. That was rewarded with her national team too, as she made her senior England debut during the September international break.

    "She's a really good player, still young, but I think with time she will be a huge player for England," Harder said of the explosive winger. "I hope that she can be even more involved this season because she's fit now, she doesn't have any injuries. I'm excited to see how her season will be because I think it will be good."