Tottenham Hotspur Women brought their top game, and when Ann-Katrin Berger clattered Rachel Williams just outside the penalty area, it felt like it might be our day. But even with only ten players, Chelsea’s depth and versatility in attack proved too much for Spurs to handle. In the end, Spurs succumbed 3-1 to a gritty defense and several moments of individual brilliance.
It’s always a tough task to set up against one of the best teams in the league, let alone twice in one week, after a long layoff, while you’re missing a key player like Ria Percival. Rehanne Skinner opted to return to the back three that proved solid against Manchester City, with Viki Schnaderbeck playing in place of Maeva Clemaron. Cho So-Hyun came into midfield alongside Eveliina Summanen, and Jessica Naz joined Kyah Simon and Rachel Williams up top.
In the opening stages of the game, Spurs contained Chelsea well. Our back three provided added defensive solidarity in the absence of Percival and Clemaron, and afforded us more passing angles to progress the ball out through Harrop and Neville on the wings. Naz, Simon, and Williams energetically pressed Chelsea’s center backs, while the rest of the team remained compact, organized and patient during each attack. Summanen and our center backs were particularly good at stepping in to clear heavy touches, and Tinnie Korpela had an excellent reflex save from close range.
Tottenham opened the scoring with one of the first solid chances of the game. Under pressure from Summanen, Chelsea’s Millie Bright put Neville’s back post cross out for a corner. Molly Bartrip curled in a wicked ball that bounced first off the back post, then off the hapless Sophie Ingle. Cho So-Hyun made such a nuisance of herself in the box that Ann-Katrin Berger could only flap at the ball as it sailed past her into back of the net. Chelsea struck back just ten minutes later through a moment of genius by Guro Reiten. She received the ball just outside the box, sent Ash Neville chasing shadows, then chipped the ball over Korpela’s head into the side netting from an impossible angle.
Even after the equalizer, Totteham persisted in their organized, patient containment, and they were rewarded with turnovers and opportunities to counter. Not too long after Chelsea’s goal, Kyah Simon played a beautiful through ball to Rachel Williams. She evaded the Chelsea back line and headed towards goal uncontested, until Ann-Katrin Berger came off her line and hip-checked her into oblivion. Berger received a straight red for the challenge, which forced Chelsea to sacrifice forward Beth England to bring on their backup goalkeeper, Zecira Musovic. For the final twenty minutes of play, Chelsea seemed panicked and shell-shocked. Spurs tried to turn up the pressure, but failed to create clear cut chances, and things went into the half 1-1.
For the second half, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes drew from the absurd wealth of talent sitting on their bench to bring on Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson, and it was a calmer, sharper Chelsea side that re-emerged. As in the first half, Spurs proved capable of matching the pressure. The sides traded early chances—first, Sam Kerr forced a last gasp block from Korpela, and in response Kerys Harrop sent in a looping ball that would have found the back of the net had it not met Musovic’s fingertips first.
Spurs continued to ramp up the attacking pressure, but poor final third decision making let us down. Even with ten players, Chelsea posed enough threat to thoroughly exhaust any side. They were constantly able to replace tiring players with fresh legs from their deep bench without sacrificing quality, while Spurs’ focus and organization began to slip. Sure enough, it was substitute Jonna Anderson who set up Chelsea’s go ahead goal with nearly her first touch of the game. Neville couldn’t stop Andersson’s cross, and Schnaderbeck couldn’t stop Sam Kerr rising to meet it, and effortlessly redirecting it over the line.
The game started to wind down after Chelsea went ahead. Spurs never looked entirely out of it, and though we still managed to get the ball down the field several times, we had no new ideas in attack. Chelsea sealed the game at the death through another moment of genius. This time, Jessie Fleming picked up the ball outside the box (maybe even outside our third) and fired a physics-defying effort past Korpela. There was scarcely any time left in the game for a replay, but no matter—I’m sure we’ll be seeing that one in the running for April’s goal of the month.
The scoreline wasn’t pretty, but there are a lot of positives to take from this game. Tottenham’s attacking issues are old news, as is our lack of depth. It doesn’t matter how organized, well coached and brave you are, if you have players like Sam Kerr, Guro Reiten, and Jessie Fleming, they’re just going to do things like that. But superstars aside, our midfielders and defenders went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in the league, even missing key midfielders in Clemaron and Percival. Cho and Summanen stepped up and held their own in midfield, and Viki Schnaderbeck was phenomenal in defense. Jessica Naz also had some bright moments in attack, and although her decision making could use some work, she’s certainly not alone in that and I’m excited to watch her continue to develop.
Coach Rehanne Skinner once again showed her ability to plan for matches against teams of all styles and qualities. Today’s patient back three looked very different from the high pressing sides we saw against teams like Brighton and Birmingham. Skinner just penned a new two year contract, so I’m hopeful that after some summer signings we’ll get to see her great ideas more fully expressed next season.
For now, Skinner and the team have three days to take in everything they learned in this banger of a game. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see what comes next.