Chelsea are well on their way to potentially playing out their most successful season yet. The Community Shield and Continental Cup are already safely tucked away in the trophy cabinet and a second consecutive Women's Super League title also looks likely for the Blues. There's a lot of focus surrounding their Champions League campaign too as Emma Hayes moves through the gears in her mission to dominate Europe for the first time.
The West Londoners continue to prove that they are the strongest English side in the game right now. Their high quality play from some of the world's greatest international stars makes them a really tough side to be drawn against. But Chelsea's biggest secret weapon is their incredible squad depth.
Hayes wasted no time during the summer transfer window to strengthen her already talented first team. Whilst recruiting blockbuster signing Pernille Harder was arguably the biggest move in the WSL, the manager's eye for cherry picking quality fringe players has proven crucial in the 2020/21 season.
The Blues welcomed rising stars Jessie Fleming and Niamh Charles to Kingsmeadow last year ahead of their title-defending WSL season. The latter was scooped up from a relegated Liverpool side, where she spent her entire career after graduating through the club's centre of excellence.
Charles was a first team regular during her time on Merseyside but her raw talent on the ball wasn't enough to save her girlhood club's season. The Reds' disappointing campaign overshadowed the winger's individual performances, but she did enough to ensure she appeared on the radar of the league winners.
Building a watertight squad
Hayes is well known for her outspoken responses and no-nonsense managerial tactics. This is why she is one of the sport's most successful coaches. Her match day approaches aren't something that she recently introduced either – Chelsea players both past and present have discussed the nature of Hayes as a manager and how well it works in keeping the trophy cabinet stocked.
Claire Rafferty recently spoke to GiveMeSport Women about her former manager's approach to rotating such a big squad packed with in-house competition.
"These players have signed for Chelsea knowing that that's the way it is and Emma would have started her introduction with these new players around that [squad rotation]. That's the culture and I think everyone accepts that."
Indeed, 2019/20 PFA Player of the Year Bethany England has been demoted to the bench on multiple occasions this season in favour of deadly attacking trio Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby and Harder. South Korea international Ji So-yun is another player who has been rotated despite usually being one of the first names on the team-sheet for Chelsea.
"Emma says it time and time again," Rafferty continued. "It was the same when I was there – we don't have a fixed starting 11. But I think it's about making sure everyone's ready when they're called upon and you can see that with Niamh [Charles]."
A new emerging talent for England
With a new era for the Lionesses on the horizon, now is the time for both England juniors and seniors to show what they're capable of. Interim manager Hege Riise will be taking charge until Sarina Wiegman's arrival and she will also spearhead the Team GB squad at this year's Olympics.
Usually, the pressure is on the younger players to prove they are ready to feature in a big international competition, but the England veterans are being heavily contested by the sheer volume of young talent emerging.
Riise handed senior debuts to Sandy MacIver, Ebony Salmon and Ella Toone in their recent friendly against Northern Ireland, showing that she very much has her finger on the pulse when it comes to scouting the next generation of stars.
Charles' growth at Chelsea can only put her on the same wavelength as her fellow WSL athletes. She has already grabbed herself a goal and an assist in the league this season and has made four starts across all competitions.
Despite being a forward by trade, Hayes has been testing Charles' versatility in other positions. She has featured in a more defensive role as of late, operating at right-back without even flinching at the change in her game.
"Emma Hayes will trust her even more so after the way she's settled into the game," Rafferty said on Charles' willingness to adapt. "Credit to her, she wasn't fazed at all. I think we're going to see a lot more of her."
Under such a successful manager and surrounded by some of the world’s best international talents, it surely won’t be long before Niamh Charles is breaking through the glass ceiling and becoming part of the new wave of English talent.News Now - Sport News