When Chelsea and Manchester City step out at a sold-out Plough Lane on Saturday, somewhat incomprehensibly it will be the first time English football’s two dominant teams of recent years have met in a cup final. Since 2014 they have played one another in seven semi-finals and two quarter-finals and the Chelsea full-back Jonna Andersson is relishing the Continental League Cup final.
“Finally,” she says. “We always say that we’re going to get them in the semi-finals. We were quite surprised when we didn’t, and now it’s finally a final. Hopefully both teams are happy about it because it’s a good final for us to play but also for people watching.”
Chelsea are six points above City in the league with a game in hand and have done the WSL double over them, but any suggestion that Saturday may not be a contest would be far from the mark. City staggered early in the season, hindered by injuries, losing seven of their first 14 matches in all competitions. Since then, though, they have had one defeat in 12 games: 1-0 against Chelsea.
Chelsea faltered, too, picking up one win in five after their swashbuckling 3-0 defeat of Arsenal in the FA Cup final at the start of December, but are since unbeaten in six. Emma Hayes’s side are perhaps still favourites, although we are yet to see whether the off-field turmoil around the club seeps on to it. For Andersson, dealing with City’s potent wingers Lauren Hemp and Jess Park will be key.
“They have so many good players and especially wingers that like going forward with a lot of pace and that are very good one versus one,” she says. “We just need to focus on our gameplan and what we can do, but of course we need to try to stop them as well because we know that’s one of their biggest threats.”
It is in defence where Hayes has been most experimental this season and Andersson and the rest of the players who rotate along the backline have taken time to get used to the switches between a back four and back three. “You just need to be flexible and really, really understand the different kinds of formations because you have to be able to switch between them as well in games or in weeks,” the Sweden international says.
“I want to be an attacking full-back. When I’ve been playing as a wing-back in 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 of course I need to be more involved in maybe the one versus one attacking plays so I have to try to improve these kinds of things. When I’ve been a full-back as a back four it’s maybe more coming from behind running overlaps and underlaps.”
Andersson has had a solid season, bouncing back from a tough end to the previous campaign, when she was dropped to the bench for Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final second leg and final. “You have these moments during the season, during the games,” she says. “That was maybe a tougher period for me personally, but I still think it’s a team sport and you need to try to stick together. It was a tough time, but I think I’ve learned a lot from it as well and have come out stronger.”
She has had to. It had been expected by many that Hayes would dip into the transfer market to improve her options at full-back and the manager admitted early in the season: “It’s not that we didn’t target players, we just didn’t get the ones that we wanted.”
Andersson was unfazed by the chatter. “That’s something the media has said – Emma has never said it to me – but I also know that I need to be on top in training and games to be able to play and start for Chelsea. That probably just gives me more energy. It shows that I need to improve and get better every day.”
It is that kind of fight that Hayes looks for in players and is something Chelsea need to power them to an unbeaten run to the end of the season if they are to retain their domestic treble.
“I’m not going to say we’re used to [winning and the pressure] but that’s where we want to be; we want to win everything we can,” Andersson says. “If we drop some points there is still going to be a big chance to win the league. It’s not finished yet. You can’t tell who’s going to win or who’s going to be the second or third, it’s so even, and you need to take every game as a final.”