Football Features

Sam Kerr proves her doubters wrong (again) as Chelsea complete domestic treble

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:49, 6 December 2021

Sam Kerr once again proved her quality to help Chelsea win the 2021 FA Cup final beating Arsenal 3-0 at Wembley.

When Kerr arrived at Chelsea in November 2019 there was a lot of fanfare and excitement, but the Australian striker took some time to get accustomed to the game in England, scoring just one goal and recording one assist in her first seven games before the 2019/20 season was curtailed.

As a result of the slow start, and some big chances missed, opposition fans were beginning to label Kerr a flop. Fast forward to December 2021 and she’s proven to be completely the opposite.

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In her first full campaign with Chelsea, Kerr scored 28 goals and recorded 13 assists in 37 games across all competitions (including the delayed quarter-finals of the 2019/20 FA Cup), helping the Blues win the Women’s Super League, Continental Cup and reach the Champions League final.

Including the Community Shield, Chelsea had swept up three of the four domestic honours on offer in the 2020/21 campaign and they still had the chance to win the FA Cup, which had been delayed once again – with the final scheduled for December 5, 2021, a very important date for women’s football.

On December 4, 1921, the FA effectively banned women from playing football, claiming the sport to be ‘quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’. As a result, the FA Council requested ‘the clubs belonging to the Association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches’.

Women’s football in England was held back for 50 years but in 2021, Kerr and Chelsea put on a show in the 51st FA Cup final, completing their domestic treble for 2020/21.

It was a quintessential Kerr performance at Wembley, with the first half seeing the Australian miss two excellent chances when one-on-one that would have put Chelsea out of sight after just 45 minutes. It’s become quite a regular occurrence for Kerr to miss the easier chances but put away those she really shouldn’t have any right to score. In the WSL this season, she has an Expected Goals of 1.05 per 90 minutes, and 0.93 Expected Goals on Target of 0.93 per 90, but averages 1.65 goals per 90 (via Opta’s The Analyst).

Kerr’s first goal was Chelsea’s second, with Fran Kirby giving the Blues the lead in just the third minute, beating Manuela Zinsberger after Kerr’s attempted pass had been knocked into her path by Frida Maanum.

The ‘Kerr-by’ link up officially came through in the second half, as Kirby played a pass around Arsenal’s high defensive line for Kerr to run onto. Kerr still had quite a bit to do, going one-on-one with Lotte Wubben-Moy but she managed to squeeze her shot into the near post through the Arsenal defender’s legs. Zinsberger probably could have done better, but she was also beaten by the cleverness of Kerr’s shot. That strike was the 29th time Kerr and Kirby have directly combined for a goal since the latter returned to football at the start of last season.

Kirby herself has now been directly involved in 20 goals across all competitions this season, scoring 11 and recording nine assists, highlighting just why Chelsea boss Emma Hayes regards her a national treasure.

“She delivered above and beyond,” Hayes said of Kirby.

“She is a national treasure so look after her. Fran is at her best when she plays off a striker and is able to float in those key areas. Everything she did was so dynamic. I felt every time she went forward she was going to score.

“She has a maturity in her game. She has played in every big game and for that reason she has a confidence to deliver again and again and again.”

But the day was all about Kerr, especially after her second goal. Again Chelsea won the ball from Arsenal just inside their own half and this time Melanie Leupolz played the ball through the defence in a matter of moments. Kerr raced onto the pass, beating the offside line and lobbed Zinsberger from just inside the Arsenal box. A finish worthy of winning any game, let alone the FA Cup final.

“When the third goal went in, I was simply purring,” Hayes said in her post-match press conference, playing on Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall’s pre-match quotes of being superstitious around black cats.

Kerr did not get the chance for a hat-trick, and probably another backflip celebration for the fans to enjoy, rested in the final five minutes but her work was done. The Australian has now scored 45 goals in 59 games for Chelsea since joining two years ago, averaging 0.97 per 90 minutes. She’s also provided 19 assists for the Blues, 12 of which have been to Kirby.

In 2021 alone, Kerr has scored 36 goals and provided 18 assists, showing just why she was named the third best player in the world at the Ballon d’Or, behind deserved winner Alexia Putellas and second-placed Jenni Hermoso, both of Barcelona. But for Hayes, she is the best striker in the world.

“So many people wondered how Sam would cope in the English game but, as far as I am concerned, she is the best striker in the world and she displayed that when it really mattered,” Hayes added.

“She is courageous and full of confidence. She is a superb athlete, an amazing human and they are two of many, many characters in that dressing room that are noteworthy for their performances.

“Champions don’t make excuses; Sam takes responsibility, she is in control. There is no way she was going to be on the losing team. We are extremely lucky to have her at this club.”

A special mention should also be given to the Chelsea defence, including the fantastic Erin Cuthbert and Jess Carter, who helped keep Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Katie McCabe extremely quiet. Arsenal had just four shots at Wembley on Sunday, none of which hit the target, with McCabe making more headlines for her tackles than her attacking contribution (she was fortunate not to be sent off for a series of bad challenges).

But with the 2020/21 campaign officially over, Chelsea and Arsenal will both turn their attention to the current season and, after the Champions League fixtures this week, the WSL title race. It’s Arsenal who currently hold the advantage in the league, one point clear of Chelsea having beaten the Blues on the opening weekend of the season. But Chelsea will be buoyed by their performance on Sunday and Hayes believes they are the best team in the country right now.

“Are we the most dominant team in England right now? Yes, of course,” she said.

“The quadruple (including Community Shield) suggests that. I thought we were like a machine today.

“Everything about us… We just purred from start to finish.”

The cat puns may be done, but Chelsea’s dominance could continue if they can build on their resounding victory at Wembley on Sunday – especially if Kerr keeps banging in the goals.