Preview: Reading vs Chelsea

Photo: Toju Bello

For Kelly Chambers and Reading, the result of this weekend’s encounter with Chelsea will go a long way to shaping the short and medium term future of the club. Chambers assures fans that her team believe that they can beat Emma Hayes’ Chelsea to secure their WSL future and that they won’t go down without a fight.

In yesterday afternoon’s press conference ahead of the game, Chambers said, “You have to believe, if you don’t then for me, what is the point in stepping out there? There is still a glimmer of hope and we just have to give everything that we can on the day.”

Beating Chelsea is difficult enough on any given day but Hayes’ Chelsea also have it all to play for, they know that three points will see them awarded WSL champions for the third season in a row. A point may be enough due to Chelsea’s two point lead and superior goal difference over second placed Manchester United. However, it is three points or bust for Reading. They are two points behind Leicester City but with a better goal difference by three.

The previous encounter at Kingsmeadow was a surprisingly tight affair with Chelsea coming away with a 3-2 win. There are only three other matches this season where Chelsea have conceded more than one goal in the WSL this season. The Blues went ahead after three first half goals in seventeen minutes from Fran Kirby and a brace from Jelena Canković. Two goals in two minutes from Sanne Troelsgaard-Nielsen and Amalie Vevle Eikeland made things a little tense but they were not able to get the all-important third.

There have been sixteen WSL encounters between the two. With twelve wins for Chelsea, with three draws and one win for Reading.

Readings position hasn’t come as a huge surprise as Chambers admits that they have been up against it all season due to an inferior budget compared to their rivals. She stated, “There is no hiding from that, you can look at the teams around us in a relegation battle and their player budget, we just don’t have that.”

Adding, “People have said year on year we’ve performed miracles.” Given that Reading appear to be working on a Championship budget it seems that their drop into the division is inevitable. 

Rachel Rowe will not be lining up for the Royals this weekend. With Chambers explaining that her injury will keep her out for the next eight weeks.

Photo: Toju Bello

I asked Chambers whether this current set of players would be in a similar position in previous WSL seasons. She told me, “In terms of the squad, we’ve had quite a variety of experiences. You look at people like Emma Mukandi who has obviously been at Arsenal and won loads, she has that competitive edge but at the other end, we’ve got younger players who have just stepped in and are still grasping what it means and what it takes to be a professional footballer. We are relying on those players to step up and that has probably been tough for us.”

“Whereas I look at previous seasons we’ve had that experience across the board in terms of if you look back to when we had Fara Williams, Jade Moore and Jo Potter they were all England players or ex-England players at the time.

“In previous seasons it might have been more level because the money wasn’t quite there at that at the time. I think as the women’s game has grown, clubs have put money in to make sure that their women’s team grows and that is so important for the game and unfortunately, right now we just can’t keep up with that at the rate it is going.”

It is hard to see a scenario where Reading line up in the WSL next season but with good management and learning lessons from Bristol City and Birmingham City, then it would not be a surprise to see them competing at the top of the Championship next season and pushing for a return.

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