Eve Perisset’s defending helps Chelsea to double down on quadruple ambitions

The quadruple is still alive after Chelsea defended their way to a 1-0 win over Manchester City to reach a fifth consecutive League Cup final.

A Lauren James shot which deflected off Alex Greenwood and past goalkeeper Khiara Keating in the 8th minute means manager Emma Hayes’ hopes of securing four trophies in her final season at the club are still alive. In a match where Chelsea only had three defenders available in their squad, Eve Perisset typified their defence-first approach.

The 29-year-old France full-back did not immediately settle at Chelsea when she joined from Bordeaux last season. But she has gradually worked her way into the side despite competing for a place with Canada international Ashley Lawrence who joined over the summer. But with Lawrence away at the Gold Cup over the past couple of weeks, Perisset has been a crucial player for Chelsea as was the case against City on Thursday.

Just like Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan was unavailable due to international duty. Meanwhile January signing Nathalie Bjorn was cup-tied — the Sweden centre back had appeared for Everton earlier on in the competition — while Maren Mjelde was injured. That meant Chelsea only had Jess Carter, Niamh Charles and Perisset as recognised defenders. Sjoeke Nusken, the young German midfielder, was drafted in at centre back.

Given all that, relying on defence was a bold tactic from Chelsea. Their out of possession approach saw them sit in their familiar 4-4-2 mid block but with a focus from the front two — midfielder Jelena Cankovic and striker Mayra Ramirez — on screening off City’s midfield metronome Yui Hasegawa. With City’s standard build-up disrupted, it was also key to close down their outlets on the wing: Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp. And that is where Perisset came in.

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(MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Despite City’s best attempts to play past her, she stood firm in the one-v-ones against Hemp and Kelly. The duo switched flanks to both get a go at her, but with little success. Perisset likes to leave space between herself and the attacker, before jolting in suddenly to nudge the ball away from their path. The technique means she rarely finds herself chasing and is less likely to give up fouls because she does not commit herself. Her fullback rival Lawrence has given away close to double the amount of fouls on a per 90 basis in the league (1.32 vs 0.65). And when it comes to tackles and interceptions, only Erin Cuthbert is making more than Perisset on a per 90 basis for Chelsea in the league this season.

When Ramirez went off with an injury after 34 minutes, further pressure was heaped on Chelsea as they lost their hold up outlet. 20 year old Aggie Beever-Jones was unable to physically compete against City’s defence and Chelsea retreated further back. Perisset’s best moment in the game came as City had begun to pepper Chelsea’s goal with shots as Jamaica striker Bunny Shaw played her way into the match. Running through on goal, Shaw played the ball to the far post where an onrushing Hemp would surely have found the back of the net were it not for Perisset’s acrobatically hooked clearance.

That was one of numerous chances for City — the shot count finished 23 to 8 in their favour — but Hannah Hampton held firm in the Chelsea goal, supported by a defence ready to deal with any scraps left in the penalty area. It gave Emma Hayes’ side an important first win over a top three team this season as well as ensuring City did not extend their unbeaten run over Chelsea to four games.

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(Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

From a mentality point of view that feels crucial as Chelsea look ahead to the rest of the month where they still have six matches to play, including two against Arsenal in the league and the Conti Cup final. The quick substitutions of Ramirez and Guro Reiten at any hint of injury suggested that Hayes knows her priorities lie elsewhere, but it will not be the last time this season that Chelsea will need to dig deep to grind out a win. Earlier in the year they looked sumptuous in attack, letting themselves be more open at the back in return for an all-action forward line. Key injuries have disrupted that and this game was a return to a more attritional form of Hayes’ football.

No doubt that means Perisset will have a crucial role to play in Chelsea’s run in. After a strong start to the season, she appeared to have lost her place to Lawrence in recent weeks. This performance against City however has clearly demonstrated that she can be relied on in big games where Chelsea want to prioritise defending. Hayes is not wedded to playing ‘nice’ football and if she believes her team’s best chance of silverware this season is to sit back, she will happily do so.

Chelsea have lost their last two League Cup finals to Arsenal and City respectively. On both occasions, they went ahead only to lose 3-1. Intriguingly, it has always been a competition that Hayes has not really seemed to take to — she waited eight years to win her first one.

Now — at Molineux on March 31 — it will be her first opportunity to win a trophy this year.

 (Header photo: Alex Livesey – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

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