For the first time since its meeting with London City Lionesses in the fourth round of the FA Cup in April 2021, Chelsea Women will encounter a non-WSL outfit in a cup competition. Sunderland AFC Women, the outfit currently sitting in second in the Barclays Women's Championship come to southwest London for an encounter with the Blues on Wednesday evening under the Kingsmeadow lights.
Due to the fact that Aston Villa illegally used a player (Noelle Maritz) that was "cup-tied", meaning that she had played for another club in the competition, the Championship outfit finished as Group A winners on 10 points. It is a significant improvement in performance in the Conti Cup compared to last season in which The Lasses failed to amass a single point throughout the group stage. Wednesday will be SAFC's first Conti Cup quarterfinal since December 2017. On that occasion, the club fell two goals short against Joe Montemurro's Arsenal.
Melanie Reay, the Sunderland sideline leader since 2017 has led a strong push for promotion to the top-flight after finishing outside the top-eight in consecutive seasons. Led by 24-year-old Claudia Moan between the sticks, SAFC owns the best defensive record in the Championship, conceding just 10 goals in 15 games. Seven of those fixtures have been clean sheets. Most recently, though, CFCW loanee Emily Orman played a critical role in assisting in Reading's shutout of the northeast English outfit which competed with 10 players for the majority of the match.
Offensively, the club is led by Katie Kitching, an energetic midfielder who arrived from London City Lionesses over the summer. In 15 matches for the club, the University of South Florida product has piled up three goals and three assists. The bad news for Sunderland---she is unavailable for the match off on international duty with New Zealand for the OFC Olympic qualifying tournament. The team will also be missing Louise Griffiths, a regular in the backline due to her red card over the weekend.
Summer arrival from Coventry, Mary McAteer, who just turned 20 a few days ago leads the line. Emily Scarr, the club's top scorer from last season heads to London in-form, having scored three goals in SAFC's last four fixtures.
With all this being said, Sunderland have not seen a team that measures up to the talent level of CFCW this year. While the club is taking strides to become fully professional, there are still players that are competing at a part-time capacity. When it matched up against WSL opposition, The Lasses were overwhelmed, falling to Aston Villa 7-0 until the result was withdrawn due to AVFC's lack of attention to detail.
We all know by now, taking opponents for granted is not something Emma Hayes-led sides tend to do. In her pre-match presser, Hayes spoke about the amount of respect she has for the club her side will encounter in the mid-week.
"I have so much respect for that football club and that region when you consider the quality of players that have been produced over the years," Hayes stated. "I told the players that earlier. It has a really rich football heritage and the team and the history I respect. Guarding against complacency always starts with me, and I respect everyone."
Expect quite the rotated side from the weekend win over Everton given the quick turnaround and an FA Cup encounter this Sunday. All four players who made the bench against the Toffees but did not feature should be Hayes' starting XI. It'll be an opportunity for Mia Fishel, perhaps to continue to grow in confidence in the final third.
Led by the inspiring story from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hayes and her crew have their eyes set on taking that first step toward another cup final which will take place at Molineux Stadium on March 31.
Chelsea Women vs. Sunderland predicted starting XI
Goalkeeper: Zecira Musovic
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Eve Perisset, Niamh Charles, Jess Carter
Midfielders: Sophie Ingle, Jelena Cankovic, Sjoeke Nüsken
Forwards: Mia Fishel, Aggie Beever-Jones, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd
Chelsea Women vs. Sunderland match info
Date: Wednesday, February 7
Time: 19:00 GMT, 2:00 p.m. EST
TV Broadcast: The FA Player
Support Chelsea Women in the final few months of Emma Hayes' tenure by locking down your spot at Kingsmeadow this Wednesday night. Click the link to purchase tickets.