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For the second week in a row, I'm thinking about Chelsea a lot. Yikes!

But after I spent a lot of time last week thinking about how Emma Hayes is one of the most insightful managers of our time, I couldn't really ignore a headline like this.
The Blues beat Liverpool 5-1 on Saturday. James had a hand in all of Chelsea's goals — and was the scorer of three. What the hell.

This week, I was one of 140,000 logging into iPlayer to watch the game back. Seven hundred and ninety-six thousand people watched it live, making it the most viewed Women's Super League game of all time.

It's a shame that so few were there to see it in person. Four years ago, any WSL side would have bitten your hand off for a match day attendance of 12,802. But Arsenal are consistently attracting three times as many fans to the Emirates this season, and this weekend Manchester United proved they can do it too — so why is Stamford Bridge so empty?

I was there in September for Chelsea's season opener against Tottenham and I can't say I'll be rushing back. Sure, there was a DJ on the concourse and some pretty enormous flags — but it's no Leah Williamson pulling pints at the Tollington.
She's not there every week. But sending the girlhood Gooner out to rub shoulders with fans ahead of their Champions League tie against Wolfsburg last season was a great idea. Everyone was having a good time before they even made it to the stands, where Arsenal seat the diehards together so they'll make enough noise to encourage newbies to join in.

Chelsea's efforts, meanwhile, are minimal. It feels like they are relying on their global brand and trophy cabinet to pull in the punters.

Imagine being Lauren James. In a fortnight's time, she'll be at the Emirates, wondering how her talents only drew 12,000 fans in west London, while the architect of this gaffe helped sell out the fifth largest football stadium in England:
Please spare a thought for the cameraman as he's still recovering from whiplash.

Now let's turn our minds to LJ's first goal against Liverpool on Saturday. England's most gifted footballer loves a peeling run, coming short for a pass, then losing her marker and bombing upfield to jump on the end of a long ping. Eleven minutes in, James peeled but Jess Carter misread it, rolling the ball into the feet of Jenna Clark (remember her, formerly of last-ditch swish fame at Glasgow City?).

Establishing a theme for the afternoon, Liverpool couldn't keep it and, at the slightest whiff of 'having the ball', LJ was on her bike. Sophie Ingle sent her the ball and what remained was simple — beat one man, slide it into the net.

Reds defender Gemma Bonner is one of the Women's Super League most familiar faces, and James dismissed all that experience with one drop of the shoulder? OK.

If there's one thing more delightful than a veteran centre-back getting merked by a young whippersnapper, it's the tiny prodigy's cheek-aching grin.
Pay attention to that smile, because it's going to be a key ingredient down the line.

James grabbed her badge in celebration, chuffed as you like. It's the team she grew up supporting, the team who shaped her from U10s to U14s, the team that made her older brother Reece into a beltin' football player too.

On the other flank on Saturday was another player with Chelsea in her blood — 20-year-old Aggie Beever-Jones who, after spending the last two seasons on loan at Bristol City and Everton, scored her first senior goal off the bench in October. She did the same in the next game, and the one after that. Then, with the Blues knackered after a midweek trip to Real Madrid, Emma Hayes gave the wee one her first senior start on Saturday.

Reader, you'll never guess what she did next. Yes, another goal! But this isn't about Aggie Beever-Jones who, to me, sounds more like a haggard old crone in a Charles Dickens novel than the youngest, snappiest whipper making LJ look ancient. No, this is about LJ10 and the ridiculous way she set up ABJ's big moment.

I'm telling you that the little bastard did not look UP before she sent a pass like an arrow into Sam Kerr's path, racing for the return, then from pretty close to the touchline dug out a magnificent cross to pick out ABJ at the back post.
The backswing to distance travelled by the ball ratio here is disgusting, and speaks more generally to LJ's game, which is that she really puts in the least and gives the most. Oh, also she swung that cross in (and scored the opener) with her 'weaker' left foot, too. I'm SICK of it.

At this point, Liverpool were basically at the mercy of whatever Clark and Emma Koivisto could do to stop her — and it wasn't much. LJ and Niamh Charles were pulling some absolute bullshit by swapping places every five seconds so that just when Clark and Koivisto had sorted out between them who's dealing with who, they threw the whole thing into confusion with one swooping overlap.

🚨 Sarina, I hope you're watching. If Jorge Vilda can piggyback his way to the podium on the shoulders of tiny Barcelona Feminini boss Jonatan Giraldez, I don't see why
Charles/James shouldn't join Carter/Bright among the flat-pack Chelsea weapons in the Lionesses' arsenal.

In spite of all this, it was only 2-1 at half time, and Liverpool might have stayed in the game longer had Koivisto paid heed to the advice of S Club 7, who were playing on the stadium PA during the interval. But with Sam Kerr on the ball, she just stopped moving, letting LJ run free in the final third.

The poor soul couldn't win. Usually you can make a difference simply by sticking to a team's best player like glue — but no team has enough glue to cover all of the Blues' many superstars and so Koivisto had to choose.

I didn't expect James to finish from so tight an angle. The shot took LJ by surprise too, the power of it lifting both of her feet off the ground as the ball flew like dart into the far corner, leaving Koivisto looking to the heavens for answers.
I've never been to heaven, but Chelsea fans were already there with over half an hour left to play.

Trailing by two, Liverpool had to score to make the afternoon worthwhile. But the Reds wing-backs weren't joining the attack as they were too busy shitting their pants about what James would do next. She had them trapped. How could they take their eyes off her? LJ with the ball is frightening — without it she's just as scary.

Only the best players in the world can create such fear leading to this kind of paralysis. That kind of power can turn you into a bellend, but thankfully, for now, James isn't too cool to have a good time. You could hardly wipe the smile off her face when she completed her hat-trick and then, after creating Chelsea's fifth and final goal of the afternoon, she turned to scorer Sjoeke Nüsken and told her, "I said you'd score."
In addition to her usual ridiculous ball control and offensively good dummies and turns, LJ finished the game with three goals, one assist and one pre-assist to her name.

With Sophie Ingle breaking the record for the most WSL appearances, and Stamford Bridge welcoming Emma Hayes for the first time since she announced her departure, it wasn't supposed to be LJ's afternoon. The spotlight was on her, whether she liked it or not (she liked it) but LJ's manager Emma Hayes observed that she had been "very selfless", too.

At the full-time whistle, Hayes swerved the BBC cameras as she put an arm around the young prodigy to tell her how proud she was. Speaking to the media, James confessed that processing news of Hayes' exit has been "difficult" and dedicated the rest of her season's work to the legendary manager.

Whoever comes next should listen to Lauren, who has a good idea of what makes her tick: "When I'm playing with a smile and have happiness, who knows what can happen?"

Things I dig this week

Quote of the Day

"It’s frightening where she came from, to where she is now" — that's right kids, it's another opportunity to laugh at Manchester United manager Marc Skinner!

This time he's on about Phallon Tullis-Joyce, the goalkeeper that the Reds signed this summer from OL Reign. You might remember her as being the best dressed shot-stopper in the northern hemisphere. Well, she's also quite good at goalkeeping, which Skinner has apparently only just discovered despite having made the decision the bring her to England in September.

In a Continental Cup match against Liverpool on Wednesday, Tullis-Joyce made a spectacular diving save, keeping all three Group B points for her side as they closed out a 1-0 win.

In his post-match, Skinner meant to praise, not patronise the 27-year-old goalkeeper with an established reputation in the NWSL. But she's been training under Skinner for TWO months now, so I'd like to remind the people offended by his comment, he like invented her, you know what I mean?

Coming Up

  • Thursday - Champions League
    • Paris FC have seen off Arsenal and Wolfsburg — should Chelsea be scared? KO 8pm at Stamford Bridge.
  • Sunday - Women's Super League
    • Chelsea play for the fifth time in a fortnight — will Leicester City be able to take advantage of tired legs?
    • It seems just yesterday that Aston Villa were dead last with zero points — it's amazing how far up the table back-to-back wins can send you. Can they make it three in a row against Everton, winless in four?
  • Sunday - West Riding County Cup
    • It's all a bit wet out there so for two games running my Leeds Hyde Park teammates and I have had to tell our opponents 'no, we're not playing a game of football, actually'. This Sunday, we're not hosting thank GOD so here's hoping that Brighouse's pitch bears up under the weather. After three weeks off, I'm gonna be huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Katie Astle playing for Leeds United Women against FC United of Manchester

Soggy bogs and misty eyes

by Flora Snelson

A non-league ground lined with golf brollies for a rainy FA Cup tie reminded me of being at Histon as an 11-year-old. This time, Leeds brought the magic.
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