Sam Kerr turns ‘Wembley Nightmare’ into dream season

Sam Kerr wheels away in celebration after one of her 21 top flight goals this season. Picture: Chelseafc.com

“Hi, this is Sam Kerr and you’re talking to the Barclays Golden Boot winner!” yelled the normally reserved Australian striker in the midst of Chelsea’s trophy celebrations.

After a maligned start to her career in the FAWSL, Sam Kerr has scored 21 goals in 22 games in her first full season in England.

She topped the scoring charts finishing three goals clear of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema and helped secure her second league title for Chelsea.

Kerr signed with Chelsea in a two-and-a-half-year deal reported to be as much as $600,000 a season but with that price tag came scrutiny and it was never harsher than after the opening weeks of this season.

After missing multiple chances in the Charity Shield against Manchester City, Kerr’s day was dubbed a “Wembley Nightmare” by the local press.

More pressure was added following the draw against Manchester United after missing gettable chances to win the game.

Those writing her off as a “flop” were premature. Manager Hayes kept the faith, continuing to start her over 2019/20 player of the year Beth England. She was not scoring but was still troubling defences.

“If you’ve got a striker who’s not creating chances that’s a concern,” said Hayes back in August.

“I’m not disappointed with anything in her game today.”

The Chelsea boss knew what the British public was still learning, Kerr is not always a clinical striker but she is a ruthlessly irrepressible one.

She finds opportunities with her movement, pace and defensive pressure. Her goals come from being in the right position repeatedly and attacking the ball tenaciously. Effort and skill eventually combine to score at some point of nearly every game.

Returning to normal programming

In December things began to click. Previously a frequent user of Twitter and Facebook to engage with fans, Kerr took a break from social media following excessive online heckling.

With the Christmas break in English football and the absence of national team games, she was able to get some rest for the first time in nearly a decade of constant football. Kerr soon returned to familiar peak form.

A hat-trick in a 3-2 win at West Ham kicked off a scoring run that included a winning goal the following week, doubles against Aston Villa and Tottenham, another hatrick against Birmingham and a vital goal against Manchester City in a pivotal game.  

In addition to the mental and physical rest, Kerr had developed a productive partnership with Fran Kirby, scoring 37 goals between them in the league.

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New style, same class.

Her game style also changed slightly. Perth Glory and NWSL sides, Chicago Red Stars and New Jersey Sky Blue tended to play fast, counterattacking football.

Kerr was often on the shoulder of the last player and running onto through balls or on the end of early crosses. The Matildas under Allen Stajcic also got great results with this tactic, particularly in the 2017 Cup Of Nations against Brazil and Japan.

Emma Hayes changed her role slightly. Kerr was often finding the ball in deeper or wider positions, linking up play and drawing defenders away from teammates.

“I’ve figured out the strategies that work best with her,” she said following the brace against Tottenham.

“She’s taking responsibility for the team and she does it again and again.”

Her tactical movement was at its best in the Champions League game against Wolfsburg.

She waits for the play to move around her, holding position at the edge of the box. The central defenders are drawn to the ball and when the pass is played she is well onside.

Using her trademark acceleration she races clear of her opponents and finishes after rounding the keeper.

There will be benefits for Australia.

The Matildas have struggled against packed defenses, most memorably against Thailand in the 2018 Asian Cup. Kerr has become accustomed to breaking down these sorts of teams at Chelsea this year.

Winning the Golden Boot in a major European league is a significant achievement. It seems almost every year Sam Kerr reaches a new peak.

Since 2017 she has topped the scoring in six competitions across three countries with four different clubs. 

With a Champions League final approaching and a World Cup on the horizon, the best may be yet to come from a striker who has once again topped the league and now sits in a league of her own.

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