The Continental Cup is the only domestic title missing from the trophy cabinet of the Chelsea captain, Magda Eriksson, after two seasons in England but, more surprisingly, it is also missing from her club’s.
“It’s been like our mantra the whole year, the Continental Cup: ‘We’ve never won this, we’ve never won this,’” Eriksson says, before Saturday’s final against Arsenal in Nottingham. “It has been the fuel in every game we’ve played in the tournament. I think we are all, honest to God, a bit tired of Emma [Hayes, the manager] saying it, so we said: ‘OK, now we’re going to win this so she can’t say it any more.’”
Perhaps the lack of Champions League football this season has focused the attention of what Eriksson says is the best Chelsea squad she has been in. The League Cup has been won only by Arsenal and Manchester City in its 11-year history and Chelsea’s semi-final victory over Manchester United, to reach their first final, exorcised a demon.
It was not the first time this season Chelsea lifted a shadow. Ten days before their 1-0 win at Leigh Sports Village they put four past Arsenal at Borehamwood, three in the first 20 minutes, to finally expel thoughts of the 5-0 home defeat suffered in October 2018.
Eriksson is suitably wary of the challenge posed by Arsenal. “I know exactly how it feels and it is devastating,” she says. “[The league win] was one of those one-off games where things just went our way in the first 20 minutes. We’re certainly not expecting anything like that on Saturday. It’s going to be really tight and we’re going to have to fight and earn all our chances. They are obviously going to discuss that game and be extra hungry to beat us.”
Whereas Arsenal were able to rest players in their FA Cup tie against the Championship club Lewes last Sunday, Chelsea had no such luxury in an exhilarating 3-3 draw at title rivals Manchester City in which Eriksson scored.
“I think it is what you make of it,” the centre-back says. “We have a week to recover and that’s plenty of time. We’re all going to be fresh on Saturday – that’s not a question. Personally, I enjoying being in the flow of the game and playing tough games on a regular basis. I feel like that’s when I’m at my best.”
The Sweden international found the lack of structure and pattern to the game against City tough, “because I am a defender and I like structure and control”. But adds: “It was a really good game of football. Both teams really went for it, both tried to be on the front foot and that is when these moments happen, when the game gets transitional.”
In those moments Hayes’s philosophy of building a team of leaders able to make decisions in the heat of battle, comes to the fore.
“I think it’s massive,” Eriksson says. “It’s something we have, since my first year here, got a lot better at as a squad: of taking ownership and coming up with ideas and discussing things as the game goes on. The coaches can only really get us together at half-time and if something isn’t working in the first 10 minutes we want to be able to change.
“We talk a lot about ownership and responsibility and everyone being a leader. Even though I am the captain we have 11 players out there who all come up with ideas and who all feel like they are a part of it and that’s ideal.”
A week after having to deal with City’s Ellen White, Eriksson will go up against another of the world’s best strikers in Vivianne Miedema. “I love that about this league. I get the opportunity to play and train against the best strikers in the world. As a defender, I learn so much every day just from looking at Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Beth England, and now playing against Ellen White and Miedema. Within the game you have your game with the player, which is really exciting.”