Maren Mjelde is set to start Sunday’s crucial WSL encounter at Manchester City with Jess Carter expected to be dropped from the side.
Norway defender Mjelde, 32, returned to Blues action on Tuesday as a substitute in Chelsea’s 7-0 thrashing of Servette in a Champions League group match. The west Londoners top the table.
It was Mjelde’s first outing since she injured her anterior cruciate ligament in the League Cup final at Vicarage Road against Bristol City in March.
Head coach Emma Hayes said: “No one wanted to come off at half-time, they were all hiding from me in the changing room. But [I wanted] to get Maren on. She is a special person in our environment.
“She has worked hard to get herself fit, working along with the medical and technical team – she is a Rolls Royce of a footballer.
“When she came on – in the 66th minute – you could see her composure straight away, she is a superb player. She is a quiet leader. She has been the mother hen of this group for years.”
Hayes has the option to change the defence formation once again and utilise Carter and Mjelde. While Carter has been used as a wing-back and as sweeper, Hayes could play both.
Striker Sam Kerr hit a brace against the whipping girls of the group, but was also full of praise for the Norway defender.
Australian Kerr, 28, said: “It was special to see her on the pitch again. When she started to join in with us in training, we all just cheered. When she went down injured in the Conti Cup, that was devastating for us. Although we won 6-0, it felt like we lost that game.”
Carter, if dropped on Sunday will justifiably feel aggrieved. She has become pivotal in Chelsea’s good form this season.
Hayes said: “Jess is a young player. It’s her first full season playing with us. When Jess was on the bench I said to her ‘just watch her [Mjelde]. Look at her decision-making in and out of possession.’
“She can learn a lot from the likes of Maren and keep taking examples from a player who, in the dressing room but also on the pitch, has so much quality. Maren is one of the most underrated players in the world.”
Pernille Harder, 28, has not played since pulling out of international duty and almost certainly won’t play against Manchester City.
Another player getting closer to first-team action is Lauren James. The 20-year-old has not kicked a ball in anger since signing in the summer. She was named on the subs bench on Tuesday but was never going to feature on the pitch.
Hayes said: “It’s important with Lauren that we give her time. But we have players who have not played a lot – including Jorja Fox, Zecura Musovic and Jonna Andersson in particular.
“You have to put your time in, you have to earn that. You can’t just do that after a short period of time.
“I want Lauren to be given the time in the training environment to get up to the speed of the team, and give her some exposure.
“But I would never ever do anything at the expense of what’s best for the team. She is not far away, but she has to keep earning it on the training pitch.”
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