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Women's Super League: Sam Kerr injury leaves Chelsea pondering striker options

Chelsea were hit with a massive blow over the weekend with the news that striker Sam Kerr will miss the rest of the season.

The 30-year-old sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury while away on the club's mid-season warm weather training camp in Morocco.

Kerr will be assessed by a specialist but if reports are confirmed, she could also miss out on playing for Australia at this summer's Olympics.

The Matildas face Uzbekistan next month in a two-legged qualifier for a place in Paris.

Former Chelsea defender Gilly Flaherty told the BBC that the news is a "huge blow", while Arsenal's Beth Mead, one of several leading female players to have suffered similar injuries in recent times, wrote on X that: "No words will help right now".

A global star

Kerr's status as the record scorer in both the National Women's Soccer League in the US and the Australian W-League meant her 2019 signing from Chicago Red Stars was seen as a real coup for Chelsea and she has justified the hype.

The Western Australian has netted 99 times in 128 matches for the Blues, helping them claim successive four WSL titles.

During that time she has scored 58 goals in 75 WSL games, 20 more than any other player through that period and has displayed a knack for netting crucial strikes, with 21 of her efforts coming as winners.

Kerr's four goals and three assists in eight games in this season's WSL have helped Chelsea establish a three point lead ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table. They are 4/6 to retain their title ahead of City and Arsenal, who are both 3/1.

She has also netted five times in the Champions League, tying Barcelona's Salma Paralluelo as the competition's top scorer to help her side sit top of Group D after four games.

The former Perth Glory FC star has also played her part in three Women's FA Cups triumphs and two Women's League Cup successes and her European form had prompted hopes that she could help Chelsea finally win the Champions League.

Hayes exit another subplot

That desire to end the club's wait for continental glory carries extra significance, with boss Emma Hayes set to depart at the end of the 2023/24 campaign.

Chelsea are 6/1 to win the tournament, with holders Barca 8/15 and eight-times winners Lyon 7/2.

The coach confirmed in November that she will leave the club at the end of the season to become the new manager of the United States women's national team.

Like Kerr, Hayes has been a trailblazing figure. Her insight and tactical experience has transcended the women's game and seen her become a prime candidate to become the first female coach of a Premier League club.

Setback adds to James importance

Inevitably, fans and pundits alike have reacted to the news by scrambling to speculate how Chelsea will respond to the weekend's setback.

There is the option of going into the market but Hayes does have other strikers to work with. Summer signing Mia Fishel is still to truly get going since arriving from Tigres UANL, while youngster Aggie Beever-Jones could get her chance.

The 20-year-old has the best minutes-per-goal ratio in the WSL, scoring five in seven appearances, all off the bench.

Fran Kirby could also be called upon, although her fitness record means her minutes need to be managed.

Kirby offers the flexibility of playing as a false nine, but Lauren James has been pushing to feature centrally on more occasions and could lead the line.

The 22-year-old is enjoying a fine season, scoring seven times in nine WSL appearances and could be the player Hayes leans on to fill the Kerr-shaped void.

Chelsea are next in action in the Women's FA Cup against West Ham on Sunday before facing Manchester United on 21st January, a game they are 3/5 to win.

Experience can aid Kerr's comeback

While the focus is on Kerr's present, at 30, she still has plenty of time on her side. The talent that has seen her finish in the top three of the Ballon d'Or Feminin in the last three seasons is unlikely to dissipate despite the severity of her injury.

The striker has had a tough last 12 months with injuries, with a calf problem keeping her out of Australia's first two games at last year's World Cup.

She can also take confidence from recovering from a previous knee injury, undergoing surgery in December 2014 but returning in time to play at the following summer's global showpiece.

As a top-level athlete, she is likely to have the mindset to digest whatever the specialist tells her and immediately start building a plan to come back fitter and stronger.

Kerr's injury is a significant setback for player, club and country but her class and history hints that she will find a way to return a better player.

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