Why Ashley Lawrence's move to Chelsea could be summer window's best transfer
After six-and-a-half seasons in Paris, Ashley Lawrence has decided to take her talents to London.
Having become a free agent earlier this summer, the 28-year-old Canadian recently elected to sign with English giants Chelsea, in what could be a massive coup for the Blues. One of the best sides in Europe last season, it's a big move for Lawrence, who is in the prime of her career and should be a big addition to the club.
As one of the top full-backs in the world, Lawrence adds world-class talent to a team already filled to the brim with it, as they load up ahead of a big 2023-2024 Women's Super League campaign. But this is also a move to keep an eye on from a Canadian perspective. Given that Lawrence is also joining key Canadian players Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan at the club, Chelsea is quickly becoming a much-watch team for Canadian supporters.
Before Lawrence joins her teammates new and familiar in London, she has a mighty task to complete, first: Winning the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. Or, at least, trying to.
Once that quest is over? It's off to London to don the famous blues of Chelsea Football Club.
How will Lawrence fit at Chelsea?
Any time a player makes a big move to a big club, the question, naturally, is how they will fit into a high-pressure, elite environment.
Lawrence was mainly deployed at full-back for Paris Saint-Germain, but she can also play in midfield and on the wing, as she is very tactically versatile. In fact, she's so versatile that there's often debate about where she should play for her country, too. Still, she'll likely slot in at full-back for her new club, where she'll look to make the most of her ability to influence games on the front and back foot.
Naturally an attacking threat, Lawrence is strong on the ball, able to both retain possession and generate chances the other way. She showed that during her last year at PSG, too, where she averaged 83.3% passing, 2.5 dribbles, 0.78 key passes and 0.09 Expected Assists per 90 minutes across all competitions.
Also, in #UWCL action, peep this assist from Ashley Lawrence yesterday. Ridiculous pass— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 24, 2022
This was the 1st of 2 assists from Lawrence on the day, who continued a strong campaign in PSG's 5-0 win over KF Vllaznia#CanWNT/#CanXNTpic.twitter.com/Z4RYPy36gO
While she's well-regarded for her offensive contributions, Lawrence has grown a lot defensively, and has proven that she can handle pretty much any attacking threat in the world 1-v-1 thanks to her unique combination of speed and defensive awareness. That's shown in her defensive stats from last year, as she won 74.8% of her defensive duels, while averaging 2.63 interceptions and 8.41 recoveries per 90 minutes.
Even more impressive is the fact that she's averaged less than one foul per game, which, along with her strong duel rate, further highlights her 1-v-1 defensive ability. Because of that, Chelsea would be wise to keep her at full-back, where she can contest those 1-v-1 duels while also pushing forward in the attack when opportunities manifest themselves.
Look for Lawrence to mainly play at right-back for Chelsea, which was a position of inconsistency last year. The Blues rotated between a few names in Ève Périsset, Maren Mjelde, Jess Carter and Jorja Fox, unlike the left-back position where Niamh Charles really staked out a spot by nabbing four goals and three assists in WSL play.
Usually playing a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 – two formations they used for over 50% of their games last year – Lawrence should slot in seamlessly in either of those systems, as PSG used a similar set-up over her time there. If need be, she can also slot into midfield in either of those formations, which should be a huge boost for coach Emma Hayes, as Chelsea struggled with injuries at that position at times last year, giving her additional cover if that happens again.
It all just goes to show why Lawrence is a key signing for the Blues – she won’t just shore up a position of inconsistency at right-back, but will provide cover all over if need be, thanks to her versatility.
Does Lawrence have another gear to hit?
As for Lawrence personally, this is also a huge move, as she'll really get a chance to prove why she's regarded as one of the best at her position. PSG is a big club, no doubt, and one that allowed her to showcase her talents, but Chelsea is a big step forward, as they're one of the top teams in Europe right now.
Unfortunately for PSG, they spent a lot of time in France playing second-fiddle to Lyon, who dominated the domestic and continental scene during Lawrence's time there.
As a result, Lawrence only claimed three trophies in her time in France – one league title, and two French cups – as Lyon otherwise dominated during her tenure. Along with one Champions League runners-up medal from 2017 (Lyon won five Champions League during Lawrence's PSG stint), PSG were often left in Lyon's shadow while Lawrence was in France.
With Chelsea, however, Lawrence should be expected to start loading up on silverware, as they’re currently the team to beat in England, and have their eyes on winning their first Champions League title this season.
Having won the last four league titles in England, the last three FA Cups and two of the last four League Cups (and were runner-ups in the other two they didn’t win), this is a team that will look to be in contention for a domestic treble next year, at the very least.
Then, continentally, they’ve got eyes on the Champions League, a trophy they came closest to winning in 2020-2021, when they fell to Barcelona in the final. Having made the semi-finals of last year’s edition, where they narrowly lost to eventual winners Barcelona again, they believe that they can finally get over the hump this year.
Because of that, this will be a good opportunity for Lawrence to really take another step forward as a player. Already regarded as world-class, and for good reason, her time at PSG has meant that she is quite underrated relative to how good she’s actually been.
With Chelsea, however, she’ll get a chance to earn some due recognition, while getting the chance to really add to her trophy cabinet.
That’ll be big for Lawrence, as playing for a club like this will bring a different type of pressure, which if harnessed properly, could allow her to take another step forward as a player.
And given how often she’s stepped up for PSG and Canada in big moments in the past, she should have no issue in taking to the expectations of playing for Chelsea, which is why this move is so exciting from her perspective.
Why focus lies with Canada first
Before Lawrence dons the blue of Chelsea, her attention will be squarely on the FIFA World Cup.
There, Lawrence is expected to be a massive piece for Canada, as she prepares for her third World Cup and fifth major tournament with her country. This will be a fantastic time for her to shine, as she's really stepped up as a key leadership piece on this team in recent years. After years where this Canadian team was seen as Christine Sinclair’s side, there has been a shift in the guard, thanks to the rise of players such as Lawrence, Fleming, Buchanan and more.
GOAL 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 6, 2022
CHRISTINE SINCLAIR goal one hundred and NINETY 🙌#CanWNT go up 1-0 over Trinidad and Tobago in the 1st half of their Concacaf W Championship opener#CWC | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/wPAXV6QfYn
That was shown at the Olympics in 2021, where Canada won gold thanks to some big performances from those players, and they’ll now look to build off that at this World Cup, which is typically regarded as a tougher tournament.
And there, Canada will only go as far as their new core of players takes them, as some stiff competition will await them if they go on a run in the tournament.
Because of that, they’ll need them to step up and use the big-game pedigree that they’ve cultivated at their clubs and with their country, allowing them to shine in the big moments.
Lawrence will lead the way in that regard, as she looks to show why she earned a move to Chelsea, doing so while continuing to be a key contributour for this Canadian team down in Australia.