Sjoeke Nüsken: Chelsea’s versatile German is destined for the top

Bagging braces in her past two games, those unfamiliar with women’s football would perhaps assume that 23-year-old Sjoeke Nüsken is an out-and-out striker, a natural number nine – and understandably so.

The Chelsea star demonstrates a remarkable awareness in front of goal that is usually reserved for those aforementioned number nines: think Sam Kerr, Ewa Pajor or Khadija Shaw. For a 23-year-old registered as a midfielder, her attacking performances are almost unbelievable.

But while Nüsken’s on-field antics may suggest that she is a forward at heart, disguised by many years of running the midfield with Eintracht Frankfurt, her versatility is her greatest weapon. Less than two weeks ago, the German international deputised at centre-back against Everton, and she simply did not falter.

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Admittedly, a lengthy injury list has forced Emma Hayes to be creative with player positioning this season – but Nüsken has been thrown in at the deep end, and looked more than comfortable in any given role. Put simply, she appears to be unstoppable.

Hayes has been full of praise for Nüsken since the very start, telling the club website in May 2023 that ‘Sjoeke is a fantastic young midfield player whose ability to play the ball deep into the opponents’ half is not her only standout strength. There is everything from her interceptions, her reading of the game and her overall presence. She’s dynamic, she’s good aerially and she’s going to be a fantastic signing for this club.’

Nüsken has proven her boss right in every aspect. The 23-year-old is, for all intents and purposes, two players in one. Her defensive skillset, showcased most recently against Everton, allows her to slot into defensive-minded midfield roles or the heart of the back line – while her attacking capabilities allow her to force goals out of thin air, as she has done against Brighton, Arsenal and Ajax.

The German midfielder made her debut in a 2-1 victory over Tottenham on the opening day of the Barclays Women’s Super League campaign, but it was against Brighton three weeks later that she truly announced her arrival to fans across the country.

With Chelsea falling behind to an early goal from Pauline Bremer, Nüsken took it into her own hands to salvage an impressive victory: a close-range header restored parity before the break, then sweeping home a left-footed effort to round off a counterattack and finally completing her perfect hat-trick as she slammed home a Sam Kerr cross in the 74th minute. She wasn’t done there though, registering the assist for Aggie Beever-Jones’ late effort too.

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A brace in a dramatic match against Arsenal last week only served to solidify Nüsken’s attacking prowess, and another two-goal outing in Amsterdam on Tuesday evening should silence any remaining doubts that she is destined for the very top of the game.

Hayes spoke positively about the German post-match, insisting that ‘Nüsken has a natural ability to be in the right spaces inside the box. She’s a box player, no question. She wants to be there, and the third goal epitomised her desire, her positioning and her quality.’

Nüsken’s performances of late cannot be ignored, and it looks as though they’ve influenced Hayes’ views on where the young German is best deployed. With the praise now coming for her goalscoring ability and awareness inside the box, Hayes appears to have moved away from highlighting ‘her interceptions’ and her ‘ability to play the ball deep into the opponents’ half.’

It’s impossible to know whether Nüsken would have been granted this positional freedom had it not been for Chelsea’s plethora of high-profile injuries, but one thing is for sure: with Sam Kerr and Mia Fishel both ruled out for the long term, and Catarina Macário still limited to substitute appearances after her recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, having a player of Nüsken’s quality in front of goal is certainly not a bad thing.

‘I might give her a game in goal as well next week, just to try it out,’ Hayes joked on Tuesday – but if her outfield versatility is anything to go by, Sjoeke Nüsken may just have another trick up her sleeve…