Why USWNT star Catarina Macario is a perfect signing for Chelsea - even if there is risk involved

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The Lyon forward is set to join the Blues when her contract expires this summer. She hasn't played for almost a year but is a gamble worth taking.

Catarina Macario is one of the most talented players on the planet. It's no surprise, then, with her Lyon contract expiring this summer, that rumours around her future have been rife. Chelsea and Barcelona are the two sides that have been linked with the U.S. women's national team forward the most and, this week, The Athletic reported that she will join the Blues in July.

It's huge news. Macario is insanely gifted, and was arguably among the top three players in the world in the 2021-22 season, when her form helped inspire Lyon to a record eighth UEFA Women's Champions League title.

It's that honour which Chelsea crave the most. The Blues have been dominant domestically for close to a decade but have yet to take that final step in Europe, losing 4-0 to Barcelona in the 2021 final. Landing Macario is a huge statement of their intent to fill that gap in the trophy cabinet.

Having not kicked a ball competitively for nearly 12 months, the Brazilian-born forward is not a risk-free signing by any means. But, at the same time, she also feels like a perfect one for Chelsea.

  1. Risk


    Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Macario has not featured in a match for club or country for almost 12 months.

    Last June, the 23-year-old suffered a devastating ACL injury in Lyon's final game of the season - a league match that had no meaning, with the title already wrapped up. It ruled her out of the USWNT's CONCACAF Women's Championship campaign that summer. Fast forward almost a year and Macario still hasn't returned to training for her current club.

    Vlatko Andonovski, her national team head coach, has repeatedly been asked about her status. In February, he said the young forward was expected to return to training in the coming weeks and be back on the pitch by the end of March. In late March, he said she was "supposed to be" on the pitch some time in April. Yet, the moment is still to come.

    ACL injuries are not straightforward. The anticipated recovery time is around nine months but each individual is different and there are often setbacks along the way. Given Macario's current situation, there is always going to be some risk involved with this transfer. But there are so many reasons why that is not being dwelled on by Chelsea.

  2. Mercurial talent
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    Mercurial talent

    The biggest reason why the Blues have swooped for Macario? It's because she is so, so talented. An exceptional college career with Stanford saw her build a reputation as one of the best prospects the U.S. had seen in years, with the moment she was cleared by FIFA to represent the nation anticipated and celebrated massively by those in the States.

    Macario's first step out of college could not have been bigger. In January 2021, she signed for Lyon, Champions League holders and seven-time winners of that competition when she completed the move. There, she backed up all the hype she had generated. In her first six months with the club, Macario showed glimpses of how she would take France and Europe by storm.

    Then, in 2021-22, she went wild. In the league, Macario finished the year with 14 goals and five assists from 20 outings. In the UWCL, she netted eight times and provided two assists in 11 games - scoring in the final. She won both competitions, doing so while demonstrating some of the finest form in the women's game.

    It was official: Macario wasn't some exciting young prospect for the future anymore. She was already one of the best players in the world, all while still having plenty of time to get even better.

  3. Perfect Pernille Harder replacement
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    Perfect Pernille Harder replacement

    What makes Macario such a good signing for Chelsea specifically, then? Well, the Blues are about to lose another huge talent in Pernille Harder. The Denmark international, who predominantly plays in a No.10-type role, will leave the club on the expiry of her contract this summer, reportedly to join German giants Bayern Munich.

    Macario is the perfect player to fill the hole that Harder will vacate. They are different profiles, of course, but they are similar in that they are players who make their teams tick, who can carve open defences with ease and change a game in one particular moment.

    During Lyon's 2021-22 league campaign, Macario was creating almost three chances, averaging just short of 16 successful passes in the final third and having more than two shots on target per 90 minutes.

    Comparing between women's leagues in Europe always comes with the caveat that each are at different stages of their development, but all of those statistics were higher than Harder's in the Women's Super League that same year. In Europe, the pair's numbers were very similar, with Harder offering a marginally more creative option while Macario provided a bigger goal threat.

    None of this is to argue that one player is better than the other, but to highlight what a fantastic signing Macario will be to replace the departing Harder and all the qualities she brings to Chelsea's attack.

  4. Versatility
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    On top of her incredible ability and winning mentality, another element of Macario's game that will appeal to Chelsea boss Hayes is her versatility. The Blues' manager loves that trait in her players as she likes to switch between formations, often stressing that her team play in a fluid system.

    She also puts huge emphasis on managing the load of her players, which is much easier to do when you have footballers who can take up different roles. Macario can play as a No.10 but she can also lead the line for her team or drop back into a deeper midfield role if needed.

    "I'd say my preferred position would be the false nine, just because I get to do a little bit of both," the 23-year-old told GOAL on All of US: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show in late 2021. "I would like to think that I'm a creative player and so I like to be able to set up my team-mates but also to be able to finish some some sequences as well. I like being the link to doing both."

    Chelsea do not currently have a back-up for first-choice striker Sam Kerr, following Beth England's move to Spurs in January. Perhaps, then, as well as forming a deadly partnership with her on a regular basis, Macario could offer Hayes an option up top that allows the load to be taken off her Aussie goal-machine from time to time.

  5. All for free
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    All for free

    The biggest upside to this whole transfer? It's free. Macario will join Chelsea on the expiration of her contract in Lyon, removing a lot of the risk that comes with signing a player who hasn't played for almost a year.

    If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out. Neither party will have been massively put out by the situation and both can move on. But why would the Blues - or any club, for that matter - not take the gamble? There is incredibly low risk and insanely high reward.

    Should Macario not get back fit in time for the 2023 Women's World Cup, she'll have the whole summer to be ready for her first season in Chelsea blue, too. It feels like a win-win for both sides already.