Conor Clancy Date: 11th September 2021 at 10:36pm
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STADIO ENZO RICCI (Sassuolo) – is a dream of a player. Unfortunately for those who play against her, though, the Scot is the kind of dream that nobody wants to have. She’s the suffocating demon that sits on your chest during a bout of sleep paralysis and the kind that gives you sleepless nights at the mere thought that she may appear again, ready to torture and toy with you.

Her movement makes her impossible to get close to. Just as a defender feels they have grips on her whereabouts, a quick shift of direction or a sudden stop buys her an extra metre or two of space. Should a defender dare to get too close, she has the vision and speed of thought to play a first-time ball into – what for most would be – a blind alley and find an overlapping teammate.

At times against in Serie A Femminile on Saturday, it seemed as though Clelland’s vision came from somewhere else. It was as though she had access to a camera in a drone hovering 50 metres above pitch level at the Enzo Ricci and could constantly see the shape of everything, spotting and then executing no-look and first-time passes around the corner with her head or either the inside or outside of her foot.

She might just be the difference between achieving their season objectives and not this term. She was close to perfect on Saturday, and that was a third flawless game from three since joining Sassuolo this past summer.

Decisive


Clelland was the difference on Saturday. It was her corner that saw Tamar Dongus’ header saved only for Maria Luisa Filangeri to turn in the rebound, and then it was the forward who again dropped a ball onto Sofia Cantore’s head for the win-clinching goal in the second half.

She dropped deep when she needed to, she bullied Michela Giordano when she drifted out to the right, and never let either of Samp’s centre-backs get within touching distance of her for more than a second. Spending most of her time on the pitch occupying the space between Samp’s defensive and midfield lines, she was constantly on the minds of the opposition.

Having scored the winner against former club Fiorentina in her debut and then two more in her second outing against Hellas Verona, Clelland has shown now that she doesn’t even need to find the net herself to make a difference for Sassuolo.

Perhaps more impressive than her assist was how it came about. The 28-year-old had pulled up moments before and her replacement was being readied to come on. In the meantime, she was put through by Cantore but shot just wide, she created another chance, and then went on to assist Cantore before finally going off.

A lethal partnership


It didn’t seem to be coincidental that Cantore ran straight towards Clelland in celebration of Sassuolo’s second goal on Saturday, and the pair already appear to have an understanding that doesn’t even require communication.

Other than the odd point to indicate a changing of sides in Sassuolo’s attack, Cantore and Clelland were barely seen uttering a word to one another, aside from a notable ‘bravissima‘ from the latter in appreciation of the Italian’s relentless pressing deep in Sampdoria’s defensive third.

With Cantore’s pace and Clelland’s… well, everything, know that they have a reliable force in attack, and one wherein both individuals could realistically hope to hit between 15 and 20 goals in Femminile this season. While have and Lindsey Thomas, and Juventus have Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonasea, the Neroverde’s Clelland-Cantore pairing might just be good enough to allow them to aim for the unthinkable this season.