Nine goals from nine different goalscorers was a resounding way for the Blues to record our first Barclays Women’s Super League victory of the season.
This was a game Emma Hayes’s side took control of from the very first whistle and after two relatively profligate showings this season, it was one of those afternoons when almost everything turned to gold for the home team.
Fran Kirby got the ball rolling with her first goal since May 2019, after a long injury lay-off last season, and by the time it was half-time we had a 5-0 lead and the contest was effectively over.
Maren Mjelde doubled our advantage when she confidently slotted home a penalty after Ji So-Yun was brought down in the box, sparking a run of four goals in nine minutes. Melanie Leupolz was next on the scoresheet, opening her Chelsea account with a thumping diving header, and she was soon joined by Erin Cuthbert and Millie Bright.
By the standards set in the first half, the Blues made a slow start to the second 45, but once again there was another burst of goals in quick succession. Bethany England turned home from close range, as our leading scorer from the past two seasons had her first of the new campaign, and then substitutes Niamh Charles and Pernille Harder finished smartly to join Leupolz in scoring their maiden goals for the Blues.
There was still time for a ninth and, quite remarkably, it came from a ninth different scorer. Sam Kerr had been heavily involved in several of our earlier goals and finally, inside the last 10 minutes, she had the goal her performance deserved.
It could hardly have gone much better for Chelsea, basking in the September sunshine, and the day after Arsenal had scored nine at West Ham we had matched their achievement and laid down our own marker in what promises to be another thrilling race to be crowned champions of England.
After a 1-1 draw at Manchester United last Sunday to open the Barclays Women’s Super League season, Hayes opted to make four changes to her starting XI. Ann-Katrin Berger, Hannah Blundell – making her first appearance of the season – Cuthbert and England were brought in to the side in place of Carly Telford, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle and Guro Reiten.
There was also a change of system, which meant 4-3-3 became a 4-4-2 with two out-and-out strikers. Berger lined up behind a back four of Mjelde, Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Blundell. Ji and Leupolz were nominally the two deepest midfielders, as Kirby and Cuthbert had plenty of freedom from the flanks and England – recently crowned PFA Women’s Player of the Season – and Kerr led the line.
This time last year, as Eriksson alluded to in her column in the matchday programme, the Blues were playing in front of a crowd of almost 25,000 at Stamford Bridge to begin our WSL campaign. Now we were back at Kingsmeadow – which had a much more homely feel to it, following AFC Wimbledon’s move back to Plough Lane and the subsequent refurbishments over the summer – but with very few spectators in attendance.
Every shout of encouragement, tactical advice and any frustrations, the likes of which were previously drowned out by a fanbase that Hayes described as ‘the best in the country’, could be heard, and much of it was coming from a Bristol backline that had to be well organised up against so many attacking talents.
Sophie Baggaley, sporting an eye-catching, retro jersey, was able to watch strikes from England and Leupolz miss the target, but it wouldn’t be long before she was picking the ball out of the back of the net.
This was one the Bristol No.1 would want to run back if she could, for it was a goalkeeping howler that allowed Kirby to get back on the scoresheet in a Chelsea shirt for the first time since May 2019, when she netted a brace against Yeovil. Cuthbert laid the ball off to the England international on the edge of the box and she didn’t need a second invitation to pull the trigger with her left boot. Perhaps the bounce was unpredictable, but Bristol’s keeper allowed the shot to bobble off her and into the back of the net.
In games against sides happy to sit back, the importance of an early goal cannot be underestimated and Chelsea were suddenly cutting through Bristol at will. Somehow the visitors managed to keep us temporarily at bay, as Bright and Leupolz forced Baggaley to make a pair of fantastic saves. It had been an eventful opening 20 minutes to say the least.
The chances continued to come thick and fast, and the visiting keeper had to show a strong pair of wrists to keep out a thumping strike from Kerr. ‘If she’s in the box, you’ve got to keep pressure on her – don’t let her get the shot away,’ were the instructions from Bristol boss Tanya Oxtoby for how to deal with her fellow Australian.
That pressure when Ji surged into the box on our next attack was a little bit too strong, however, as a sliding challenge by Daniels brought her down and there was no hesitation by referee Stacey Pearson in pointing to the spot. Mjelde stepped up and confidently fired her shot into the top right corner, as Baggaley dived the other way.
Suddenly, all those near-misses were to become a distant memory as we emphatically put the game out of Bristol’s reach before half-time. Having threatened twice previously, Leupolz finally had the goal she deserved on her home debut – and it was an effort which said plenty about her character. Cuthbert’s free-kick from close to the corner flag was sent to the back stick and met by a powerful diving header by the Germany international, who showed great strength to hold off her marker under extreme pressure
Cuthbert had played a big part in two of our goals, and soon she had one of her own. Bright played a simple pass forward to the Scot, who took it on the turn with 25 yards between her and the goal – and, crucially, no red shirts coming to close her down. A player of her quality simply cannot be given that much time and space to pick her shot, and the end result was a low strike into the bottom corner of the net.
There was still time for another before half-time, as Bright made it five from Mjelde’s floated free-kick into the danger zone. Having scored in the Community Shield with a thunderbolt against Man City, the Blues centre-back now had two from three.
Five goals, from five different players, and not even so much as a sniff of the Chelsea penalty box for Bristol’s attackers; it had been a near-perfect opening 45 minutes for the Blues.
Kirby could have added two more to her tally early in the second half, having twice been picked out by Kerr inside the box and after little change in her side’s performance, Bristol boss Oxtoby made a triple substitution only 10 minutes after the break
It was still all Chelsea, though, and after Baggaley partially redeemed herself for her earlier error with a magnificent stop to keep out Leupolz’s low volley, the Bristol keeper was then picking the ball out of the back of the net for a sixth time. In truth, she should have done better to deal with Blundell’s cross at the near post, but England was razor sharp in getting to the rebound in the blink of eye, finishing with aplomb to open her account for the season.
Having scored her goal, our No.9 was able to make her way off the pitch satisfied as she made way for Harder, while Leupolz was replaced by Charles. Almost immediately the Dane showed fancy footwork inside the box to fashion a yard of space and her shot was deflected across goal into the path of Charles, who simply could not miss from there, netting her first Chelsea goal to make it 7-0.
The two substitutes combined again five minutes later and this time there was a role reversal, as Charles was the provider with a low cross from the left foot that Harder magnificently diverted past the keeper with a cheeky flick with her heel. What a way to announce yourself to the WSL!
It should have been nine just a minute later, as Kerr showed off her famed aerial ability with a fantastic leap and header at the back post, but this time the crossbar came to Baggaley’s rescue. Finally, though, there was some personal cheer for the Australian as her persistence paid off. Harder claimed the assist with a well-timed pass to send our No.20 clear and she calmly cut inside her marker and fired home our ninth.
It was very nearly 10 – and from a 10th different player, no less – as substitute Drew Spence shot wide after being presented with a chance by the Bristol rearguard, who by this point had clearly had enough. And who could blame them? It had been a sumptuous attacking display and an early indication of exactly what this Blues side is capable of when everyone clicks.
There is now an international break, which England are using for an intensive training camp that five Blues will be a part of, before we return to action on Sunday 27 September for an FA Cup quarter-final at Everton.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde (Thorisdottir 66), Bright, Eriksson (c), Blundell; Kirby (J Fleming 81), Ji (Spence 81), Leupolz (Charles 66), Cuthbert; England (Harder 66), Kerr
Unused subs Telford, Carter, Ingle, Reiten
Scorers Kirby 15, Mjelde pen 31, Leupolz 34, Cuthbert 36, Bright 40, England 65, Charles 68, Harder 73, Kerr 86
Bristol City (4-2-3-1) Baggaley; Allen (Bryson 73), Matthews, Evans, Purfield; Palmer (Rafferty 85), Mastrantonio; Humphrey (Harrison 56), Logarzo, Daniels (Bissell 56); Wellings (Salmon 56)
Unused subs Haaland, Wilson, Layzell, Jones
Referee Stacey Pearson
Crowd Behind closed doors