Match Preview

Fran Kirby on the big week ahead

Chelsea Women’s narrow win at Birmingham City has left matchwinner Fran Kirby feeling positive ahead of our opening Continental Tyres Cup game against Arsenal.

Fresh from her vital involvement in our 1-0 victory over the ‘other’ Blues on Sunday, Super Fran admitted that Chelsea have set the bar high this season in terms of goalscoring. Nonetheless, simply beating Birmingham City was enough to give our No.14 confidence going into a massive week at Kingsmeadow.

The most important five days so far in an already frenetic campaign are almost upon us as we host the Gunners tomorrow, a rematch of last season’s Conti Cup final, followed this weekend in the league by Manchester City, whom we pipped to the 2019/20 WSL title on a points-per-game basis.

Unlike our previous fixture, in which we had put nine past Bristol City at home, Chelsea’s dominance in the West Midlands was rewarded with just the one goal. It came inside the first 10 minutes, Erin Cuthbert picking out an unmarked Kirby in the air.

‘Overall we’re all just happy to get the three points, to keep a clean sheet, going into the game on Wednesday,’ said the determined-sounding goalscorer. ‘We know it’s a tight turnaround, so we analyse this game, we get the recovery in, we go again, and hopefully get the win against Arsenal.’

Sunday’s win took Chelsea’s unbeaten run on our travels in the top flight to 30 games, stretching all the way back to May 2017. Even more remarkably, perhaps, it saw our diminutive forward finding the net from a header, despite having been one of the shortest players present in the penalty area at Damson Park. How many times has that happened?

‘Not many! I think I was more surprised than anyone when that went in,’ Kirby said. ‘I saw myself getting into a position for the second phase and didn't think the ball was going to end up on my head, but it went in and that’s what counts, especially as it got us the win.’

As we turn our attention from the league to the cup, with seven points out of a possible nine safely under our belt, Kirby explained that the determination of her defensive team-mates, more than rivalling an impressive defensive display by Birmingham City, gives the side added reasons to be self-assured going forward.

‘I thought they defended really well. As a forward, you want to score goals and you want to take your chances, but the main focus for us was sticking to the game plan – keeping the clean sheet, being defensively disciplined – and we did that. If we can score more goals then great, but ultimately we need to keep clean sheets.

‘We were really focused on getting the three points and keeping a clean sheet. Something we’ve talked about all week is maintaining that defensive discipline – we did it really well in Birmingham – and, ultimately, the goal was to get three points and get the win and we did that,’ she explained.

With Emma Hayes’ side preparing for another rapid turnaround between the upcoming blockbuster games, Kirby, who made her competitive comeback in September after nine months on the sidelines, insisted she is fit enough to keep playing week in, week out during this condensed season.

‘I feel 100 per cent fit. I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t,’ she emphasised. ‘That’s the most important thing I’ve learned over my career. I need to make sure that I’m looking after myself and that every time I step on the pitch I’m 100 per cent ready to go. I’m feeling really good, so hopefully I can keep building on that.’

The 27-year-old expressed her thanks to the coaching staff for consistently selecting her, which she says has helped her return to full fitness, as well as the squad for supporting her through substitutions.

‘I've properly pushed myself to the limit this year. I'm in a really good place and hopefully can keep building. As far as the team goes, when I know that we've got so many good players who can come into the game and make an impact, it's exciting for me to be a part of and I want to keep growing and building my confidence.’

Kirby has played in every game since her return, scoring in the last two, and will hope to extend both of those streaks this week.

Chelsea’s first Continental Tyres Cup tie of the year against Arsenal in gets under way at 7pm on Wednesday in Group B, with Sunday’s Man City clash live on BT Sport at 2.30pm.

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