Fran Kirby was loving her new lease of footballing life in Chelsea Women’s Community Shield win at Wembley – and now she is already looking forward to our first league outing of the season against Manchester United.
Super Fran’s freshness and finesse were there for all to see at Wembley at the weekend when our forward finally had the chance to complete her comeback. Playing again after nine months lost to two viruses – a rare condition that affected her directly, as well as the pandemic – Kirby offered up a plethora of openings for her fellow attackers as Chelsea comfortably beat Manchester City to earn yet more silverware. What better occasion for her to return than the first time the women’s season had started at the national stadium.
‘It was amazing to be back!’ she enthused, speaking shortly after her 71 minutes. ‘I’ve enjoyed pre-season, I’ve had a good pre-season, I feel good and I feel fit.
‘I thought it would be a bit reserved. Obviously, it was the first game back for both teams, so I think we were both trying to work each other out a little bit in the first half. That could have gone either way – there could have been loads of chances or no chances – but from our point of view, we felt we played well and restricted them quite a lot in the first half and especially the second.’
Read: Millie Bright on the game and her Wembley wondergoal
Kirby made a considerable contribution and featured during a frantic spell after half-time, when Man City’s Jill Scott was sent off for a second bookable offence and Millie Bright booted in a brilliant 25-yard opening goal, before coming off for our second goalscorer Erin Cuthbert. She saw plenty of encouraging signs in the team’s collective showing, on top of her individual exploits.
‘We’re creating the chances we need and just need to be a bit more ruthless in the box and in the final third, but we know it will come. It’s the first game of the season – we’re building something and hopefully it pays off for us.’ Kirby said.
‘I want to keep building and keep doing what I can to help the team, to drive myself and drive my standards,’ she added.
Her energetic display led multiple pundits to claim that Kirby is like a new signing for Chelsea this season. In fact, of course, there have been other notable additions to the team since her last appearance, such as Australia captain Sam Kerr, while our Player of the Season Bethany England has gone from strength to strength despite her absence.
Kirby’s (characteristic) response: ‘It’s exciting! It will be nice for me to get a chance to play with Sam and be involved with Beth again because we have a good partnership there and it’s something that we’ve been working on in training quite a lot.
‘You want to play with the best players, and I think those two have the qualities to really push on. Playing with Sam is going to be exciting because I think we work well with each other. We know what each other’s weaknesses and strengths are, so we work off each other. Hopefully we can get a load of goals together.’
Indeed, the seemingly ever-developing depth of the Blues squad – which now also includes midfielders Melanie Leupolz and Jessie Fleming and winger Niamh Charles – is another aspect of the new campaign that Kirby is enthusiastic about.
‘It’s exciting! Having players come off the bench who get goals or make a difference, it’s what everyone wants when they play in a team. That’s the difference between winning and losing, you know, how people come on and affect a game.
‘We’ve got real strength and depth in this team, and it’s only going to help us going forward. Our schedule is jam-packed and, with all the trophies we want to win, we have to have a squad like that.’
To Kirby’s delight, that jam-packed schedule starts in earnest this week, with a trip to Man United following our victory over their neighbours. Although the Red Devils’ women’s side is still young and without the trophy-winning pedigree of Man City, she still sees the encounter as a launch pad for the campaign.
‘We didn’t play Man United away in the league because of coronavirus, but there were good games at Kingsmeadow and in the Conti Cup between us. It’s always nice to play a team like United. You know they are going to give you a tough game.
‘Last season, we didn’t get the start we wanted in the first few fixtures, so we want to put that right and make sure we are ready to go from the beginning. Training has been tough and competitive, so we’re going to take that into the fixtures.’
The Blues’ meeting with Manchester United, our first game of the 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League, takes place at 2pm on Sunday and will be broadcast live on BT Sport.