The Blues produced a clinical performance at the Academy Stadium to win away at Manchester City for the first time in a Women’s Super League game.
This was the showpiece fixture of the third annual Women’s Football Weekend and Emma Hayes’ side did not disappoint, living up our status as back-to-back WSL champions by recording a second thumping victory over one of our biggest rivals in a fortnight, following on from our 3-0 triumph in an FA Cup semi-final.
In truth, we hardly needed to get out of second gear, as we took advantage of two defensive mistakes in the first half and produced a couple of clinical finishes in the first 10 minutes after the break.
Barely a minute had been played when we went in front, courtesy of Jessie Fleming’s second WSL goal in as many games. She’ll have rarely scored any quite as straightforward as this, with the home team’s goalkeeper Karima Taieb presenting the ball to her for the simplest of finishes.
Ann-Katrin Berger had to pull off a few saves to keep us in front, including one superb stop to keep out Caroline Weir, but another Manchester City error was punished by the clinical Blues in stoppage time.
This time it was Georgia Stanway who gave up the ball cheaply, and within two passes the ball was in the back of the net. Ji So-Yun’s perfectly weighted chip to the back stick was headed back across goal by Guro Reiten, leaving Sam Kerr with a tap-in.
The game was over as a meaningful contest early in the second half, thanks to a quick-fire double that put the game well and truly out of City’s reach.
Fran Kirby scored the first with a curling finish from the edge of the box after being picked out by Erin Cuthbert, before captain Magalena Eriksson scored at the Academy Stadium for the second time in three years with a header from Cuthbert’s corner to the back post.
For the first time in the WSL era, Manchester City had lost three home games on the spin and with Arsenal drawing against Tottenham 24 hours earlier – allowing us to close within one point of the leaders – it had been quite the weekend for the Blues.
The games continue to come thick and fast, though, with Servette and Birmingham City visiting Kingsmeadow this week.
Considering our performance in the midweek dismantling of the Swiss side in the Women’s Champions League, it came as little surprise to see Hayes keep faith with largely the same side. The manager only made two changes, as Berger and Ji came in for Zecira Musovic and Drew Spence.
Lining up in front of Berger was a back three of Millie Bright, Jess Carter and Eriksson, while Ji took up Spence’s position in midfield alongside Melanie Leupolz, with Cuthbert and Reiten lining up in the wing-back roles. Up front, Kirby and Fleming flanked Kerr.
Just over 60 seconds were on the clock when the Blues went ahead and it was a defensive shocker from the home side. There didn’t seem to be any danger for City as the ball was played back to the goalkeeper, but Taieb, with Kerr closing her down, inexplicably passed the ball straight to Fleming. The Canadian international took full advantage of the gift, finishing into an empty net to give us a dream start.
To their credit, Gareth Taylor’s side responded well to the setback, with Chelsea surprisingly passive for much of the first half. We were indebted to the brilliance of Berger a few minutes after going in front, although it was far too easy for City to cut through us. One pass sent Weir in on goal, but the Blues keeper pulled off a magnificent save with her left boot to keep us in front.
The Germany international was involved in the majority of the major incidents in the opening 45 minutes. She went down with what appeared to be a hamstring injury after taking a goal-kick midway through the first half, but was soon back on her feet to make a couple of tidy saves to deny Alex Greenwood and Lauren Hemp.
The latter, once again, was the home team’s liveliest player and she was very nearly the beneficiary of a Chelsea mistake. Berger had to be on her toes to rush out for an under-hit back pass by Cuthbert that gave Hemp just enough of a sniff. The two players collided at pace and Rebecca Welch quickly signalled for both physios to come on, with Berger apparently coming off worse from what was a genuine 50/50 challenge. Fortunately, after a lengthy period of treatment she was able to continue.
A result of that was six minutes of additional time, and it was during this that we doubled our lead. Once again, City were architects of their own downfall, this time Stanway conceding possession in a dangerous area and being made to pay for it, as Ji’s floated cross to the back stick was unselfishly headed across goal by Reiten to Kerr, who simply does not miss from three yards.
Although Hayes made a change at half-time, bringing on Sophie Ingle for Ji, we continued exactly where we left off, with a third City error almost capitalised upon. This time Kerr, after intercepting a pass by Jill Scott, turned provider for Kirby, but Taieb was equal to her first-time shot across goal. That would have been game, set and match.
We didn’t have to wait long for our third, however. It seemed like we were toying with our opponents from a corner, as the ball went back and forth across the penalty box before Cuthbert laid it off for Kirby and our No14 floated a finish that went in off the far post.
Clearly, whatever Hayes had said during the half-time break had got through to her players, because where we had stood off City after scoring in the first half, this time we continued to apply the pressure. Another rapid counter-attack was almost finished off by Kerr, only for Taieb to pull off another fine save, but from the resulting corner Eriksson met a Cuthbert cross with a simple header at the back post to put us four up.
Although Man City tried to salvage a bit of pride, they were hardly posing any threat to Berger’s goal and the game had ceased to be a meaningful contest from the moment Eriksson’s header hit the back of the net.
A whole host of substitutions followed over the next quarter-of-an-hour or so, as Hayes brought on Bethany England for Kerr and then made a triple change, with Berger finally succumbing to the two knocks she’d sustained earlier in the match and Reiten and Kirby also going off for a well-earned rest. Zecira Musovic, Niamh Charles and Drew Spence were the players to come on.
England and Fleming almost combined for the latter to score a fifth in stoppage time, but an eighth game unbeaten against Manchester City in all competitions had long since been secured. This victory, by scoreline at least, was certainly one of our best against a side who have been a regular sparring partner over the past seven years.
Next up for the Blues is a pair of home games in quick succession, as we host Servette on Thursday in the Women’s Champions League and Birmingham City on Sunday in the WSL. Click here to buy your tickets now.
Manchester City (4-3-3) Taieb; Stanway, Scott, Greenwood, Stokes; Walsh, Angeldal (Coombs 69), Weir (Losada 77); Park (Beckie 69), White (c), Hemp (Raso 79)Unused subs Pilling, Mace, Kennedy
Chelsea (3-4-3) Berger (Musovic 78); Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Ji (Ingle h/t), Leupolz, Reiten (Charles 78); Kirby (Spence 78), Kerr (England 67), FlemingUnused subs Mjelde, James, Andersson, FoxScorers Fleming 2, Kerr 45+4, Kirby 51, Eriksson 56
Referee Rebecca Welch