Chelsea Women’s first home game of the season ended in victory as the Blues got their first points on the board in the Women’s Super League at a sold-out Kingsmeadow.
In front of almost 4,500 fans at our Kingston base, goals from Fran Kirby and Maren Mjelde settled an entertaining contest in favour of Emma Hayes’s side, who admittedly did not have things all their own way.
The returning Ann-Katrin Berger had to make a string of saves in the first half, though it was Kirby’s goal that broke the deadlock just before the break when she turned in Guro Reiten’s perfect centre from close range.
The hosts were more measured in their second-half approach and largely had control of the contest, particularly once Mjelde superbly converted a spot-kick to make it 2-0 after the officials spotted a handball offence in the box.
Three points safely secured in the setting sunshine represented a good day’s work for Chelsea, who will be back in WSL action at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday evening as the 2022/23 campaign starts to click into gear.
Emma Hayes made three changes to the side that were beaten on the opening weekend away at Liverpool, with Berger making a welcome return in goal following her recent cancer treatment.
Jessie Fleming and Mjelde were the others to come in, with Zecira Musovic, Niamh Charles and Sophie Ingle dropping to the bench. It was also a change in system as we lined up with a back four.
Man City’s starting line-up featured England’s Euro 2022 match-winner Chloe Kelly, as well as former Blues midfielder Laura Coombs.
The Blues threatened an opening goal inside the first 15 seconds direct from kick-off as Mille Bright played a long ball forward to find Reiten in behind down the left. The Norwegian swiftly found Sam Kerr in the centre but the striker couldn’t adjust herself to trouble Ellie Roebuck in the City goal.
Reiten herself then almost got on the end of an attack down the opposite flank but it was the visitors who had the game’s first effort on target when Kelly fired straight at Berger.
Amid a frantic opening 10 minutes, the Blues conjured the best passing move of the early stages after Erin Cuthbert initiated the move from midfield with a clever switch of play to the left. Reiten caused problems and the ball eventually fell nicely for James at the back post, though her dangerous centre could not be turned in by Jessie Fleming.
Press paying off
Our best chance of the half came moments later when the high-pressing approach from the hosts reaped rewards as Steph Houghton’s pass back to the keeper was short and pounced upon by Kerr. Roebuck was quickly out of her goal to close the space in front of our number 20, who shifted the ball rightwards for Kirby, but the eventual shot was weak and allowed Laia Aleixandri to clear.
Chelsea survived a penalty shout down the other end when Bunny Shaw jinked into the 18-yard box and went down under a challenge from Kadeisha Buchanan, though the referee waved away the appeals and replays indicated the incident occurred outside the penalty area anyway.
However, Shaw continued to spearhead the attacking endeavours for Gareth Taylor’s side and her deflected effort from the left won a corner after 17 minutes, from which Aleixandri flicked a header narrowly wide.
Following a breathless start under the slate grey skies at a sold-out Kingsmeadow, the contest settled down into the midfield battleground and goalmouth action was limited until Mjelde read the danger expertly and produced a brilliant block to thwart Kelly just before the half-hour mark.
Having struggled to play through the champions’ early pressing, City were growing more comfortable and enjoyed a sustained period of growing momentum as the half wore on. Berger was forced to make a key stop to keep out Lauren Hemp 10 minutes before the break, having initially prevented Mjelde conceding a corner but handing the ball straight back to the Lionesses forward.
Sarina Wiegman, the England Women’s manager, was watching on from the Kingsmeadow stands and it was another of her European champions that broke the game’s deadlock moments before half-time. Fleming’s fancy footwork deceived Houghton and fashioned some space in the box, with Reiten remaining composed to square perfectly into the path of Kirby to steer in with a cushioned first-time finish from close range.
There was still time for more action before the interval as City conjured their seventh attempt of the half, though Berger was equal to it again as she produced her finest save of the half to deny Coombs at the near post.
Control after the break
Despite holding the advantage at the midway point, the amount of chances Chelsea were offering up to City will have been a concern for Hayes, and that pattern continued straight after the restart.
Kelly’s left-sided corner was whipped in with pace to the near post and found the darting run of Aleixandri but the Spaniard’s clever flick whistled just wide.
Berger then demonstrated those smart reflexes once again to deny Coombs from a tight angle on the right and the Blues were soon able to slow the tempo of the game with a period of passive possession in their own half.
This was a clash between first and third in last term’s WSL, though the loss of several key City players in the summer, either to retirement or moves abroad, had reset expectations for the Sky Blues. Their recent exit at the Champions League qualifying stage had also dented confidence, though both sides were looking for their first points of the new campaign after opening-day losses.
As the game edged into its final quarter, Chelsea were searching for a second goal that would secure all of those points and James appeared most likely to provide that cutting edge just days shy of her 21st birthday.
She fashioned two very different attempts in the space of a few minutes midway through the second period, initially picking the ball up in the inside-right channel, shifting it onto her left foot and bending a brilliant effort inches wide of the far post.
Kirby then fired just over from distance before James threatened again, driving 40 yards forward down the right before taking aim and firing with power but not enough precision to beat Roebuck.
The victory was soon sealed with 12 minutes remaining, though it came amid a moment of uncertainty as referee Abigail Byrne pointed to the spot to award the Blues a penalty. Most inside Kingsmeadow were still marvelling over an expert save from Roebuck to push Ingle’s dipping drive over the crossbar, though the officials had spotted that a handball had played a part in keeping the midfielder’s shot out.
Mjelde was handed spot-kick responsibilities and put the pain of an injury-ravaged year behind her to dispatch brilliantly into the top corner for her first goal in 18 months.
That proved the final action of note for either side as our first clean sheet of the season came alongside our first points.
Another London derby before the domestic schedule pauses once again for international football sees West Ham visit Kingsmeadow on Wednesday 28 September. Kick-off is 7.05pm and tickets are still available to purchase online.
The rearranged WSL fixture was originally due to be played at Stamford Bridge but was postponed following the passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Tickets that were purchased for the original game are not transferable on the new date at Kingsmeadow. Chelsea Women’s season ticket holders should use their season ticket to gain entry.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Berger; Mjelde (Perisset 86), Bright, Buchanan, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Fleming (Ingle 65); James (Kaneryd 90+1), Kirby, Reiten (Charles 86); Kerr
Unused subs Musovic, Carter, England, Svitkova, Cankovic
Scorers Kirby 42; Mjelde 78
Manchester City (4-3-3) Roebuck; Casparij, Houghton (c), Greenwood, Ouahabi; Aleixandri (Losada 85), Castellanos, Coombs, Kelly, Shaw (Blakstad 85), Hemp (Raso 79)
Unused subs MacIver, Keating, Stokes, Fowler, Angeldahl, Hutchings
Booked Ouahabi 52
Referee Abigail Byrne