Reigning Women’s Super League champions Chelsea are up and running this season as they defeated Manchester City 2-0 at Kingsmeadow despite starting the game slowly.
A first-half strike from Fran Kirby and a late Maren Mjelde penalty were enough to give the Blues their first points of the campaign despite two contrasting performances in each half. They were able to deliver a strong response following their shock opening weekend defeat against newly-promoted Liverpool.
By the incredibly high standards that this team and their manager Emma Hayes have set over the last few years, they will be disappointed with how they played in the first half as they were outperformed by Gareth Taylor’s side who were left to rue missed chances and the unstoppable Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea goal.
They were bombarded with attacks in the first period. City had chance after chance, getting 12 shots on the Blues’ goal - the most Chelsea have faced in the first half of a match since 2013. Chloe Kelly had a good opening in the early stages but her effort was straight at Berger. Chelsea themselves looked dangerous on the break. They seemed destined to open the scoring when Steph Houghton’s tame pass towards goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck was given straight to Sam Kerr, and rather than taking the shot she passed to Kirby, giving City enough time to get back and defend the situation.
The visitors grew more into the game and became a growing threat to the reigning champions. Lauren Hemp’s neat runs helped create space for the likes of Kelly, Laura Coombes and Bunny Shaw. City came close to breaking the deadlock through Hemp who tried to catch the goalkeeper off guard with a left-footed effort from a tight angle which Berger parried away. The shot-stopper was called into action again to deny Deyna Castellanos, who unleashed a powerful effort from range.
And then against the run of play, Chelsea went in front as Kirby found herself unmarked on the edge of the box to coolly slot the ball into an empty net. It was a cruel blow to City who had been tremendously, but we were all once again shown how damaging Chelsea can be even when they are not playing at their best.
Taylor’s side nearly came up with an instant response as Coombes found herself alone at the far post and her first-time shot was knocked onto the post by Berger, who looked like she wasn’t going to be beaten on Sunday afternoon.
Hayes certainly got a better reaction from her players in the second half as they looked far more composed when they had the ball and they were able to press their opponents like they had done to them in the first 45. Kirby was able to have a few more chances on goal, along with Lauren James, as the Blues played with a much higher intensity to flip the balance of play.
City couldn’t handle the momentum change and they struggled to get near their opposite numbers. The game was wrapped up when Mjelde converted from the spot late in the match after Leila Ouhabi was penalised for handball.
For the victors, they were able to show themselves at their best and worst across the 90 minutes and they will be pleased with how they built on their first goal which was against the run of play. They just need to work on delivering that second-half performance across an entire match and they should run away with the league once again.
As for Taylor's side, there were plenty of positive from how they performed in the first half and have shown that despite key personnel leaving, they can still tussle with the likes of Chelsea. They now just need to work on being ruthless when they do get themselves into dangerous areas.