Chelsea Women bounced back from their defeat at Arsenal to gain the first three points of the season against Everton in a comprehensive win beamed to tens of thousands on telly. The 4-0 victory at Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime saw Jess Carter shift to become the central defender in a three-strong back line, and professionally
Chelsea Women bounced back from their defeat at Arsenal to gain the first three points of the season against Everton in a comprehensive win beamed to tens of thousands on telly.
The 4-0 victory at Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime saw Jess Carter shift to become the central defender in a three-strong back line, and professionally rise to the challenge.
Manager Emma Hayes attributes Carter’s growing maturity as a player over the past year or so to tough love, and believes that if she keeps advancing she will not only be pivotal to future Chelsea success, but also to the national team’s progress.
“She’ll probably tell you I’m really tough on her,” said Hayes after watching Fran Kirby, Beth England and Sam Kerr – twice – score in what was a painfully one-sided encounter. “I am really tough on Jess, but that’s because I believe in her, not because I want to be tough.”
Under Hayes’ guidance, Carter has focused, sped up and gained a wider appreciation of her defensive role, making it possible to play her in a range of positions. Carter takes it all in her stride, mopping up at the back and turning defence into attack with forays up the pitch; she’s becoming the queen of transition.
Chelsea approached this game with understandable nerves, knowing that only victory would satisfy the 2,379 noisy, expectant fans inside the stadium after the narrow loss at the Emirates.
After 25 minutes, Fran Kirby opened the scoring with a cleverly floated lob that (aided by a slight deflection) looped over Sandy MacIver and came back off the post and into the net.
The fact that it was the only goal scored before half-time was a surprise… a point picked up on by Hayes at the end. “I thought 1-0 wasn’t a fair reflection of the first half,” she said. “We should have been more clinical. I thought our build-up play in general was excellent.”
Two minutes after the restart, a dreadful mix-up between MacIver and defender Megan Finnigan allowed Sam Kerr to score in an empty net. Finnegan’s sideways pass to her goalie fell so short that it presented the Aussie striker with what will be the simplest tap-in of the season.
In the 74th minute it was 3-0 as Guro Reiten – one of the outstanding stars of this encounter – galloped down the left wing and sent a sublime cross over for Kerr to head downwards and in.
The cherry on top was supplied by Beth England, although even she had a rueful smile on her face as the team celebrated on the pitch. Erin Cuthbert, another contender for player of the match, fired in a rocket from the right, only to see it ricochet off the crossbar, bounce down and strike England on the leg before bouncing in.
Perhaps the scoreline was harsh on Everton, who contained Chelsea well for long spells of the first half. Manager Willie Kirk knows that after two defeats on the trot (admittedly against the two best teams in the WSL: Chelsea and Man City) he can’t afford to let any more points slip when his side faces Birmingham after the impending international break.
But Carter, Cuthbert, Reiten and Ji So-Yun were all on top, top form. Hayes, who was presented with a framed montage of images ahead of the match to mark 250 games in charge, was also keen to big up Beth England, who will find it hard to nail down a regular starting place when Lauren James – watching from the stand – gains full fitness.
“I’m so delighted for Beth England to come into the game and get her goal,” she said of the 77th-minute sub’s contribution. “She worked so hard in the off-season and she’s back in the England squad. She’s an invaluable part of the squad, but equally I’m delighted for Sam and Fran to get to open up [their scoring] for the season.”
Hayes attributed the excellent performances of Reiten, Carter, Cuthbert an England to having had a full, injury-free pre-season, rather than being involved in summer competitions. She also had praise for Pernille Harder who, though not rewarded with a goal, was arguably the most energetic player on the pitch.
“It’s Pernille [Harder]’s first pre-season, and she’s been wonderful. She’s settled. Her role is clear. Her understanding within this league is clear. She doesn’t get the credit for her workrate… the volume of running she does is unbelievable,” said Hayes.
This was a comprehensive team performance. If Hayes can maintain (and improve) the current level, Chelsea have a good chance of retaining the league title for a third successive season.