LONDON -- Reigning Women's Super League champions, Chelsea, finally got some points on the board Sunday with a 2-0 win at home to Manchester City.
After a shock defeat in their season opener against Liverpool, the Blues looked much sharper and decisive in week two of the season. Having taken the lead late in the first half through Fran Kirby, the hosts doubled their advantage 10 minutes from time thanks to Maren Mjelde's thumping penalty following a handball in the box.
- Report: Chelsea 2-0 Man City | WSL table | Upcoming fixtures
The result gives Chelsea their first points of the 2022 season and, making it sweeter, it happened in front of over 4,000 fans at their Kingsmeadow home ground. Here are the major takeaways from an early season top of the table clash and what it means for the pair of title hopefuls.
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1. Chelsea's persistence eventually pays off
Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Watching Chelsea attack down the left flank through a rotating mix of Guro Reiten, Jessie Fleming and Sam Kerr, only for the ball to be cut back into the box and routinely passed along again to Kirby, brought about images of Einstein's words having fallen on deaf ears. But there's another saying, far more germane to football: if at first you don't succeed... and eventually, Chelsea did on their way to a comfortable win.
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Chelsea had tried the "dash up the left and pass into the box" move just 14 seconds into the match and it nearly yielded a goal. Ten minutes later, it was Kerr hounding Steph Houghton on the left and unnecessarily passing the ball to Kirby that squandered another glorious chance. Then, just before half-time, that same combination of attacking Man City's right side and handing the ball off to the blue shirts in the box did lead to the first goal when Kirby slotted the ball home.
Although the Blues did use Lauren James on the right side of their attack, so much of their purposeful advances continued to be weighted towards the left, repeatedly trying to get the better of Man City's Dutch debutante, Kerstin Casparij. In the end, City's luck ran out.
2. Reigning champions are still struggling to kill off games
After Chelsea's defeat away to Liverpool, Emma Hayes spoke of her team needing to "be killers" and finish games when they had their chances, yet the Blues were still guilty of letting far too many chances go begging at home. Despite being the better team going forward for the majority of the game, Ann-Katrin Berger's goal remained under a constant threat when Manchester City could get forward and indeed, Chelsea's shot-stopper was kept busy throughout as City struggled to find their own killer instinct.
Although another seven-goal thriller (as City were part of last week) might have been unlikely, and both goalkeepers will be leaving with another save for their highlight reels, it's clear both attacks still have far more to offer than they're showing on the scoresheet. Lucky for them, it's still early enough in the season for the appropriate adjustments to be made and for normal service to resume.
3. Taylor in the hot seat after another defeat to a rival
Having drawn criticism from fans and pundits last season after a string of poor performances that left Man City languishing nearer to the foot of the table than anyone would have predicted, Gareth Taylor's ability as their manager is once again being talked about.
While the Sky Blues had struggled with injuries that impacted their results last season, this time around the high turnover of players is to blame. Most notably, the loss of Keira Walsh is keenly felt; for so long, she was the conductor, orchestrating the side from the middle of the park while also breaking up opposing attacks.
Two league games into the season, Man City are still struggling for fluency with a new-look team. It's fair to say that it takes time for new partnerships to be formed and players to settle, yet there's a distinct feeling that the manager is failing to get the best from his players. With the team already eliminated from the Champions League, following a poor showing against Real Madrid, there is the unavoidable question of how long he can go on with the performances and results as dour as they are.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Ann-Katrin Berger 7; Magdalena Eriksson 7, Kadeisha Buchanan 7, Millie Bright 7; Fran Kirby 8, Maren Mjelde 6, Erin Cuthbert 7, Jessie Fleming 8; Lauren James 7, Guro Reiten 8, Sam Kerr 8.
Subs: Sophie Ingle 6, Eve Perisset 6, Niamh Charles 6, Johanna Rytting 6.
Man City (4-3-3): Ellie Roebuck 6; Kerstin Casparij 7, Steph Houghton 5, Alex Greenwood 6, Leila Ouahabi 5; Laura Coombs 6, Laia Aleixandri 6, Deyna Castellanos 7; Chloe Kelly 6, Khadija Shaw 6, Lauren Hemp 7.
Subs: Hayley Raso 6, Vicky Losada 6, Julie Blakstad 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Guro Reiten, FW, Chelsea
A constant threat for Chelsea up their favoured left side.
WORST: Steph Houghton, DF, Man City
She looks far more error-prone in recent years and while it might have something to do with the flurry of changes in the team around her, she's only got herself to blame in Sunday's defeat.
Highlights and notable moments
Talk about lovely, flowing moves. Chelsea's opening goal was all about the build-up play from back to front and here, it resulted in the easiest of finishes for Kirby.
The build-up play, though! 😍👏#CFCW pic.twitter.com/ppsrVwXwMN— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) September 25, 2022
After the game, a few words for the sold-out Chelsea home crowd from none other than Norway international Mjelde...
A message from @MarenMjelde to you. 🥰#CFCW pic.twitter.com/M9tFwXtgXR— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) September 25, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
"We overplayed and kept playing ourselves into trouble. We were playing out from the back in every situation and gave City the best chances. We were a bit tentative. Today was like the season opener -- it looked like two teams that haven't got any momentum and sometimes that takes time. We were dominating by the second half, comfortable after a poor first half. There are still transitions happening with us too but maybe the collective leadership in my group is further ahead than City." - Chelsea manager Emma Hayes
"It's an assumption that we're a new team with a lot of new players but I think we have good leadership and it comes in many forms... [Sunday's performance] gives us something to build on. It's not great, but it is what it is. We played well first half and had good moments, good opportunities. I will take positives from today." -- Man City coach Gareth Taylor.
Key stats (via Opta)
- Man City had 12 shots in the first half, the most Chelsea have faced in the opening 45 minutes of an WSL game since September 2013 vs. Notts County (14). However, Fran Kirby scored with Chelsea's only shot on target of the first half to give them a 1-0 lead.
- Chelsea have now won each of their last three WSL meetings with Manchester City, the first side ever to win three in a row against Man City in the competition.
Chelsea: Emma Hayes' side only have one more game before the international break and it's a home date with West Ham on Wednesday in which they'll look to keep their positive momentum going and climb the table a bit more.
Man City: Gareth Taylor's side are idle until after the international break, after which they'll face three WSL games in 14 days: a home date with Leicester City (Oct. 16), a tricky trip to Tottenham (Oct. 22) and then the visit of Liverpool (Oct. 30).