Chelsea secured a 2-0 home win against league trailers Aston Villa, maintaining their place atop the Women’s Super League table.
Emma Hayes made some big changes to her lineup, to rest some of her starters after the midweek clash with Wolfsburg which put the Blues through their paces. Zecira Musovic earned her second start in goal, joined by Jess Carter, Hannah Blundell, Guro Reiten, Jessie Fleming, and Erin Cuthbert.
The formation overhaul brought out a fresh side against Aston Villa. Academy players Jorja Fox and Aggie Beever-Jones stepped up to the bench.
Villa’s determination was clear from the off, but Chelsea retaliated quickly, immediately pushing the visitors back into their own half. Play remained fairly controlled by the Blues until Villa drew a free-kick from Reiten, leading to an early set piece. Whilst not converted, it gave the visitors ample time in the opposing half to show their attacking intent.
Early calls of “Higher!” from manager Hayes showed her eagerness to press Villa hard up the pitch. Promising passing and communication from her players created early chances in the box, narrowly missed. Though the creativity was there, something lacked in the usual finishing precision.
The “Kerrby” link-up
Finally the “Kerrby” partnership pulled through with a goal, with Fran Kirby looping the ball straight into the path of Sam Kerr’s reliable header. Hayes later called the pair “telepathic,” with each player often passing to the other without even looking.
Tenth place Aston Villa showed no signs of being deterred this early on, creating a few promising chances in retaliation. Mana Iwabuchi maintained a threat to the Chelsea defence with her consistent speed and agility.
Hayes’ side were prepped and ready to double their lead after a unsatisfactory first half for the champions. The second goal came through another Kerrby play: a stunning Kirby cross met with a Kerr finish. The pair’s intuition is becoming a goldmine for Chelsea, cool and clinical.
Hayes made four changes with half an hour to play, keen to widen the goal deficit for her league-leading side. A further change let 17-year-old Beever-Jones stretch her legs with the senior team. Despite the renewed energy, the visitors kept up the pace, unyielding.
Post-match, Villa manager Marcus Bignot said, “The objective was to stay in the game as long as possible.” They certainly pressured the home side, holding their own against the champions.
Chelsea might have sought a higher goal tally, but their play reflected the adaptability of the squad under heavy rotation. Hayes reflected on the improvement of her team after the half-time debrief, saying: “We did what needed to be done.” She praised Niamh Charles for slotting into her various roles with such professionalism.”
When asked about her managerial mindset, Hayes commented: “Being a relentless winner isn’t a choice. You have to be.”
Her intentions for the remainder of the league are clear. Chelsea go up against Wolfsburg with a narrow goal margin in the second leg of their Champions League quarter final tie on Wednesday.