With a chance to go top of the Women’s Super League table for the first time this season following Manchester United’s 3-2 defeat of Arsenal, Emma Hayes back in the dugout, and Stamford Bridge bouncing, it has been a good weekend for Chelsea. And a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Tottenham ensured the team leapfrogged United and Arsenal, which was the cherry on top.
Since a shock opening-day defeat against Liverpool, Chelsea have cruised to the summit and, while performances have not quite had last year’s swagger, they have been brutally efficient. It was no different at Stamford Bridge, which was scheduled to host the sellout opening game of the season against West Ham before that match was postponed following the death of the Queen and tickets transferred to this fixture.
Hayes said she would “like to be here more” and that the “audiences are here for maybe eight to 12 games a year” when asked about bringing her team back to Stamford Bridge. “We all know that [there is a] conundrum in the women’s game around what we do,” she said. “From small stadia, is there a medium-term plan to go to medium-size stadiums before eventually everyone comes home to the large stadium? I don’t know, but I’m absolutely certain we’re all outgrowing our small stadiums. The players want to play here more but I really believe we have to increase the overall pricing structure if we’re to play more in these places, because there is a cost implication to it.”
The visiting north London side, contending with a number of injuries, began more brightly but it took just 12 minutes for Chelsea to quash hopes of an upset. The centre-back Millie Bright, deep in her own half, lofted the ball towards Sam Kerr and the dynamic Australian forward shrugged off the challenge of Shelina Zadorsky before firing coolly past Tinja-Riikka Korpela.
It was a welcome sight for Hayes, who was glued to the edge of her technical area for the duration having missed Chelsea’s preceding six games in all competitions while she recovered from an emergency hysterectomy after a long battle with endometriosis.
“First half I felt fine, second half my back was killing me, when it got cold, but I feel like I hadn’t been away,” Hayes said. “Someone asked me earlier how many games of football I’ve coached in my career and I couldn’t tell you, but it’d be over 1,000 I suspect. It just felt like I was going back out to my family and I felt like a spectator for the most part and just gave little bits of information as and when necessary. I really enjoyed it.”
Chelsea had won five games in succession against their London rivals before their trip to Stamford Bridge and outscored them 12 to two. That balance looked unlikely to shift: Spurs have struggled for consistency and they are lacking an out and out striker with Kit Graham injured. Instead, partnering Jess Naz up top was the former Chelsea defensive midfielder Drew Spence who, alongside Ash Neville, is Tottenham’s joint top scorer with three goals.
“In terms of the squad depth, some of the challenges we’ve faced over the course of this season is creating a few issues with how many options we’ve got in and around the squad,” the Spurs manager, Rehanne Skinner, said. “Overall, every transfer window we’ve just got to keep evolving the squad so we’re in a more consistent position to compete with these teams and take chances when we get them.”
Chelsea’s second was as stylish as the first, with the ball dropping to Erin Cuthbert on the end of the area and the Scot sending a looping strike dipping down under the crossbar and in.
Less than 10 minutes later the home team had a third, with Guro Reiten stepping up to convert from the spot after Neville clipped the heel of the majestic Lauren James in the box. Chelsea continued their dominance in the second half but struggled to break through the renewed resilience of the Tottenham back line.
Chelsea move three points clear, albeit having played a game more, while Spurs are back to the drawing board having failed again to string together two consecutive league wins this season.