Chelsea successfully defended their Continental Cup title on Sunday, hitting Bristol City for six in a completely one-sided final at Vicarage Road. Sam Kerr led the way with a hat-trick, while player of the match Fran Kirby bagged a brace of goals, as well as setting up ALL of the others – with Guro Reiten the beneficiary of her final assist. Neutral observers would have hoped that Bristol City could raise their game to yet another level after their dramatic league win over Reading the previous Monday, but it wasn’t to be. Sadly, the Vixens really didn’t give a good account of themselves and the contest was effectively over before half time.
Bristol City 0-6 Chelsea
“It was clinical, our transitions, our switch play, our decision making in the finishing phase improved as the first half went on. I don’t know if it was the best but I certainly enjoyed it. What I was so impressed with was the intensity and the intention right from the start and we really took the game to Bristol. We were relentless for 60 minutes, we really didn’t take the foot of the pedal and you can always talk about the opponent but from my perspective, I thought my team were outstanding.”Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com
Bristol City made their way to the final largely on the back of wins against tier-two sides. The London Bees, Crystal Palace and Lewes were dispatched at the Group stage and Championship pacesetters Leicester City proved a stubborn semi-final opponent before loan signing Keira Skeels netted the only goal of that tie. Aston Villa were the only WSL side the Vixens faced. Ebony Salmon’s brace had given them a 2-1 quarter final victory.
Chelsea had an altogether more onerous route, beating Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to win Group B without having to face the London City Lionesses. They needed extra time to beat WSL title rivals Manchester City 4-2 in the quarter final before Pernille Harder’s hat-trick inspired a 6-0 trouncing of West Ham in the last four.
Chelsea came into the final as white hot favourites and the idea of them chalking up another six-goal margin would not have seemed fanciful; they had beaten City 5-0 in the league a couple of weeks back and 9-0 earlier in the season at Kingsmeadow.
Superb transition and some defensive howlers would help to set the tone of this match.
Less than 90 seconds after kick off the Blues were in front, zig-zagging from one end of the field to the other through Sophie Ingle, Jessie Fleming, Guro Reiten and Frank Kirby, who put her cross on a plate for Kerr to tap in from a yard out.
Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson nearly made it two arriving to meet Reiten’s in-swinging corner but nodding just wide of the upright.
But the reigning champions didn’t have to wait long to double their advantage. Fleming pressed Yana Daniëls into gifting possession to Kirby on the edge of the penalty box; the England international took a touch and played Kerr into space and the Australian fired a low, left-footed drive past Baggaley from the corner of the six-yard box. Just ten minutes had expired and Kerr decided to treat her TV audience to a trademark celebratory back-flip.
The Blues pushed on for more goals. Kerr had a penalty shout when Gemma Evans appeared to bring her down but the referee waved it away. Then Daniëls appeared to handball from a Chelsea corner but the officials didn’t see anything. VAR, of course, was not being used.
In the 24th minute Kirby drilled a low shot just wide of the right-hand post after another lightning fast combination with Kerr.
But the former Reading attacker got on the score sheet four minutes later. City had a free-kick 30-yards from their goal, Evans casually knocked it back to Sophie Baggeley stood in the ‘D’ but Kerr had already set off to press the keeper. Baggaley’s touch deserted her under duress and she could only clear as far as Kirby, who beat Jemma Purfield and chipped the ball into the right-hand corner of the net with the keeper still scrambling to get home.
Half an hour on the clock and 3-0 up, but Emma Hayes’ side were in no mood to take their foot off the gas.
In the 35th minute Kerr spun away from Evans on half way and played Kirby in behind the Bristol back line. She cut inside Purfield on to her right foot, tricked the keeper to commit left and then passed the ball under the defender’s attempted block and inside the near post.
Kirby would have sealed her treble from another combination with Kerr, had Baggaley not made a terrific stop at point blank range just before the break.
As it was, Kerr would reach that milestone just three minutes into the second period from a counter attack of quite breath-taking efficacy, moving from one penalty box to the other in seconds.
Keeper Ann-Katrin Berger gathered the ball and played surely the pass of the match, kicking the ball low out of her hands to Kirby in space on the left. Chelsea’s number 14 carried to the halfway line and played a long 1-2 with Reiten that drew Faye Bryson just far enough up-field for Kirby to hare into the space behind.
Reiten played her in, with Evans in pursuit, but rather than take the keeper on – which she had every right to – Kirby squared the ball to Kerr who made another simple conversion from seven-yards. It was the Matilda’s 16th goal of the season in all competitions.
Left winger Reiten got her goal in the 55th minute from some lovely one-touch football. Substitute Drew Spence played ‘round-the-corner’ to Fleming out on the right touchline. The Canadian, having her best game in a Chelsea shirt to date, fed Kerr into the channel, the striker crossed, Kirby feigned to shoot but instead teed up the Norwegian who just had to slide the ball into an unguarded net. It was like watching a training ground move.
The Vixens had attempted to present a bit more of an attacking threat in the second half. As substitutions on both sides started to break up the flow of the game, so they were able to get some possession nearer to Chelsea’s goal.
Substitute Aimee Palmer got her head on Bryson’s cross but couldn’t beat Berger who batted it away for a corner. Then Ebony Salmon’s took Millie Bright on at pace, drove into the penalty box and forced a decent reaction stop from the German keeper off her left hand.
Meanwhile, Baggaley had to be sharp saving twice at Kerr’s feet with the striker sniffing out more opportunity.
Chelsea would go into the final fifteen minutes of the match a player short after Maren Mjelde was stretchered off with what later was announced as a season-ending knee injury.
Substitutes Hannah Blundell and Niamh Charles worked an opening near the end but Baggaley ensured the score line stayed where it was, making another good block with her legs.
“It was a real team performance, I scored three, but Fran [Kirby] had a hand in every goal. She has four assists and two goals, and the defence was epic too. It was a real team performance. We made five substitutions, and everyone made an impact. Whenever you can win a trophy, you want to win it and we did that with a strong showing. It’s a real boost for the team and it’s a reward for the team. We have been pushing really hard over the last few months so we are really happy with that but there is more to win.”Sam Kerr, Striker, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com
So, not the end-to-end barnstormer of we witnessed in the final twelve months ago between Chelsea and Arsenal. Top WSL teams against bottom WSL teams don’t typically make for close contests and City made the worse possible start to this match. Even then, if they could have dug in and kept it at 1-0 for an hour, maybe… maybe they could have started to frustrate the defending champs.
Matt Beard later pointed out that only one of his players had been in a cup final previously and that Chelsea are in these situations every season. But the manager chose to alter the team’s shape from a back four to a back five with Daniëls (an attacking player) looking very much a ‘fish out of water’ on the left. An early concession, combined with some tactical uncertainty and evident panic in their unexperienced ranks, it’s little surprise that the Vixens were 3-0 down inside half an hour.
“From my perspective it was a frustrating first half, but the second half we began to do things a bit better. We played against a world-class opponent and now our focus can be on staying in the division. I said at half-time ‘I want us to be brave’. We showed them a few clips of where the space was and what we had worked on in training over the last few days and I asked them to trust what we set out to do, we did that better in the second half. Their keeper has also made a couple of good saves; it would have been nice to get a goal but the first half has killed the game.”Matt Beard, Interim Manager, Bristol City, via bcfc.co.uk
Bristol City will need to shake this one off quickly because another very tough challenge awaits them on Wednesday night in the shape of Manchester City who are looking to win their tenth consecutive league match.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have three more trophies to vie for, starting with a return to WSL duties against Everton in midweek. Their Champions League quarter final, first leg tie with Wolfsburg has been scheduled for the 25th March in Budapest. And they still have the FA Cup to contest. You don’t get a lot of time to enjoy success these days…
“I’m really over the moon for Fran because I thought she was amazing. She’s always amazing but today the connection between her and Sam, just everything came off and it was a brilliant performance from her. I’m the fortunate one because I get to work with these players every day. I had Pernille and Ji on the bench, how lucky am I to be charged with a task of managing, I can’t say coaching, managing this illustrious group and I am so thankful for the amount of humility I have in the dressing room and the hunger to make each other better.”Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com
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