Kirby begins Chelsea’s Women’s World Championship defense with Manchester City win | Women’s Super League

Chelsea started their title defense with a comfortable but not entirely convincing victory 2-0 to intensify the pressure on Manchester City boss, Gareth Taylor.

There’s rare to be much riding in the second game of the season, but with both Chelsea and City suffering shock defeats in the first weekend, against newly promoted Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively, that result suddenly becomes all the more important.

Matches between the top three of Arsenal, Chelsea and City played an important role in determining the outcome of the league. In a league with 12 teams and 22 matches, every point counts as decisive. Last season, Arsenal lost the title by one point, having lost one game all season. Increasingly, though, there are no predictable results in the Women’s Super League.

“That’s the nature of the league, I’ve always been negative about that, 22 games is nothing,” Taylor said. “Unless teams keep beating each other, then you can get away with four defeats in a season and still win the league. So, we can’t do much about it, the rules are the rules, the teams are the teams.”

At the all-sold Kingsmeadow Stadium, the champions of the past three years are starting to shine brighter, but they’ve been far from the cheery side in recent years. This was an open confrontation, with neither team being able to maintain possession the way they liked.

The hosts should have advanced within a minute, but Kirby’s comeback to demote Sam Kerr was a bit behind the Australian striker who put her wide effort in as a result.

After 12 minutes of play, they united again, as Kerr jumped on City captain Steve Hutton’s pass before throwing at Kirby when he crossed one-on-one. It was her pass behind her teammate and Kirby could only get the weakest shots away, which was blocked. But the lack of top-of-the-line, with Kerr and Kirby particularly extravagant, allowed City to keep the threat, with striker Bane Shaw dangerous.

When the Chelsea goal came it was beautiful. Jesse Fleming raced in Houghton, hitting her and giving Guru Ritten the ball. The Norwegian cut the goal and Kirby hit the goal. It was a one-for-one bruise for former England captain Houghton, who bested him under the watchful eye of lioness coach, Sarina Wegman.

City didn’t look quite as brave in defense as they did in their 4-3 defeat to Aston Villa but there was a lack of consistency in their play. If there’s a plan for how to get back into the game after they’ve admitted it, it’s hard to see.

Instead, it was Chelsea that continued to appear more dangerous, with City giving them more and more of the ball in the middle, and Lauren James increasingly asserting her physical and technical presence, leaving fans drooling as she headed towards the edge of the box before. Resulting in a low rescue from Eli Roebuck.

Chelsea’s second result was less beautiful. Sophie Engel kicked the rebound into the goal after an attempt by Erin Cuthbert, but it deflected from Leila Wahaby’s raised arm and referee Abigail Bayern pointed to the penalty kick and Marin Mjildy managed to convert it.

“We kept playing ourselves in trouble,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hayes. “We adapted in the second half, they stopped pressing. We were lucky in the first half, we were a bit hesitant. It looked like two teams didn’t get momentum in the season.”

For City, the pressure is on. Wholesale changes in the team cannot be an excuse for a long time. The lack of answers after the assignment would be a concern. The team that crashed out of the title race before it even started last season is now off its pace in the new season, and for a club with high expectations, a challenge that doesn’t exist won’t be good enough.

“These are going to be really good players and this is going to be a really good team,” Taylor said. “Unfortunately we have two defeats at the moment which are really difficult to deal with but there are positives to go forward.”

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