Emma Hayes wasted no time introducing everyone to the new Chelsea by naming Sam Kerr in the first XI in which she was available, and dropping winger Erin Cuthbert. Amid all the anxiety, intrigue, and post-holiday heavy-leggedness, the match got weird very quickly.
Things looked nearly storybook when Sam Kerr received a flick-on from Bethany England to go 1v1 with the keeper in the first ninety seconds. Whether nerves or a lack of match sharpness (or both), the ball ended up floating well above the bar and into the stands.
About thirteen minutes after that Reading was pinging the ball around after a corner and a chested pass resulted in a shot that made it through the wickets to put Chelsea behind 1-0. Not ideal.
A couple minutes later Sam Kerr was played through again, only this time the Reading keeper decided to deal with the threat by turning herself into a missile. Kerr was knocked sideways into the air and landed hard on her shoulder. The keeper was shown a straight red.
Reading was now down a player and trying to protect a 1-0 lead and, frustratingly, they were doing a pretty good job of it. Chelsea’s new structure posed some flaws, even though the new strike partnership Bethany England and Sam Kerr saw each take turns dropping deep and drifting wide, the Blues still only had one true wide option in Guro Reiten. As a result, any buildup that wasn’t played through her was narrow and central, where Reading was packed in.
In the 40th minute the Chelsea we wanted to see made its grand entrance at Kingsmeadow. Reading decided to press Chelsea in the Blues’ own half for some reason and a couple knocked on passes worked the ball to Ji So-yun, whose left-footed flick was collected by Bethany England and moved forward to Sam Kerr who backheeled back to England who rounded the keeper to level the score. It was a quick sweeping move that involved the three most dangerous players on the pitch.
Halftime came with the match tied 1-1.
After play was restarted, Reading was still being pesky but the Blues, had the numbers and the quality, were starting to build the number of chances we’re used to seeing. Unfortunately they were also doing the ‘not scoring when they should’ thing we’re also used to seeing. To increase Chelsea’s chances of finding the winner, Emma Hayes’ first sub was to replace midfielder Sophie Ingle with winger Erin Cuthbert in the 62nd minute.
Minutes after that Sam Kerr was played in again but overthought her 1v1 with the keeper who made a solid kick save that popped the ball out of the box and straight to Guro Reiten, who was waiting with a cheeky thought. The Norwegian’s deft left foot met the ball out from the sky and guided it over the keeper’s head into the bottom far corner. It was a stunning goal that deserves a few viewings.
Ten minutes after another such sequence led to another goal. Bethany England’s diving header from a Guro Reiten cross bounced off the keeper and Erin Cuthbert pounced to score her first league goal of the season. This is exactly the type of feasting Chelsea players need to do while defenses have their hands full with England and Kerr.
Though the Blues got what they deserved, they still missed some crucial chances that could have changed the match before Reading’s goal and their gifted red card. Emma Hayes’ squad needs to make sure that needing such an intervention is an aberration.
In any case, Bethany England and Sam Kerr is almost comically unfair. Their flick-ons to one another, ability to pop up in spots all along the back line, and strikers’ instincts are simply lethal. It wasn’t the dream debut Kerr would have wanted — she would have wanted a hat-trick and her first backflip in blue in front of the Kingsmeadow crowd — but she notched an assist to her strike partner and played an indirect part in another goal. There is a bit of a worry with Kerr’s shoulder, as she seemed to still be favoring it late in the match, but assuming she’s just sore, the Kerr/England partnership is just getting going — and that should worry every WSL defender.
In the 88th minute our other new signing, Jamielee Napier, made her debut, replacing Maren Mjelde at right-back.
The beginning of the match was saturated with hope and intrigue, then immediately turned scary, then annoying, then into a comfortable 3-1 win. Chelsea wouldn’t be Chelsea without a bit of drama.