Given the arrivals of big names like Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder, and less stratospheric but still titanic names like Melanie Leupolz and Niamh Charles, the first half of Chelsea’s 2020-21 season was good, but not as dominant as everyone expected. In fact, most players performed at or below their xG.
Except for one.
Fran herself might as well have been a new signing. A battle with pericarditis limited her to just four appearances (two starts) at the start of the 2019-20 season. Following her recovery and return to full fitness, she’s gone absolutely supernova in the first half of this season, racking up five goals and five assists across six WSL and two Champions League matches.
It’s perhaps unfair to expect Kirby to keep up such a pace in the second half of the season as well. But in the first match of the new calendar year — and with all eyes on Chelsea thanks to every other scheduled WSL match being postponed due to COVID-19 concerns — all Kirby did was score a perfect hat-trick (right foot, left foot, header) in the first half, and finish with four goals by the full-time whistle.
Reading may not be the toughest WSL opponents, but they are firmly mid-table. Unfortunately for them, Chelsea and Kirby had no mercy in the 5-0 win at the Madejski Stadium.
“We’ve had a really top week of training, everyone’s looked really sharp coming back in and maybe a lot sharper than we anticipated.
“It took us a little while to get going in terms of the first 10 minutes. We were getting the cobwebs out and finding our feet but I think after that we were ruthless and looked really sharp. It was really good to see everyone firing on all cylinders.”
Manager Emma Hayes elected to start Kirby in the No.10 role for the first time this season. It’s a role Kirby has played in the past, but it’s been the exclusive domain of the clever Ji So-yun for quite some time.
Playing behind the unselfish and hard-working Sam Kerr provided oceans of space for Kirby to attack and create danger.
“We were really clinical today and I think getting the clean sheet is just as important. It shows that even though we go 3-0 up at half-time, we stayed defensively solid and switched on for the whole of the 90 minutes.
“It was a good win and for me personally I’m really happy to get on the scoresheet.”
Happy to get on the scoresheet might already be the understatement of the year.
If you missed Kirby’s goals, take a look at them here. It’s hard to choose a favorite, and her best strike of the day actually hit the post and caromed the wrong way, but I think the header deserves a lot of love. Not only because Fran is 5’2” or because she was on a hat-trick, but because her run as the play develops exemplifies the optimism that borders on clairvoyance that possesses attackers when they’re in-form and in the mood.
Four goals including a hat-trick ✨— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) January 10, 2021
Welcome to the @frankirby show pic.twitter.com/aX9OeYeaac
After struggling to break down well-organized, packed-in defenses in the first half of the season, a win like was needed. It’s a much-needed boost ahead of Chelsea’s next match, against top-of-the-table Manchester United on Sunday. Though the Blues also have a game in hand, a win would instantly catapult us to the top.
“It’s going to be really tough. We played them the first game of the season and we got a 1-1 draw away from home which in hindsight we look back on now and it’s a really good point.
“They are coming to our home. We’ve got to be ready and I’m sure after another good week of training we will be ready to go. Everyone’s excited for the game, we want to keep on playing and keep on winning.”
–Fran Kirby; source: ChelseaFC
The match against United kicks off a stretch of four matches in ten days for the Blues.
Here’s to a lot more ruthlessness in the very near future.