Fran Kirby looked frustrated despite having masterminded Chelsea’s win with three assists, for Guro Reiten, Sam Kerr and Beth England, and that drew praise from her manager.
“Fran’s standards are through the roof so she’s always frustrated,” said Emma Hayes. “That’s the measure of her and why she is as good as she is. She thinks there’s always room to improve.
“As I’ve said a million times over, if I’m Sarina [Wiegman, the England manager] I’m making sure that Fran Kirby is constantly pushed to be her best because Fran at her best is one of the best.”
As the only team to take three points off of the champions in the league last season Brighton travelled back to Kingsmeadow with a target on their backs. The 2-1 defeat in February was Chelsea’s first in the league, home or away, since a 3-2 loss to Birmingham in January 2019.
That was the jewel in the crown of a very strong season for them. Their third campaign in the top flight ended with a sixth-place finish, reward for the patient building work of Hope Powell.
But on a rain-drenched afternoon, Chelsea took the lead through Reiten in the 10th minute after the Norwegian raced into the box from the left to meet Kirby’s pass from the middle, before firing low past the defender Victoria Williams and Megan Walsh in Brighton’s goal.
The home side were on top, with Pernille Harder driving their attack, but looked frustrated against an organised side.
Shortly before the break they found a second, though. A swooping ball over the top from Kirby sent Kerr in a three-way chase with Walsh and Felicity Gibbons. The Brighton pair collided as Kerr rose to nod towards the empty net.
It was fitting that Danielle Carter, Brighton’s marquee signing, pulled her side back into the game shortly after the restart. It was the 28-year-old’s second goal since joining from Reading in the summer and although Carter was not here for the upset last term she is no friend of Chelsea, with four goals in her first seven WSL games against them plus the goal that gave Arsenal the FA Cup in 2016.
Three minutes after her introduction England re-established her team’s two-goal lead, latching on to Kirby’s teasing pass across the box before lashing in.
“They’re a better team than they were last year but I thought they were more threatening to us last year,” said Hayes. “Is that because of how much better we’ve got? Yes, I think so and that’s because of how we limited them.”