Emma Hayes described the display in Crawley as confident. We would say it was professional. A controlled first half was followed up by an onslaught of quality in the second 45 minutes by Chelsea Women. Lauren James led the way once again accompanied by Fran Kirby, whose combination of goals in the first 14 minutes of the second half put Brighton and Hove Albion to bed.
Three points on the road against the Seagulls are not so straightforward to come by. Manchester United was a witness to that earlier this season. In fact, it was the third consecutive road match in Crawley in which the west London outfit failed to convert a chance before the halftime whistle. Melissa Phillips led out an incredibly organized and disciplined team which was outdone this past weekend by a 15 to 20 minute lull. It's what separates the champions from the rest of the pack. When it needs to find that extra level, the crew knows when and how to find it.
Following the contest, Hayes spoke about what she said at the half and the United fixture just after the winter break being a launchpad.
"We had it under control but without going up a gear. That’s what I spoke to the team about at half-time; respect the WSL and respect that you don’t want to leave it going long and late into these games," Hayes said. "I wasn’t expecting a response 53 seconds in but that was what it needed – that little bit of clinical play in the final third – and we were excellent in the second half. We looked like we’ve got a lot of confidence. For me the Man United game was significant for us."
Jess Carter and Nathalie Björn in the center of defense held the Seagulls to their lowest expected goals in the WSL this season. Just three shots needed the attention of Hannah Hampton between the sticks. Up top, Mayra Ramirez made her CFCW debut, providing the fans a glimpse into what the next four and a half years could look like. In a little over 20 minutes out there, the Colombian looked fearless on the ball, forcing Sophie Baggaley into a save after brilliantly turning away from Maria Thorisdóttir.
Brighton dropped to 10th while the Blues kept their place at the pinnacle even with Manchester City and Arsenal taking care of business on Sunday afternoon. Before we turn our heads to the final group stage UEFA Women's Champions League fixture for the Blues this season, here are our major takeaways from the club's last contest in January.
3 takeaways from Chelsea Women's third win in the span of just six days
3. Hannah Hampton may have officially locked up the starting spot for Chelsea
After a convincing performance at Bristol City, English goalkeeper Hannah Hampton has been gifted with Hayes' trust in net. Since Zecira Musovic took the gloves for the FA Cup fixture, No. 24 in blue has started in three straight games. In the last two fixtures, Hampton has amassed a pass completion percentage of over 85 percent, allowing the Blues to consistently build-up an attack from the back.
Sure, she isn't the greatest of a shot-stoppers, but if Hayes seeks calmness with the ball from the back, there are few goalkeepers better than Hampton. The Blues' manager interestingly expressed that Sam Kerr's absence brought her to start Hampton due to that on ball composure. She completed six of the nine passes that were launched further than 40 yards down the pitch. We'll likely see Musovic tomorrow in the Champions League due to it not meaning all that much, but there is no real reason Hampton should lose her spot at the top of the depth chart right now.
2. Fran Kirby looked like Fran Kirby which bodes well going forward
That goal drought it no more. For the first time since that 6-0 drubbing of Aston Villa, English star Fran Kirby has converted a chance in Chelsea blue. Her play on Saturday evening went far beyond just the goal. No. 14, who has been seen saying that she is not in contract talks with the west Londoners as of right now, was the clear orchestrator of CFCW's progression in the attacking areas.
Not only did she complete over 90 percent of her passes, Kirby created two more chances than any of her teammates. Her seven progressive passes were good for third behind the always active Niamh Charles and Erin Cuthbert. Three out of the last four shots on target for the Blues were created by a vision and unselfishness of Kirby. Who knows what her future holds. That's not today's problem. With Kerr sidelined, Kirby's health is essential. That experience during her time in the WSL has led to incredible decision-making in the final third. Sure, she'll carry the ball forward, but No. 14 always knows when its time to release to one of her teammates to continue that forward progression.
1. Lauren James has continued to mask the impact of Sam Kerr absence up top with world class finishes
Left foot. Right foot. Doesn't matter in the slightest. James just simply produces sublime finishes in the final third. At this point, it's must-see television. The focus, and skill to lace her boots through Niamh Charles' cross on the half volley for the game's first breakthrough is mind-blowing. You can only hold James at bay for so long. The Seagulls learned that the hard way.
Credit to Brighton's resistance in the first half, but you'd be lying to yourself if you said any defense would be able to keep LJ from putting a stamp on winning at this point in the campaign.
There's no English footballer in better form right now than James. There are so much ways in which the absence of the Australian striker has hurt this team, but this productivity in the final third sure makes it much less prominent. Five goals in two WSL fixtures speaks for itself. No. 10 is the face of the present and future of this team. In less than 800 league minutes so far, James has doubled her past highest goal tally in the WSL. You can just see the growth since she returned to west London from Manchester United. 12 goal contributions in the last six WSL matches. Khadija "Bunny" Shaw is the only player in the English top-flight that has converted more chances this season.
Emma Hayes' crew head on the road once again, but this time in the UEFA Women's Champions League for the final group stage contest against Paris FC on Tuesday evening.