July 28, 2022

Chelsea returned to the top of the table in style, scoring five goals past Reading in front of a full house at the Kingsmeadow. Emma Hayes’ side played the late kick-off after Arsenal also won by five goals against Leicester. However, none of these factors seemed to affect their performance as they flexed their attacking muscles despite missing key players.

Chelsea, bolstered by the fans’ return to the stands, sought to reward their early support in the form of an early charge on Grace Moloney’s goal. Leading the attack was the talismanic Sam Kerr, bouncing off passes from Erin Cuthbert and slotting into the gaps of Reading’s tough back four.

Without Fran Kirby, Pernille Harder and Ji So-yun to complement her game, the Australian was instead reliant on the five-man midfield behind her to help fuel the counters. One of the five was the in-form Guro Reiten, who had scored five times in his last nine games, and the Norwegian orchestrates the game from her preferred position on the left.

It was thanks to her that Chelsea had the chance to score from a free kick. Reiten attempted a cheeky low shot that only just missed the goal.

Opportunities were few, partly due to Reading’s attempts to smother spaces for Chelsea’s attack to surge through. It wasn’t until just before half-time before a similar chance presented itself, this time for Bethany England. The striker was on goal, but was forced to the boundary line and her shot was blocked.

It was the drop that broke the camel’s back. Moments later Cuthbert curled a cross into the box which Jessie Fleming ripped out of the sky before firing into the bottom corner to open the scoring in the 40th minute.

On the other side of half, Reading’s response was to bolster their attack by releasing Deanne Rose in a free role, perhaps looking to replicate his goal in the December game between the sides.

However, when they last faced Chelsea, Hayes’ defense was in an experimental phase. There would be no waltz this time around, not with the much more experienced hosts’ back three in the 3-5-2 configuration.

In the 51st minute, England showed how well this formation worked for them. She regained possession on Reading’s left flank and raced into the box to receive a perfect pass from Reiten which she sent home to make it 2-0.

Reiten notched his second assist of the game 14 minutes later, making the most of an error in Reading’s quarter-final to set off, along with a certain inevitable, Kerr, for Chelsea’s 25th goal in six games.

The combination of a turnover of possession, an attack on the left and an assist from Reiten would happen again in nightmarish fashion for the third time in the evening in the 76th minute. Reading gave up possession carelessly and Kerr converted in the box for her second goal of the match, and Chelsea’s fourth.

With an England penalty conversion in the 92nd minute to make it 5-0, there was no doubting Chelsea’s dominant and convincing return to the top of the WSL.

The equation from now on remains simple: win the rest of their matches and they successfully defend their title for the third year in a row. Hayes’ side return to Kingsmeadow on April 28 when they host Tottenham Hotspur in a rearranged game.

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