Chelsea replaced Arsenal at the top of the WSL table as the Blues hit four in the opening 11 minutes on the way to a crushing 9-0 win over Leicester.
With Saturday’s north London derby between Jonas Eidevall’s Gunners and Tottenham postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Spurs camp, Chelsea were presented the chance to finally hit the summit.
And they wasted absolutely no time in seizing it, recording their biggest win of the season thanks to two goals each from Guro Reiten, Beth England and Sam Kerr and one each from Aniek Nouwen, Lauren James and Jessie Fleming.
Emma Hayes’ side move onto 41 points from their 17 league games, one above Arsenal, with Leicester remaining second bottom.
Reiten got the significant victory up and running on a gloriously sunny afternoon in Leicestershire when she effortlessly guided in a stunning free-kick with just three minutes on the clock.
It undoubtedly set the tone, with Kerr taking advantage of some suspect defending to fire in at the second opportunity after Foxes goalkeeper Demi Lambourne had saved her initial shot.
Remarkably, it was three with seven minutes gone when England found the net after Kerr’s square ball and the Blues found a fourth when Nouwen helped in England’s shot soon afterwards.
As the tempo dropped, Leicester found a rare opening when their opponents conceded possession cheaply, but their promising counter came to a disappointing conclusion when Freya Gregory could only find the side netting.
The unstoppable Reiten created the fifth with a sublime ball to the far post, which England headed home, and then added her second of the game deep into first-half stoppage time with a mis-hit cross that dropped kindly over the line.
Just moments after the restart, Kerr guided a header – Chelsea’s seventh – into the bottom right corner, which undoubtedly killed any momentum Leicester boss Lydia Bedford had generated with her half-time team talk, but though they were left chasing shadows for the most part , the hosts kept their opponents at bay for long periods.
That changed late on. James scored his first goal for Chelsea with a neat finish from a Niamh Charles pull-back, before Fleming added the gloss in stoppage time by finishing off a slick attack.
Player of the match – Guro Reiten
Sky Sports’ Dan Long:
In the build-up to the game, the 27-year-old Norwegian had told Sky Sports’ Ron Walker: “It would mean everything [to pip Arsenal to the title] after the season we have had. We love playing each other, Arsenal and us. Hopefully we can be number one when the season is over.”
Thanks to a superb contribution on Sunday, she has played a key role in ensuring Chelsea have their destiny in their own hands heading into the final months of the season. She scored two stunning goals and caught the eye with some sumptuous balls into the box from the left.
She was drawn relatively early at the King Power, but by then her work was done. The rest will do her – and Chelsea’s title hopes – the world of good.
What the managers said…
Chelsea’s Emma Hayes: “I could see this result coming for us. I’ve seen the way we trained the last three days and I feel like we’re in the final stretch of the season, we know what this is about and I want to keep improving we performance.
“We were doing some different things in training to create overloads and I saw it done in abundance today. The team just has so much flexibility and I can do so many different things with them because they are intelligent and they know how to win games with the same slowlessness that I demand.
“We’re used to being in this position, however, everybody knows the type of games we’ve got coming up. I just personally enjoy good performances; I’m not really bothered about the result, in the first instance. Of course it is about winning, but I want to see us improving, that’s what motivates me as a coach.
“The team was incredible today. It wasn’t just about having fun, we were so clinical and so ruthless. But you see the difference with our squad depth now; with so many players back it’s driving the standards at training and that’s where the magic happens.”
Leicester’s Lydia Bedford: “From a personal perspective, I’ll own what happened on the pitch today. We asked the players to play a really brave style of football and we were 3-0 down after seven minutes, so there’s probably a reflection piece for me to go away and have a lot at there, which is really important for us with Arsenal and Man City coming up next.
“If you get the press right and you get pressure on the ball in those high areas, it can be effective, but we’re talking about top class opponents today; one mistake suddenly gets them in behind and creates that opportunity, so I think we’ve just got to reflect on what the right approach is for the next few games to make sure we don’t find ourselves feeling what we feel right now.”
Brighton win 2-0 at West Ham
In the other three o’clock kick-off on Sunday, Brighton won 2-0 at West Ham with the victory taking the Seagulls up to sixth after leapfrogging both the Hammers and Reading in the WSL table.
Aileen Whelan got the away side’s opener in the third minute, with Inessa Kaagman adding their second in the 80th-minute after capitalizing on a West Ham defensive mix-up.
Whelan’s and Kaagman’s goals gave Brighton their third win in four games, while West Ham drop to seventh in the table as they remain winless at home since January.
Chelsea and Leicester are next in action on Sunday April 3. Leicester host Arsenal at the King Power Stadium at 12.30pm, while Chelsea host Reading at Kingsmeadow at 6.45pm, live on Sky Sports Football.
West Ham are once again at home as they face Champions League-chasing Manchester City on Saturday at 11.30am, live on Sky Sports Premier League. Brighton next play on Sunday April 3 as they go to Manchester United; kick off 12pm.