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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sophie Downey at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea extend WSL lead after Lauren James’ hat-trick stuns Liverpool

Chelsea’s Lauren James hammers home her second goal to make it 3-1 against Liverpool
Chelsea’s Lauren James hammers home her second goal to make it 3-1 against Liverpool. Photograph: Katie Chan/Action Plus/Shutterstock

Chelsea put their midweek frustrations in Europe to one side with a comfortable victory over Liverpool in the WSL. A hat-trick from the exceptional Lauren James and strikes from Aggie Beever-Jones and Sjoeke Nüsken gave them their sixth win of the season. Jess Carter’s own goal the sole blemish in front of a delighted Stamford Bridge crowd.

Chelsea returned to home comforts after a run of three games on the road and a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid on Wednesday. Emma Hayes was, therefore, delighted with her side’s performance while underlining the need for more care to be taken over player welfare.

“Considering none of us really slept on Wednesday and we’ve been in hotels since last weekend, it was a tremendous response from the whole squad,” she said. “They know that my aim has been to build a team this year where we could move seamlessly between games.”

“I put sleep at the top of the important things in the recovery process, because it allows your brain to get fresh. As much as you get accustomed to it, it is three games in six days.

“Of course I’m going to hammer TV and the league today because I feel like nobody really understands how hard that is to do. I feel like we’re the only [English] team in Europe and yet we’re the only association that doesn’t help its team.”

“It’s about player welfare. It’s not about Chelsea. In an ideal world, those making those decisions should have former players or athletes in that process to really appreciate that it’s not as easy as everybody thinks.”

The champions’ busy schedule meant Hayes rang the changes. Zecira Musovic, Sophie Ingle, Maren Mjelde, Ève Périsset, James and Beever-Jones came in to bring a fresh energy to proceedings.

It was a special occasion for Ingle as she broke the WSL appearance record, the 32-year-old making her 184th appearance in her second spell with Chelsea.

Liverpool have proved stern opposition for many this season, earning high praise. Matt Beard made two changes from the team that had earned a draw with Tottenham last weekend, with Emma Koivisto and Shanice van de Sanden coming in.

Aggie Beever-Jones scores Chelsea’s second goal against Liverpool
Aggie Beever-Jones scores Chelsea’s second goal at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Harriet Lander/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

It was the hosts, however, who started on top, working through the gears as they settled into the game. James, dancing her way through the Liverpool defence, was at the heart of everything they produced. Her link up with Niamh Charles was almost telepathic and she forced Rachael Laws into a fine early save with a curling effort.

With 11 minutes on the clock, she was the catalyst for the breakthrough. Ingle turned over possession before playing a pinpoint ball out to James down the left. With one deft touch, she was past Gemma Bonner to fire home.

Liverpool displayed their resilience, hitting back straight away. Van de Sanden broke, shaking off a weak challenge, before her low cross clipped the recovering Carter to level the score.

Chelsea were not down for long, working through the processes that have been so instilled in them under Hayes. They remained patient in their buildup until they found a way.

James was integral once more as she broke onto Sam Kerr’s flick before looping in a cross for Beever-Jones to head home. It was a special moment for the 20-year-old who has come through the academy system and is making her mark this season with four goals in her past four league matches.

Chelsea returned after the break not ready to let up. James added two more to cap off a player of the match performance. The first was a trademark drilled effort; the second an instinctive first-time finish off a Johanna Rytting Kaneryd cross. The Blues rounded off the scoring when Rytting Kaneryd set up Nüsken.

It was emphatic in the end from a relentless side as they extended their unbeaten WSL home run to 30 matches. They moved six points clear temporarily with their rivals playing on Sunday.

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