Chelsea signed Mia Fishel for days like this.
The newly capped USA international joined the Blues from Mexican outfit Tigres this summer to help ease the burden on Sam Kerr throughout this new Women’s Super League campaign.
Kerr watched on from the bench with cup of tea in hand as Emma Hayes left the Aussie out, as she builds herself back up to full fitness after a physically, and no doubt mentally, draining Women’s World Cup on home soil this summer.
In her place, 22-year-old Fishel made her debut. Having grown up in San Diego a fanatical Chelsea fan, turning out in Chelsea blue at Stamford Bridge would have been special enough. Scoring the opener in this 2-1 WSL win with a fine leap and header made this an occasion she may well struggle to top.
Her short, stocky stature is reminiscent of Kerr, and so was her all-round game. Fishel held the ball up well, brought others into play, and was there to pounce when left-back Niamh Charles — magnificent throughout — scurried to the byline and crossed into her path to head home the opening goal in the first half.
Chelsea were the better side in this match, but the signs of change are already there for Tottenham under new manager Robert Vilahamn. The Swede took over in July and has a three-year plan for bringing Spurs into the big time in women’s football. Beaten here, they were nevertheless a constant threat on the break and kept the ball much better than in their 3-0 defeat in this fixture last November.
Vilahamn stood, mused, on the sidelines for most of this encounter. His side matched Chelsea for intensity, just not technical quality. Much of that quality derived from a familiar source — Lauren James firing onto the roof of the net and then the underside of the crossbar.
James, with her brother Reece watching on, grew into this affair in a second half just as Chelsea, as a whole, did. Their unabating hunger to attack saw them just start to take the game away from their visitors.
"WHAT A WAY TO MAKE YOUR MARK FOR CHELSEA!" 🤩
MIA FISHEL SCORES ON HER CHELSEA DEBUT! 💥 pic.twitter.com/zCocM17hbG
— Sky Sports WSL (@SkySportsWSL) October 1, 2023
And James was the scorer of Chelsea’s second goal when she arrived in the six-yard box to cushion home another outstanding cross from fellow England international Charles.
But perhaps the greatest cheer of the evening came for another Lioness, Fran Kirby, who appeared off the bench for her first official appearance since missing the World Cup to undergo surgery on a recurring right knee injury which had caused her such mental and physical anguish since it first occurred when the 30-year-old was 12.
Every other match on the opening day of the WSL season ended in an away win. And every one of Chelsea’s last four season openers had ended in shock defeats. Martha Thomas profited from a poor Zecira Musovic error to give Spurs a consolation goal, but Chelsea bucked both trends here. Their latest title defence has begun.