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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Beever-Jones and Kirby show the bright present and future for Chelsea

In the 49th minute of Chelsea’s final Champions League group match, Aggie Beever-Jones won the ball back well in midfield. With the pitch open in front of her, she could see Fran Kirby in acres of space on the right-hand side. Despite Kirby crying out for the ball to be played out wide, Beever-Jones could only manage to put it behind her.

Kirby is one of Chelsea’s most demanding players.

Despite her seemingly quiet demeanour, she can be regularly seen throwing her arms up in frustration if team-mates do not provide the service she wants.

In this instance, though, she looked across to Beever-Jones with a smile and raised those arms to applaud her efforts.

It was a moment that summed up two very different sides of this Chelsea team.

With their group already won, Tuesday’s trip to Paris FC was a rare opportunity for a club fighting on four fronts to play a meaningless game. Although she did not include any of their academy players in the squad travelling to the French capital, manager Emma Hayes did take the chance to see some of those first-teamers who have struggled for minutes so far this season.

That included giving Beever-Jones her first Champions League start.

The 20-year-old English forward’s impact at the club has been impressive but she has only made eight Women’s Super League appearances, including just one start. But the five goals she has scored in those games have ensured there are plenty of eyes on her — and Chelsea last week rewarded her success with a contract extension until 2026.

She was selected last night alongside Kirby, who is at the opposite end of her career having turned 30 last summer.

There was understandable concern from fans when Kirby revealed she had not yet had any conversations with the club about extending her contract, which expires after this season. Chelsea Women’s record goalscorer has regularly talked about how Hayes has supported her through some serious long-term injuries, and there are question marks about what her future will look like after the manager’s departure in May to lead the USWNT.

In the end, Chelsea made this game look very easy.

Despite Paris needing a win to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout phase, they scored four times from four shots to record, on paper at least, their best result of the group stage.

Even with the flattering result, the play showed how Beever-Jones and Kirby are figuring out their roles.

It was Kirby who scored the opener after 10 minutes — her second headed goal in as many games. At 5ft 2in (157cm), she is not known for her aerial prowess but against Brighton on Saturday and again last night she showed that ability to find space in dangerous areas is still where she excels.

Kirby finds herself in an unfamiliar position at the club where she has become the senior player who is fit while others are unavailable. Her selection against Paris FC seemed to reveal she was not a player who Hayes needed to protect due to her importance (the way Guro Reiten, Erin Cuthbert, Niamh Charles and, incredibly given her form last year, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd were) but was also someone seen as a leader on the pitch. In recent weeks, she has played as a No 9, a No 10 and a right-winger.

It was clear why Kirby’s seniority was important, given she was starting alongside Mia Fishel, 22, and Beever-Jones, both of whom still look raw.

Fishel got the second while Beever-Jones had some bright moments running off the shoulders of Paris’ defence, including when she helped set up that goal late in the first half. Her ability to track back and move centrally is excellent but her technical execution undeniably let her down at times. All of that is to be expected from a player who is still finding her feet at the very top of the game.

Fittingly in Beever-Jones’ contract renewal video, there was a photo of her as a teenager with Kirby, when the latter had newly joined Chelsea from Reading.

That juxtaposition on and off the pitch shows how the club have developed under Hayes.

When Kirby came to Chelsea almost nine years ago, it was the first real statement signing they made. They have not been short of big-money signings in the intervening seasons but Beever-Jones represents something different. She is the first academy graduate to seriously make it into their first team in a decade.

Having handed the captain’s armband to Charles and Cuthbert in recent weeks, the departing Hayes seems to be taking the future direction of the club very seriously. But the differing future paths of Beever-Jones and Kirby show that change will go both ways.

Regardless of where the two players go from here, these last few months of Hayes’ leadership remain a great opportunity for youth to learn from experience.

Kirby will always be Chelsea’s first young superstar. But there are now others waiting in the wings.

(Photo: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)



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