The Blues moved into first position on 31 points, two ahead of Manchester United and five ahead of Manchester City after 12 games. Arsenal, who are fourth on 25 points with two games in hand over the top three, take on West Ham United later on Sunday.
On a frustrating afternoon for United, Ella Toone hit the post in the first half as the home side created several good chances but Everton, fifth in the table, showed steely resolve to keep them at bay.
The Toffees’ Irish international keeper Courtney Brosnan combined some superb saves with the occasional slice of luck as she kept a clean sheet, with her best stop denying Katie Zelem midway through the second half.
In London, Tottenham striker Beth England scored against her former club but it wasn’t enough to stop Chelsea from going back to the top thanks in part to a superb solo goal from James that helped secure the three points.
England, who joined Spurs from Chelsea in January, cancelled out Jess Carter’s eighth-minute opener for the Blues, but James crowned a mazy run from the right wing by drilling a calm finish to put them in front again.
Norwegian Guro Reiten, recently awarded Norway’s Golden Ball as the nation’s best player in 2022, added a third for Chelsea, who had to endure a nervous finale after Spurs substitute Nikola Karczewska made it 3-2 in the 89th minute.
Additional reporting from Reuters