Chelsea Women are through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League as group winners thanks to a hard-fought victory over Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge.
There was nothing to separate the sides after a tightly contested opening 45 minutes. We looked confident with approach play and created chances to break the deadlock, but lacked an element of precision in our finishing.
That changed in the second half when Real Madrid’s defence finally cracked, as Hayley Raso felled Niamh Charles with a rash challenge in the box. Guro Reiten stepped up and slotted the penalty into the bottom corner.
Unfortunately that lead didn’t last long, as the Spaniards hit straight back when Athenea turned in the rebound after Hannah Hampton saved Raso’s initial effort, but there was another twist to come.
Eight minutes after we had first taken the lead, we had it again. Erin Cuthbert deserves the credit for some good work coming in from the right, but her attempted low cross was deflected up off a defender and palmed into her own net by goalkeeper Mylene Chavas.
Not that anyone in Blue cared how the goal arrived, as Chelsea secure top spot in Group D with a deserved win.
Emma Hayes made two changes to the side which began the 3-1 victory over Manchester United at the Bridge just three days ago. Jess Carter came in for Nathalie Bjorn at the heart of the defence, while Fran Kirby replaced the weekend’s hat-trick hero Lauren James.
Real Madrid got the game under way under the lights in SW6, but it was the Blues who conjured the first meaningful opening of the match. Kirby slipped an intelligent pass into Cuthbert whose drilled effort was saved by the feet of Mylene Chavas in the visiting goal.
Guro Reiten was next to ask questions of Chavas, delicately lifting a trademark cross which looked as though it might drop in at the back post, only for the Madrid goalkeeper to hook the ball away from danger with a strong palm.
With half-an-hour on the clock, Madrid were looking to utilise the pace and trickery of Linda Caicedo in an attempt to break down the Blues defence. The Colombian managed to get in behind but was thwarted by Hannah Hampton, who closed the door in her opponent’s face.
We had created chances and looked confident in possession of the ball, with Ashley Lawrence and Niamh Charles getting high up the pitch to join the attacks. Captain Cuthbert delivered an excellent ball across goal for Mia Fishel who dragged a first-time effort wide of the mark.
A tactical opening 45 minutes ended goalless but the Blues could certainly have found ourselves ahead. Our transitions and combinations were easy on the eye with an opening goal the only thing evading us.
A change at half-time saw James introduced in place of Fishel with fans hoping to see a repeat of the form she showed at the Bridge against Manchester United on Sunday. We started brightly and were in the ascendency as we continued our search for an opener.
Our patience was rewarded on the hour mark when we were awarded a penalty after Charles was brought down in the box. Reiten took responsibility, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way with a composed finish into the bottom corner as we edged one foot into the quarter-finals.
However, our hard work was quickly undone on 68 minutes when the Spaniards drew level courtesy of substitute Athenea. Hampton did brilliantly in the first instance to deny a goal-bound effort, only to see the rebound converted.
Back in front
Despite this setback, we quickly regained our advantage and it was captain Cuthbert who stepped up when it mattered most, watching as a low cross from the byline was deflected into the back of the net via Chavas.
We weathered another brief push for an equaliser by the visitors but soon settled after a switch to a back three and there were no further additions to the scoresheet despite a few audacious long-range efforts, most notably from Cuthbert, James and Reiten for the Blues.
What it means
Chelsea Women are now guaranteed to progress to the quarter-finals as group winners, with a three-point lead and a superior head-to-head record to second-placed Hacken going into the last round of fixtures.
What is next
Our focus shifts back to the Women’s Super League when we travel to face Brighton & Hove Albion at Broadfield Stadium on Saturday 27 January, with kick-off at 5.30pm (UK time).
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Hampton; Lawrence, Buchanan, Carter, Charles; Cuthbert, Leupolz; Rytting Kaneryd (Beever-Jones 74), Kirby (Nusken 74), Reiten; Fishel (James 45)
Unused Subs: Musovic, Ingle, Perisset, Mjelde, Cankovic
Scorers: Reiten pen 62, Chavas og 70
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Chavas; Robles (Olaya 86), Ivana, Kathellen, Svava; Teresa (Feller 69), Zomoza; Raso, Caicedo (Athenea 45), Oroz (Oihane 86); Moller (Olofsson 69)
Unused Subs: Misa, Tellez, Lopez, Pau
Scorer: Athenea 69
Referee: Catarina Campos