Although the win was not aesthetically pleasing, it holds little significance. Emma Hayes openly labeled it as “dull”, however a penalty by Guro Reiten and an accidental own goal by Mylène Chavas, the opposing goalkeeper, secured a 2-1 victory for Chelsea against Real Madrid and solidified their spot in the top of Group D, advancing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Hayes and her team were in control, but they had difficulty capitalizing on their dominance. They had to wait until after the hour mark to finally take the lead. Tensions were high after Athenea del Castillo’s equalizer just six minutes prior, but a minute later, Chavas almost accidentally scored an own goal off Erin Cuthbert’s shot.
“I didn’t find the performance to be particularly exciting, but every game can’t be full of action,” stated Hayes. “We had a great response by scoring two goals and then were able to control the game until the end with a solid and effective performance…it may have been uneventful.”
Hayes altered the lineup from their previous 3-1 victory against Manchester United on Sunday. Jess Carter filled in for Nathalie Björn, who is not eligible due to her recent transfer from Everton. Fran Kirby also replaced Lauren James, who scored a hat-trick in the previous match.
Hayes stated that she did not want to make significant changes, as it is important to maintain the team’s rhythm. However, she now believes that the focus should be on experimenting and providing opportunities. She emphasized the importance of getting Millie Bright, Nathalie Björn, and Catarina Macario prepared for the team. In a lighthearted manner, Hayes hinted at a potential new player joining the team, possibly referring to reports of Levante’s Mayra Ramírez potentially joining Chelsea.
When asked about Bright’s comeback, Hayes stated that she is not currently training on the field. Knowing Millie, she will likely mention a specific day once she starts training on the field. The question remains whether this will happen before or after the international break.
Alberto Toril made seven alterations to his starting lineup for Madrid, following their 4-0 loss to Barcelona in the Supercopa semi-finals. Barcelona went on to defeat Levante 7-0 in the final. Prior to facing Real, Hayes cautioned that playing a team with nothing to lose can be extremely risky. Real, with only one point and no chance of advancing, posed as a potential threat.
Hayes was right to urge caution, despite Chelsea’s dominant position in the group and the draw between Häcken and Paris FC meaning a win would secure top spot in Group D. Real weathered the early storm well.
The away team may have been awarded a penalty, however, both Kadeisha Buchanan and Carter made contact with the Colombian teenager Linda Caicedo, though Caicedo’s follow-through was aggressive. Since VAR was not in use until the later stages of the tournament, there was no opportunity for a review. Toril, the Real coach, expressed his concern from the technical area. He appeared just as surprised as anyone when Caicedo returned to the game after receiving medical attention on the sidelines. “I am unsure,” Toril stated. “I was too far away and the referee was closer.”
At the midway point of the game, James, who has been the leading scorer for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, entered the game and expressed his determination to secure a victory before the final group match against Paris FC. Caicedo was substituted for Del Castillo at half-time, as the Spanish team had already been eliminated and there was no need to risk the forward’s health. According to Toril, Caicedo’s injury was minor.
After the break, Chelsea regained momentum with Kirby positioned in front of James. In the 55th minute, Kirby attempted a header with her back to the goal, nearly catching Chavas off guard but the ball ultimately bounced wide.
Chelsea’s fortunes turned around after the 60-minute mark when Hayley Raso committed a foul on Niamh Charles, resulting in a well-deserved penalty. Maren Mjelde took the kick and scored in the bottom corner. The goal ignited the crowd at Stamford Bridge and brought a sense of relief, but it was short-lived. Only six minutes later, Raso received a ball over the top and took a powerful shot towards the goal. Goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, making her Champions League debut, made a strong save, but Del Castillo was quick to score on the rebound.
After just one minute, Chelsea regained the lead. Cuthbert’s shot challenged Chavas, causing her to accidentally score an own goal. It was a disastrous way to give up a goal, and Real will certainly want to put this week behind them when they return to Spain.
Chelsea exhibited a calm and organized performance, which is characteristic of a team coached by Hayes. This was evident once again with the younger players that she is grooming for her successor. As Hayes prepares to depart for her new role with the US women’s national team, there is an element of excitement in her choices and rotations – something that should be observed closely.