Erin Cuthbert said: “People say I only hit bangers and that’s actually annoying. I also want to score points. I want to be known as a goalscorer,” after her fantastic strike against Tottenham this weekend. However, the Scotland striker, who signed a new deal with Chelsea last week, would fire over the bar to ensure Chelsea extended their lead at the top of Champions League Group A with a 2-0 defeat of Real Madrid and add to their reputation for scoring goals in style.
There were three changes to the Chelsea team that beat Tottenham 3-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with Niamh Charles replacing France’s Ève Pérriset, Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jessie Fleming moving to the bench to make way for Fran Kirby and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd she favored over Lauren James.
However, the biggest blow came on Tuesday with the news that influential striker Pernille Harder had undergone surgery following a hamstring injury sustained on international duty.
For Real, Athenea del Castillo – scorer in their 1-0 away win at Sporting Huelva – was on the bench, Misa Rodríguez returned in goal for France’s Méline Gérard, while Maite Oroz, Freya Olofsson, Naomie Feller and Esther González all started after sitting over the weekend.
In Emma Hayes’ first game at Kingsmeadow since her emergency hysterectomy following a long battle with endometriosis, Chelsea started brightly and – after some fine work from Sam Kerr – Kirby rallied to force a save from Real goalkeeper Rodríguez in the fourth minute. The Blues dominated most of the first half, but managed to muster only three attempts on goal for their efforts.
Real arrived at Kingsmeadow after playing against English opponent Manchester City three times and avoiding defeat each time.
Despite a quick start, little separated the two sides, neither of whom conceded a goal in Group A.
A win would give Chelsea the chance to move five points clear of Real and Paris Saint-Germain in the middle of the group, while Albania’s Vllaznia are bottom, without a goal or a point, after a 5-0 defeat against PSG in the early kick-off.
Yet despite the opportunity to really take control of the group, Hayes’ side struggled to create clear scoring opportunities.
Real Madrid manager Alberto Toril said before kick-off that his side would “fight and make life difficult” and they did just that, stifling the services of Kerr, Kirby and the subdued Rytting Kaneryd.
The latter would be substituted for James, while Kirby would make way for Fleming for an hour or so as Hayes tried to inject some energy into an increasingly soul-sucking half of football.
It was also a quiet return to Kingsmeadow for Real Madrid’s Caroline Weir, who scored against her former club Manchester City in the qualifiers to see Real progress to the group stage.
Chelsea would be forced to rely on a set piece to break through in the 68th minute and Cuthbert’s corner from the right was headed to the near post by Millie Bright and Ingle’s header was turned away. It was a rocket that the audience and the players badly needed.
Like a bus, the first was quickly followed by the second and it was also Cuthbert’s second screamer in two games. Her cross flew into the other side of the net from the right side to give her team a two-goal lead in a close encounter.
In the end it was simple, but the game was far from pretty. That’s what’s so effective about Hayes’ Chelsea, though, no matter how they play or how long it lasts, the players get results.