Ahead of Chelsea Women’s midweek floodlit clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League, manager Emma Hayes warned that while the Spanish side were relative newcomers, they had knocked Man City out of the competition in the last two seasons. After a goalless first half – a Kingsmeadow rarity – it was clear why the
Ahead of Chelsea Women’s midweek floodlit clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League, manager Emma Hayes warned that while the Spanish side were relative newcomers, they had knocked Man City out of the competition in the last two seasons.
After a goalless first half – a Kingsmeadow rarity – it was clear why the gaffer, now recovered from surgery and back full-time in the dugout, was concerned.
Well-organised by ex-City midfielder Caroline Weir, who joined Real this year, the visitors pegged Chelsea back, played a high line and defended stoutly.
Yet the Blues found a way through in the second half, thanks to Weir’s fellow Scot Erin Cuthbert, who had one of the best games of her already impressive career.
Both Weir and Cuthbert will have to sit out World Cup action in 2023 after Scotland missed qualification, but it was Cuthbert’s industry and courage that shone through on Wednesday night.
It was Cuthbert’s 67th minute corner that broke the deadlock, drifting across the area, nodded on by Millie Bright and falling sweetly to Sophie Ingle, who headed home.
Barely 10 minutes later it was 2-0, and this time it was pure Cuthbert. Just as she’d done against Spurs at a packed Stamford Bridge in the Women’s Super League on Sunday, she conjured up a miracle.
A long throw-in from Niamh Charles sent Cuthbert scurrying down the line before spinning as she neared the corner flag and launching a simply remarkable ball goalwards.
It curled in the air – just like her gem in the 3-0 defeat of Tottenham – and beat keeper Misa Rodriguez all ends up.
Did she mean it as a shot on goal? “That’s a secret,” laughed the pint-sized midfielder. “I meant to fire it across goal and see what happens. I was lucky; it came off my boot nicely and went over the keeper’s head and in.”
Her manager was effusive. “Erin was outstanding,” Hayes concurred after the game. “I don’t think there was a blade of grass she didn’t cover”
The Blues have some important rest time ahead of a WSL jaunt to Leicester on 4 December followed, four days later, by the return trip to Madrid. Someone’s going to have to sit down and seriously iron out this fits-and-starts pattern of fixtures.
Cuthbert, who signed a new deal at Chelsea last week, was bruised and battered during the Champions League clash, twice requiring the attention of the medics on the field, but she’s one tough cookie, and the only shame is that we’ll be denied seeing her talents light up the 2023 World Cup.
Hayes got her tactics just right in front of an enthusiastic 3,336-strong crowd on Wednesday, and organised substitutions to safely see the game through to the final whistle.
There may not have been the blockbuster 38,340 attendance at the Bridge three days earlier for the London derby, but in terms of the quality and grit which was on display, it demonstrates just how far women’s football is progressing.