Chelsea

Chelsea Women see off Real Madrid to take big step towards Champions League latter stages

Football.London

Chelsea took a huge step towards the UEFA Women’s Champions League latter stages after two second-half goals edged out a stubborn Real Madrid.

The Blues couldn’t break down their Spanish Group A rivals for much of the contest at Kingsmeadow, but Welsh midfielder Sophie Ingle headed home in the 67th minute after Erin Cuthbert’s corner to give the hosts a crucial breakthrough. And Cuthbert, who scored a sensational goal against Tottenham at the weekend, then sealed the points when her angled cross-shot dipped under the bar.

The win means the WSL leaders top the group on nine points, firmly in pole position to progress to the quarter-final stage. Former Manchester City star Caroline Weir was lively for Las Blancas, but in truth they looked content for a point, until Ingle broke the deadlock.

That goal forced the Spanish side to increase their intensity levels, but Cuthbert’s slightly fortunate second ended the contest. In only Emma Hayes‘ second game back in the dugout following her recent absence, the Blues weren’t able to sustain any real pressure in the first 45 minutes but were rewarded for an improved display after the break.

Real were beaten by arch rivals Barcelona in the quarter-final of this competition last season, but now face a scrap with PSG to qualify, who joined them on four points after beating Vllaznia 5-0. But for Chelsea the European dream continues to gather pace, with Hayes’ team five points clear at the top of the group and firmly on course for the last eight.

Chelsea made three changes from the side that dismantled Tottenham 3-0 in the WSL last Sunday, with Fran Kirby, Rytting Kaneryd and Niamh Charles all returning to the starting XI. Real had already knocked-out Manchester City in this season’s tournament but started slowly in west London, with the returning Kirby forcing an early save from Misa with a curling shot.

Millie Bright (L) of Chelsea FC Women challenges Kenti Robles of Real Madrid CF during the UEFA Women's Champions League group A match between Chelsea FC and Real Madrid at Kingsmeadow on November 23, 2022 in Kingston upon Thames, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Charles’ hanging cross nearly flew straight in over the Madrid keeper as the Blues started brightly on their return to Kingsmeadow. Bar one half-chance for Caroline Weir, Real were quiet in the early stages with Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger rarely tested.

Kerr fired an effort across the Spaniard’s penalty area, but a cagey first-half was starved of clear-cut chances.

The visitors nearly struck first when Esther Gonzalez’s shot was blocked well by Millie Bright. Claudia Zornoza then tested Berger from distance but her shot was straight at the Chelsea keeper.

Hayes responded by throwing on Lauren James who nearly made the perfect introduction, only for the forward to fail to connect with a Cuthbert cross. But the goal did eventually come when Cuthbert’s corner was flicked on by Bright, with Ingle in the right place at the right time to head home from a yard out.

Gonzalez should have levelled the contest only minutes later but failed to connect with Kenti Robles’ dangerous cross…

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