Chelsea Women beat Real Madrid 2-1 as they produced an efficient performance to advance to the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals.
Following the draw between the groups other two sides, Hacken and Paris FC in the early kick-off, Chelsea knew that a win would also ensure that they topped the group.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was excellent as the 11,262 in attendance filled three Stamford Bridge stands, in what is becoming a regular fixture in women’s football.
The match itself didn’t match the energy of the crowd however, as the first half proved to be a flat affair, which is unsurprising given the Blues’ hectic schedule.
Lauren James, the hat-trick hero on Sunday, was a surprise omission from the starting line up, with Mia Fishel chosen to lead the line.
Chelsea started the game brightly, with captain Erin Cuthbert pulling the strings in midfield.
But control of possession and the game more generally ebbed and flowed as both sides felt each other out like heavyweight boxers.
The Spanish side were threatening in moments, with Linda Caicedo a constant menace on the break.
The Colombian attacker went close to opening the scoring as she worked her way in behind the Chelsea defence only to be denied by the brave goalkeeping of Champions League debutant Hannah Hampton.
There challenge lead to muted calls for a penalty, but Madrid manager Alberto Toril was hesitant to complain at the officials’ refusal to award it.
Toril said: “I could not see definitively but I am sure the referee had a good view.”
Chelsea dominated the ball, as they tend to, with Melanie Leupolz particularly demonstrating an array of passing to aid the Blues in their dominance.
One such pass, a defence splitting ball in-behind, yielded Chelsea’s best chance of the half as Guro Reiten picked up the through ball and squared to Cuthbert who was crowded out before she could finish.
The second half started as cagey as the first until the hour mark when Niamh Charles burst into the area and laid the ball off before being hacked down by a Madrid defender to earn her side a penalty.
Reiten stepped up and confidently swept the ball past Mylene Chavas to give her side the lead their dominance if not their threat deserved.
Anybody who expected Madrid to go down without a fight was sorely disappointed however, as five minutes later Los Blancos broke away down the right.
Hayley Roso collected a ball played in behind Charles with Hampton only able to parry her shot into the path of Athenea who fired into the roof of the net.
But Chelsea have had to show fight in recent weeks and through their leader Cuthbert, they hit back straight away.
The Scottish international’s lung-busting run saw her played in behind the Madrid defence.
Her fizzed cross into the box was straight at the goalkeeper but such was the power that Chavas clumsily fumbled the ball into her near post to restore Chelsea’s lead.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said: “That goal was indicative of everything Erin is doing recently.
“They score and she’s like no, were going to go down the other end and get a goal and you have to do that sometimes.”
Chelsea’s class and growing maturity showed in the final 20 minutes as they controlled the ball and settled into their rhythm to close the game out and secure their place in the last eight.
Hayes was in no mood for celebrating following the victory however.
She said: “We expect to go through, that’s the bare minimum, and we expect to go through as group winners.”
Chelsea have very little time to recover, as they prepare to face Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday evening.
On the upcoming fixture, winger Johanna Rytting Kaneryd said: “It is an intense schedule right now and the focus is on taking care of our bodies and recovering.
“We want to go to Brighton, win the game and then look ahead to the next one.”
Chelsea head to the South Coast on Saturday evening as they look to strengthen their lead at the top of the Women’s Super League.