Both Chelsea and Manchester City recorded victories last night, taking commanding leads in the first legs of their Women’s Champions League Round of 16 matches.
City beat a spirited Fiorentina side 3-0, helped by goals from Lauren Hemp, Ellen White and Sam Mewis, while two penalty saves, one penalty scored, and a typical Fran Kirby finish helped Chelsea overcome Atlético 2-0.
But what did we learn from last night’s action? Here are the key points:
Chloe Kelly is the real deal
City’s summer spending saw them recruit several seasoned, world-class internationals –– but it’s the signing of Chloe Kelly that has so far proven to be the most instrumental this season.
With six goals and nine assists in the Women’s Super League already, only Fran Kirby boasts more combined goal contributions during this campaign. Last night it was more of the same, as Kelly registered two assists and was demonstrably prominent in almost every fruitful City attack.
Operating on the right-wing for the majority of the game, Kelly showcased her repertoire of tricks, tireless work-rate, and impressive creativity in equal measure.
The most impressive of all of these traits, however, is undoubtedly her vision. Leading the league in assists this season, Kelly has an inventive range to her passing –– picking out Hemp with a fine cross into the box for City’s first goal, before playing a deft, pinpoint clip for Sam Mewis to head in a third.
Speaking afterwards, coach Gareth Taylor was full of glowing praise for the England international.
“She doesn’t get bullied off the ball and I love that about her,” he told reporters. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement but Chloe’s very coachable and a real team player so there’s no limit to how far she can go.”
Still only 23-years-old, this may well only be the start of Kelly’s journey, but there’s a growing sense that she’s already become integral to the success of this City side.
Rose Lavelle is back
Conversely, Rose Lavelle has not had the same impact as Kelly since joining City at the start of this season. Having made just nine appearances in the league, she has scored just one goal since moving to Manchester while struggling with a knee injury she sustained against Everton.
However, the recent international break has ostensibly worked wonders for Lavelle. She looks to have regained her form, fitness and above all, her faith.
The 25-year-old was named the Most Valuable Player at the recent SheBelieves Cup — which the United States won convincingly — scoring once and assisting another across three games. And with that she appears to have re-discovered her confidence, as exemplified through her superb performance last night.
Though her cameo was brief, there was a swagger about her play as she glided past defenders with apparent ease. The first-touch, the dribbling, the quick-feet –– all qualities synonymous with Lavelle were there.
It’s going to be far from easy to displace the in-form Lauren Hemp, or the aforementioned Kelly, in the near future, but yesterday was a reminder of Lavelle’s undeniable quality and the plethora of options at Gareth Taylor’s disposal.
City have another gear
City were devastating in the opening five minutes last night. Hemp headed in from Kelly’s cross after two minutes and set up Ellen White for a second moments later before Fiorentina could even lay a glove on them.
But there was less energy, less pressing, less willingness to run with the ball from that point onwards, as City essentially coasted in second gear for the rest of the match.
Some may criticise City for relinquishing the momentum after taking such a commanding lead so early, but in reality, the last 85 minutes was an assured, conservative performance from a side that was clearly trying to manage the game.
Ultimately, it was a job well done last night, and City look to be heading towards the Champions League quarter finals barring any calamity.
Emma Hayes studied Atlético’s penalties
Ann-Katrin Berger was the hero for Chelsea against Atlético, as two penalty saves helped the home side stamp their authority on this tie.
Berger saved efforts from both Deyna Castellanos and Merel van Dongen, taking a boot to the face from the latter, as she came out to smother the impending rebound.
When asked about whether her team had studied Atlético penalties of the past, Emma Hayes was unsurprisingly coy in response. A gesture of sealing her lips was all that was mimed, and maybe all we will ever know, though it seems explicitly clear that some homework was done.
What does this say about Chelsea’s attitude towards their opponents? Above all, it’s a sign of how much preparation goes into every game, and how Chelsea not only refused to underestimate the Spanish side, but actually paid even more attention to detail.
It is also evidence that this side is getting progressively stronger year-on-year. As Katrin Berger pulled off those fine saves, former Chelsea keeper Hedvig Lindahl could only stand and watch down the other end. Lindahl was a key figure for Chelsea between 2015-2019. In 2021, however, it seems a new hero has emerged.
Chelsea only need 10 players
An early red card to Sophie Ingle left Chelsea with 10 players for most of last night’s first leg against Atlético. Any side facing a similar conundrum would likely be forced onto the back-foot from that moment, but Chelsea chose to ignore normal convention.
There was a stroke of luck to Chelsea’s win, of course, typified by the two penalty saves, but a win was no less than Emma Hayes’ side deserved.
A sense of reliance, a fighting spirit, and a will to win were all evident here –– showcasing the hunger Chelsea clearly have to capture the only major trophy that’s alluded them.
The Blues’ strength in depth was also telling, as Hayes proved she had assembled a squad fit to deal with any setback. With regular captain, Magdanela Eriksson injured in training, and the red card to Ingle, Maren Mjelde slotted in seamlessly at centre-back while Niamh Charles filled in at right-back as Bethany England was sacrificed.
The job is by no means done just yet, but for Atlético to stand any chance of progressing, they may well have to reduce Chelsea to nine players –– or even less!News Now - Sport News