Captain Magdalena Eriksson had said Chelsea wanted to “make things right” after their group stage exit from the Champions League last season and the Blues got off to a good start in Paris with a 1-0 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain to kickstart their new campaign.
It wasn’t the slickest of performances, but Millie Bright’s first half goal was enough to give Chelsea victory in a feisty encounter, inflicting a second defeat in two days on France’s two sides in the competition, with Arsenal having beaten champions Lyon 5-1 on Wednesday night.
The crowd may have been small, but it was vocal, with 800 PSG ultras, drums out, dancing and singing as one, with many shirtless despite the constant rain. Sat in the shadows of PSG’s Parc des Princes, the Stade Jean-Bouin has a capacity of 20,000, is the home of rugby union side Stade Français.
The biggest absence from Emma Hayes’s squad for their opening group stage fixture was Fran Kirby, who was omitted from the bench as well as the start XI due to illness. The most notable absence though, was Hayes herself.
Still recovering from an emergency hysterectomy, Hayes has handed the reins to her assistant Denise Reddy and general manager Paul Green.
For PSG, Lieke Martens was out of action for the evening, while Marie-Antoinette Katoto remains absent after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament during the Euros.
ParisHome manager Gérard Prêcheur described the Champions League group stage tie with Chelsea as a “beautiful fixture” ahead of kick-off. “We do this job to play games like these,” he said. “We cannot wait to get started but we cannot rush anything. We have to prepare well, but it is true that it is a great fixture and this group stage format is magnificent to play in.”
The match action didn’t quite live up to the billing. Perhaps due to the conditions, neither team could find their rhythm in a scrappy and bitty first half, but Chelsea had the brighter of the few infrequent chances.
After 12 minutes Guro Reiten’s free-kick failed to beat the wall but the visiting side worked it back in and Sam Kerr was able to force goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi into a fine save from her fierce effort.
Just before the half hour mark Chelsea made the breakthrough. Erin Cuthbert’s corner was cleared back to her on the left and the Scotland forward pinged it to the back post where Bright was waiting to side-foot in on the volley.
It was Bright’s third Champions League goal. This game was also the third meeting of the two teams in the Champions League, with Chelsea having played PSG over two legs of the quarter finals in 2018-19. Then, Hayes’s side were triumphant, beating the French side 2-0 at home before suffering a 2-1 defeat in the return fixture and progressing to the last-four on aggregate.
Last season, Chelsea failed to escape the “group of death” with Wolfsburg and Juventus progressing on the basis of head-to-head goal difference after all three teams finished on 11 points apiece.
Chelsea’s group is similarly intimidating this time round, with PSG and Real Madrid, who eliminated Manchester City in qualifying for the group stage, both vying with the WSL champions for two places in the knockout rounds, and Albania’s Vllaznia completing the group line-up. Real defeated the Albanian side 2-0 earlier on Thursdaylast night
After the break in the Stade Jean-Bouin, the narrative didn’t shift despite the home side trailing. It took until the 62nd minute for the French side to register a shot on target, and when it finally came it was tame, Kadidiatou Diani shot easily saved by Ann-Katrin Berger.
That would prove to be PSG’s only shot on target. For Chelsea, it was not pretty but it was job done, and with Vllaznia at home next Wednesday there is a chance for Hayes’s side to build some momentum in the competition.