Erin Cuthbert had said: “People say I only score bangers and it’s actually annoying – I want to score tap‑ins as well, I want to be known as a goalscorer,” after her stunning strike against Tottenham on Sunday. However the Scottish forward, who last week signed a new contract with Chelsea, fired in from wide to ensure the Blues extended their lead at the top of Group A in the Women’s Champions League with a 2-0 defeat of Real Madrid – and enhanced her reputation for stylish goals.
“She was outstanding,” said Emma Hayes. “I don’t think there was a blade of grass she didn’t cover. There was a tenacity to her performance that we’ve all come to expect.”
There were three changes to the Chelsea side that beat Tottenham 3-0 on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, with Niamh Charles on in place of France’s Ève Périssett, Canada’s Olympic gold-medal winner Jessie Fleming shifted to the bench to make way for Fran Kirby, and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd favoured over Lauren James.
The biggest blow came on Tuesday, though, with the news that the influential forward Pernille Harder had undergone surgery following a hamstring injury picked up on international duty.
For Real, Athenea del Castillo – the goalscorer in their 1-0 away win at Sporting Huelva on Saturday – was on the bench, Misa Rodríguez returned in goal in place of France’s Méline Gérard, while Maite Oroz, Freja Olofsson, Naomie Feller and Esther González all started after sitting out at the weekend.
In Hayes’s first game at Kingsmeadow after her emergency hysterectomy following a lengthy struggle with endometriosis, Chelsea started brightly, and – after some nice work from Sam Kerr – Kirby collected and forced a save from Rodríguez in the fourth minute.
Despite the quick start, there was little to separate the two sides, neither of which had conceded a goal in Group A. Victory would give Chelsea a chance to stretch five points clear of Real and Paris Saint-Germain at the group’s midway point, while the Albanian side Vllaznia sit bottom, without a goal or a point, after a 5-0 defeat against PSG in the early kick‑off. But despite the chance to really take control of the group, Hayes’s side struggled to create clear goalscoring opportunities.
The Real Madrid manager, Alberto Toril, said before kick-off that his team were “going to fight and make life difficult” and they did just that, stifling service to Kerr, Kirby and the subdued Rytting Kaneryd. The latter was substituted in place of James, while Kirby made way for Fleming around the hour as Hayes attempted to inject some energy into an increasingly soul-sucking half of football.
Chelsea were forced to rely on a set‑piece to break through in the 68th minute, with Cuthbert’s corner from the right headed on at the near post by Millie Bright and turned in by the head of Ingle at the back. It was a rocket the crowd and players sorely needed.
The first goal was swiftly followed by the second and it was also Cuthbert’s second screamer in two games. Her cross-cum-shot flew into the net from the right to give her team a two-goal cushion.
“That’s a secret,” Cuthbert said of whether she meant it. “I meant to fire it across the goal and see what happens. It was lucky it came off my boot quite nicely and went over the keeper’s head and in.”
Toril, though, was happy with the progress of his team. “It was a very good game for both teams,” he said. We were quite a similar level, we are a young team, we were against a team that is very mature. We are happy and we were good.”
In the end it was simple for Chelsea, but the game was far from pretty. That is what is so effective about Hayes’s side: regardless of how they play or how long it takes, they get results.