The Blues had to be patient against a much-improved Servette side, but Sam Kerr’s second-half strike solidified our spot at the top of Group A in the Women’s Champions League.
Emma Hayes had said in the build-up that she expected a sterner challenge after her team had put seven past the same opponents last Tuesday, and so it proved as they proved to be far tougher to break down at Kingsmeadow.
During a lacklustre first half, Chelsea created few opportunities of note, aside from an early shot by Fran Kirby that Ines Pereira kept out with her right boot. Our passing lacked its usual crispness and Servette regularly had 10 players behind the ball to make it tough for us.
An increase in tempo followed after the break, but the breakthrough only arrived after the visitors enjoyed their best period of the match, which included forcing Zecira Musovic into her only meaningful save of the contest.
Kirby was the creator, taking possession between the lines and slipping a lovely ball through for Kerr, who was on the shoulder of the last defender and wasn’t about to pass up her first clear sight of goal, as she buried her finish into the far corner.
Chelsea Women 1-0 Servette Women (H) | UWCL highlights
Highlights from our 1-0 win over Servette Women in the UWCL
Servette’s misery was compounded when tenacious defender Amandine Soulard saw red for committing two bookable offences in quick succession, which left them staring at a damage-control job in the closing stages.
Although we weren’t able to add to our tally, the Kingsmeadow crowd welcomed Lauren James for her Chelsea Women debut late on, and she had two great opportunities to mark the occasion with a goal.
As it was, one proved to be enough on a night when Wolfsburg fell to a surprise defeat at home to Juventus in the other game in the group. That means we lead the Italian club by three points and Wolfsburg by five going into the final two matchdays, the first of which is against Juve at the start of December.
We’re back in action again on Sunday with another home fixture, this time in the Women’s Super League, as we welcome Birmingham City to KT1.
During this relentless run of recent fixtures there has been plenty of rotation from Hayes, with the Blues boss making full use of her squad, and this evening’s game was no different. Ann-Katrin Berger, Jess Carter, Jess Carter0, Melanie Leupolz, Guro Reiten and Jessie Fleming all dropped out of the side, making way for Musovic, Maren Mjelde, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle, Niamh Charles and Bethany England
There was also a change in system to a 4-4-2 and the back four had a familiar look to it, as it was in place for much of last term before Mjelde suffered a season-ending injury in March. The Norwegian’s first start since the Continental League Cup final came at right-back, alongside Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson and Andersson.
The width in midfield was provided by Kirby and Charles, who lined up either side of Ingle and Ji So-Yun, while Kerr and England were selected as the front two.
We’d raced out of the blocks in our two most recent fixtures, away to Servette and Manchester City, scoring early on the way to racking up 11 goals, but the Swiss side immediately looked more secure at the back than they had done last Tuesday.
It was clear Chelsea were going to see plenty of the ball, but those spaces between centre-back and full-back that had been gaping in Geneva now appeared to be well marshalled. It took a brisk turn of pace and quick feet from Ji to open them up for the first time, as she gave Kirby our first sight of goal, but the keeper was equal to a well-struck shot destined for the far corner.
Patience was the order of the day, and at times that was perhaps lacking in the opening 20 minutes or so, when the final pass or shot lacked the precision that had proved so devastating in our recent games.
It wasn’t long before the Blues reverted to three at the back, as Mjelde dropped into the sweeper role alongside Bright and Eriksson, with Charles and Andersson becoming wing-backs. It almost paid immediate dividends through Bright, who was allowed to bring the ball out from the back and clip a pin-point pass over the top for England, only for a defender to nip in at the vital moment to prevent the shot.
The same pair almost combined again just past the half-hour mark when Bright crossed for England to head across goal, but once again Servette were able to scramble the ball away to safely without Pereira being tested. Having found themselves six goals behind at the same stage last Tuesday, it had been quite the turnaround, and they managed to hold on to make it to half-time unscathed.
The message from Hayes at half-time had clearly been for her players to up the tempo, which was immediately apparent from the restart with crisper passing and far more movement in the attacking areas. Within a minute of the second half starting we’d managed to set Kirby free down the right, and her low cross was almost deflected past Pereira by one of her own defenders.
The crowd responded to the increased intensity and they thought they would be celebrating the opening goal when Andersson was picked out in the centre by England, only for a fantastic last-ditch challenge to deny what looked to be a goal-bound effort by the Swede.
There was a bizarre incident on the hour when England kicked the ball up against her own hand and the referee initially pointed to the penalty spot, but after loud protests from the Servette defenders and no appeal made by a Chelsea player, she soon rectified the error by overturning her decision and giving the away side a free-kick.
Servette had posed little threat to this point, but the Blues defenders were holding their breath when Nakkach tried a cheeky backheel that Musovic had to get down sharply to hold on to. Buoyed by this, the visitors then forced the Swede into another smart stop – but their new-found confidence was about to be burst.
Kirby came to life between the lines, dropping in to take possession and then running at the defence before sliding a pass through to Kerr, who buried her finish into the far corner to finally break the deadlock. Kingsmeadow could breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The goal was immediately followed by a triple change, as Leupolz, Fleming and Cuthbert came on to replace Ingle, England and Andersson. It was almost followed by a second goal when the keeper rushed out of her box and made a hash of her clearance, but Soulard tugged back Kerr before the Australian could get a shot away. The referee opted for leniency, showing the French defender a yellow card.
It proved to be just a temporary reprieve for Soulard, however, as she went in on Charles a few minutes later with her studs showing, leaving Hristiyana Guteva with little option but to send her off for a second bookable offence. With it went any slim hopes the Swiss side had of getting back into the tie.
Among the 1,270 supporters in attendance at Kingsmeadow was men’s team defender Reece James, whose sister Lauren was among the Blues substitutes for the game – and it was a special night for the family, as she came on for her Chelsea debut late on. Reiten was also introduced, as the goalscorer and Kirby made way.
Both of the newly introduced subs had great opportunities to add to the scoreline, while Charles also saw a cheeky effort brilliantly kept out, but in the end it was a night when one was enough. Another clean sheet, three more points and a step closer to qualification for the knockout stages.
The busy schedule continues with a home game against Birmingham City on Sunday in the WSL. Click here to buy your tickets now.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Musovic; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson (Cuthbert 69); Kirby (James 85), Ingle (Leupolz 68), Ji, Charles; England (Fleming 68), Kerr (Reiten 85)
Unused subs Telford, Berger, Carter, Spence, Fox
Scorer Kerr 67
Servette (4-2-3-1) Pereira; Soulard, Felber, Spalti, Mendes; Maendly (Guede Redondo 90+2), Tufo (Tamplin 90+2); Nakkach, Lagonia (c), Padilla-Bidas (Bourma 70); Boho Saya (Fleury 80)
Unused subs Droz, Grivaz
Sent off Soulard (two bookings)
Referee Hristiyana Guteva (Bulgaria)