Millie Bright netted the decisive goal as Chelsea Women opened their UEFA Women’s Champions League group stage campaign with a 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain on Thursday night.
Chelsea arrived in the French capital knowing the size of the challenge which awaited them in the group stages of this year’s competition. However, the Blues approached the 90 minutes on matchday one in professional and disciplined fashion, showing patience and resilience to earn their rewards in front of a relentlessly vocal home crowd.
The Blues netted the opening goal on 27 minutes when Bright volleyed home at the back post from Erin Cuthbert’s deep cross. We saw further openings at goal with Sam Kerr and Guro Reiten conjuring chances which went begging, but stood firm in defence to protect a one-goal lead which we took into the break.
It was a nervy second half with both teams created chances to change the scoreline, however the Blues dug deep and earned a crucial victory on matchday one to stamp our authority on a tough group.
There were three changes to the Blues' starting 11 which began the victory at Everton last weekend. Maren Mjelde, Sophie Ingle and Niamh Charles warranted starting places, meaning Eve Perisset, Jessie Fleming and Lauren James were named among the substitutes.
Jelena Cankovic and Fran Kirby were absent from the travelling squad due to injury and illness respectively. Melanie Leupolz remains on maternity leave, but made a welcome visit to see the Chelsea squad ahead of the match in Paris along with our newest member of the Blues family.
It was a 4-2-3-1 formation for Chelsea with Mjelde, the hero in this fixture three years ago, operating at right-back. Ingle slotted into holding midfield alongside Cuthbert, while Charles was deployed on the right side of midfield as Kerr continued to spearhead the attack.
Cauldron of noise
Prior to kick-off, the weather took a turn for the worse with thunder, rain and lightning making their presence felt at the Stade-Jean-Bouin, but the elements ceased before the first whistle. The home supporters made their voices heard from the off and generated an electric atmosphere as Champions League football made its eagerly-awaited comeback.
Chelsea got the game underway in our all-white away strip, kicking towards the Blues supporters who had made the journey to the French capital. A couple of quick-fire chances fell our way on 10 minutes. Reiten’s free-kick in a dangerous central position was blocked by the wall before Kerr turned her marker neatly inside the box, only to be denied by PSG goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
The hosts began to settle into a passing rhythm but hadn’t asked any real questions of Ann-Katrin Berger in the Blues goal. We continued to remain patient in our build-up play, looking to open up space for our attackers to exploit. Pernille Harder was looking lively and there were signs of neat combination play between the Dane and Kerr in the final third as we went in search of an opener.
On 27 minutes, the Blues were rewarded for their patience and broke the deadlock courtesy of Bright. Cuthbert, who had been excellent in the opening half an hour, stood up a cross to the far post for Bright, who earned herself some space and buried a sweet volley beyond Bouhaddi and into the back of the net.
In response, PSG conjured a spell of possession but were struggling to break down a robust Chelsea defensive unit. The Blues nearly caught the hosts napping when Kerr raced through one-on-one with Bouhaddi, only to see the offside flag raised. Moments later, the Australian saw the goalkeeper off her line and attempted an audacious effort from range that was comfortably dealt with in the end.
Scoring the opening goal had given us confidence and we ended the first half strongly. Reiten saw an effort deflected wide at the back post, but we were unable to make the most of the resulting corner. PSG went searching for an equaliser with one additional minute to play, but Chelsea stood strong and took a slender one-goal lead into the interval.
Managing the game
PSG got the second half underway and were in desperate need of an early response which would give the Blues some thinking to do. Laurina Fazer latched onto a clever chip from former Blue Ramona Bachmann but the latter could not keep her effort down. At the other end, the ball fell kindly into the path of Kerr who unleashed a strike from range that was well held by Bouhaddi.
Chelsea retreated into their defensive shape and rode a momentary spell of PSG pressure. Our backline remained organised and disciplined in their formation. When we broke forward, Harder and Kerr were combining neatly once more with some neat interchanges that were causing the PSG defence some problems.
Kerr continued to look lively, creating all sorts of space and proving a nightmare to mark in and around the box. Captain Magdalena Eriksson came agonisingly close to doubling our lead before the hour mark, glancing a header narrowly wide of another teasing Cuthbert delivery. There was still only one goal between the teams and the next goal would be a crucial one.
Passing the test
Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan carried out their defensive duties impeccably as PSG ramped up their efforts to find an equaliser. Buchanan made a perfectly-timed tackle under pressure inside the penalty area, while Bright was in the right place at the right time to deal with a dangerous looking low cross into the Chelsea box.
The Blues made a double switch with 15 minutes remaining. Reiten and Harder, who had put in excellent shifts between them, were replaced by Jessie Fleming and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd. We continued to search for a second goal that would provide a much-needed cushion as we entered into the final five minutes of the match.
A nervy finale ensued with our slender one-goal advantage still intact, but the Blues showed excellent game management to protect the lead and secure an important and deserved three points. It proved to be a successful night in Paris as we kick-started our Champions League group stage campaign in the best possible fashion.
Upon our return to London, the focus quickly switches back to domestic duties as we prepare to face Brighton & Hove Albion in the Women’s Super League.
A quick turnaround between matches sees us travel to Broadfield Stadium on Sunday 23rd October, with kick-off at 6.45pm (UK time). This match will also be broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Paris Saint-Germain (4-1-2-1-2): Bouhaddi; Lawrence, Ilestedt, De Almeida, Karchaoui; Jean-Francois (Traore 79); Groenen (Cascarino 70), Fazer; Geyoro; Bachmann, Diani.
Unused subs: Picaud, Toussaint, Hamraoui, Baltimore, Georgieva, Li, Yang, Ngueleu.
Booked: Ilestedt 34
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Buchanan, Eriksson; Cuthbert, Ingle (Perisset 90); Reiten (Rytting Kaneryd 76), Harder (Fleming 76), Charles; Kerr.
Unused subs: Musovic, Orman, Nouwen, Carter, England, James, Svitkova, Abdullina.
Scorer: Bright 27
Booked: Buchanan 15