Fran Kirby became Chelsea’s record goalscorer as the Blues produced a clinical performance to open our 2020/21 Champions League campaign.
After a season away from Europe’s elite, Emma Hayes’s side wasted no time establishing ourselves in the competition on our return, and we were in front after only 80 seconds thanks to a milestone goal from Kirby.Chelsea’s No.14 turned home a low cross from Pernille Harder to take her tally for the club to 69, which surpassed the previous record, which she shared with Eniola Aluko. Few will have been more straightforward than this finish, which she simply could not miss.Although Benfica briefly offered up a firmer defence, once we’d breached their backline for a second time the floodgates opened. Millie Bright was the scorer, heading home a Guro Reiten free-kick, and by the time the opening 45 minutes were up our lead was four.Reiten was twice the provider, the first for Kirby to clinically slot home and the second a corner kick which Harder headed past the keeper, and when the referee blew for half-time it was clear the game was over as a meaningful contest.Bethany England made it 5-0 shortly after the interval, confidently firing in her first Champions League goal after being sent through by Ji So-Yun and, with a busy schedule on the horizon, Hayes took the opportunity to make wholesale changes inside the first 15 minutes of the half.Although there were no further additions to the scoresheet, it had been a more than satisfactory first European outing this term and the Blues will be odds-on favourites to secure our place in the last 16 when we welcome Benfica to Kingsmeadow for the second leg next Wednesday.
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This afternoon’s game was our first in the Champions League since April 2019, when we took on Lyon in the semi-finals, and eight of the players who started that game were also selected by Hayes for this trip to competition newcomers Benfica, who made three changes to the side that defeated West Ham United at the weekend.Maria Thorisdottir, Melanie Leupolz and Sam Kerr were the players to make way, as Bright, Sophie Ingle and Reiten came into the team. That meant our usual back four of Maren Mjelde, Bright, Magda Eriksson – making her 100th appearance for the club – and Jonna Andersson was restored in front of Ann-Katrin Berger. An attacking midfield quartet of Kirby, Ingle, Ji and Reiten would offer plenty of support to England and Harder in attack.It didn’t take long for that to play out, as only 80 seconds had elapsed when Kirby put the Blues in front with a historic goal, as she became the club’s leading scorer in the WSL era. Harder was the creator with a storming run down the left and a low cross that somehow made it all the way through to our No14, who wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. It was her 69th for Chelsea in all competitions, surpassing the mark set by Aluko, and 11 of them have come in the Champions League, which is also a Chelsea best tally.
Benfica keeper Vilao had to get down smartly to deny England, who fired in a powerful low strike on the half-volley that was kicked away, but otherwise there was little to separate the sides in the first 20 minutes following Kirby’s early opening. The home side appeared to be well organised defensively and they were confident enough to leave two attackers up the field while the Blues had the ball, which meant there were no easy spells possession to be had for our defenders. What they weren’t offering was an offensive threat, however, as Berger remained a virtual spectator.The same certainly couldn’t be said about the Blues, as we soon doubled our advantage with the simplest of goals. Benfica’s defensive organisation went out the window when Reiten stepped up to take a free-kick from out by the left touchline, as Bright was left completely unmarked at the back post to power home a header.
Now Hayes’s side were flying, and in the blink of an eye our lead was suddenly three and we already had one foot in the next round. Reiten was involved once again, slipping the ball through to Kirby. With just the keeper to beat, our new record scorer confidently slotted the ball across Vilao and into the bottom corner.Another set-piece proved to be Benfica’s undoing again on the stroke of half-time, and once more it was trusted left foot of Reiten that did all the damage. The Norwegian completed a hat-trick of assists in the first half, this time from a corner kick as she whipped a teasing cross into the danger zone and Harder got up above her marker to nod the ball home.Chelsea had barely even got out of first gear, yet our lead after 45 minutes was four and we had never looked in danger of conceding. Hayes surely couldn’t have envisaged a more straightforward start to the contest.
The manager made one change for the second half, bringing on Jess Carter for Andersson to play left-back, which is one of the few roles our versatile No7 isn’t overly familiar with. She approached it just as one might have expected – head on – and within five minutes of her introduction she’d already embarked on a couple of barnstorming runs. One such foray into opposition territory led to a gilt-edged chance for Harder, via a touch from England, which the Dane smashed over the bar.We didn’t have to wait much longer for our fifth, however, as England got herself on the scoresheet with a clinical left-footed finish after Ji had slid a pass through the heart of the Benfica rearguard. Despite her prolific form domestically, that was England’s maiden strike in Europe’s premier club competition.
What followed was surely another Chelsea Women first: a quadruple substitution. With the game comfortably won, this was an opportunity to show off the depth in her squad, so Hayes brought on Maria Thorisdottir, Jessie Fleming, Erin Cuthbert and Niamh Charles, replacing Eriksson, Mjelde, Kirby and Ji.Cuthbert looked the brightest off the bench, but the Scot was the victim of a reckless challenge by Ucheibe, who went over the ball and stamped down on her. Despite both players requiring treatment, the referee wasn’t fooled – a second yellow card was shown to the Benfica midfielder and she was sent off.Despite our numerical advantage, we were content with our lot – and, at 5-0 up away from home, why wouldn’t we be – and the closest either side came to scoring was a swift counter-attack that saw Lacasse test Berger for the first time. She was more than up to the task, albeit making a rather unconventional save with her face, but it was enough to preserve the clean sheet.The tie will conclude with the second leg at Kingsmeadow next Wednesday, but the Blues will be in action again before then when we travel to the People’s Pension Stadium to take on Brighton & Hove Albion. That game kicks off at 2pm and you can watch it live on the FA Player app.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Berger; Mjelde (J Fleming 61), Bright, Eriksson (c) (Thorisdottir 61), Andersson (Carter h/t); Kirby (Cuthbert 61), Ingle, Ji (Charles 61), Reiten; England, HarderUnused subs Telford, Orman, Blundell, Spence, KerrScorers Kirby 2, 33, Bright 29, Harder 45, England 54Booked Cuthbert 77
Benfica (4-3-3): Vilao; Amado, Costa, Rebelo (c), Seica; Ucheibe, Pauleta, Vitoria; Faria (Cameirao 40), Raysla (Nazareth 82), LacasseUnused subs Dani Neuhaus, Fidalgo, Amani, Mariana Alberto, Carlota CristoBooked Ucheibe 28Sent off Ucheibe 76 (two bookings)
Referee Esther Staubli (Switzerland)