The Blues put in a professional performance to finish the job against Benfica following our thumping win in the first leg, as we comfortably booked our place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Holding a five-goal lead from our trip to Portugal, and with this the fourth game of five in the space of a fortnight, Emma Hayes’s side rarely got out of first gear, as a much-changed starting XI controlled the play from the first whistle and pinned the visitors back throughout.
On another night we’d have had three or four goals by the time Bethany England put us in front on the night with 28 minutes played. There may well have been a touch of good fortune about it, as our No9 appeared to be attempting to pick out Sam Kerr with a left-footed cross, but instead it turned into a fierce strike that caught the goalkeeper out.
We continued to press for more goals, albeit with the urgency one might expect from a side holding a 6-0 aggregate advantage, and had our finishing been sharper there may well have been a few more by the time Kerr made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, slotting the ball past the keeper after being sent through on goal by a sumptuous pass by Guro Reiten.
There was a special moment soon after that goal, as Drew Spence was brought off the bench to make her 200th appearance for the club, having debuted back in 2009, and then in stoppage time the seal was put on the result as England tapped home a cross from Kirby to make it 8-0 on aggregate.
It was a controlled display, yet a job well done, leaving us in good shape ahead of the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday for our final game of 2020.
With the Blues in such a commanding position in the tie, following our 5-0 triumph in the first leg, Hayes was able to ring the changes as she retained only Millie Bright, Erin Cuthbert and Kerr from the side that beat Brighton at the weekend.
Carly Telford was brought in for her third appearance of the season, keeping goal behind a back four of Hannah Blundell, Bright, Sophie Ingle and Jess Carter. In midfield, Niamh Charles and Reiten were selected either side of Cuthbert and Jessie Fleming, making her first start for the club after each of her seven previous matches were as a substitute. Kerr led the line alongside England, who opened her Champions League account in the first leg of this last-32 tie.
Fleming almost enjoyed a dream start, as the ball rolled invitingly into her path, just inside the penalty area, but her curling effort was just wide of the far post. From our very next attack, Kerr and Reiten were both denied by Neuhaus from point-blank range; two minutes were on the clock and it was clear this was going to be a long night for the Benfica defence.
By the time 10 minutes had been played, it certainly wasn’t inconceivable that we could have had four goals to our name. England and Charles both snatched at gilt-edged chances, presented to them by erratic goalkeeping, when both would have fancied themselves to at least hit the target.
There was a long stoppage in play, following a head injury suffered by Benfica right-back Amado, who suffered a hefty whack to the nose in a collision with her own goalkeeper and had to be substituted. As so often happens with such breaks, it almost served as a reset button for the contest, as both sides struggled to find any rhythm upon the resumption.
Then, out of nowhere, Chelsea went ahead, making it 6-0 on aggregate. England was the goalscorer and this was far from a typical goal from our No9, who tends to do her best work inside the penalty box. In truth, there was a degree of good fortune about this one, as she looked to pick out Kerr in the centre with a left-footed cross that swung the other way, wrongfooting the keeper and arrowing into the far corner of the net. Either way, having broken her Champions League duck last week, she had now doubled her tally in the competition. Even more impressively, it was the 43rd consecutive game in which we had found the back of the net, which is a quite remarkable record.
The game continued to follow a similar pattern, with the Blues in complete control and Benfica largely unable to get out of their own half, but there was no addition to our goal tally before the interval as a combination of wayward finishing and good goalkeeping kept us down to one. England probably had the best chance with a free header that she failed to direct on target.
Hayes opted to make a change ahead of the second half, bringing on captain Magda Eriksson in place of Bright, but it was very much the same story as the opening 45 minutes. Considering how easily they had been picked apart in the first leg, Benfica could take great pride at the manner in which they were defending, albeit without showing any attacking intent.
Reiten tested the goalkeeper once again with a dipping free-kick that Neuhaus did well to hold on to, but the Norwegian, who recorded three assists in the first leg, wouldn’t have to wait long for another goal involvement. This time it was a slide-rule pass to send Kerr through one-on-one with the keeper, and the Australian finished with aplomb to double our lead on the night. The knee slide and forward roll combination was not the most conventional of celebrations, but our No20 certainly seemed to enjoy it.
So, at 7-0 down on aggregate and having defended for their lives for the previous 65 minutes, how do you think the Benfica defenders felt when they saw the Blues make a double change? On came Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby in place of Cuthbert and Kerr.
A fourth substitution followed soon after, and it brought up a significant appearance milestone in the process. Spence came on to take her tally of matches for Chelsea Women to 200 and it was fitting that she replaced her good friend Blundell.
The Blues made it 3-0 deep into stoppage time, courtesy of England’s second of the night following a cross from Kirby. It could have been an embarrassing moment for the goalscorer, as she initially knocked the ball away from goal when placed just a couple of yards from the line, but she smartly improvised to finish at the second attempt. The chuckle that followed indicated she’d got away with one.
That was the last meaningful action of the contest, as the Blues comfortably closed out the final few minutes and cruised into the draw for the last 16. We’ll have to wait until mid-February to find out who we’ll play at that stage of the competition when the action resumes in March, but there are plenty more domestic tests to come before that.
Next up for the Blues is another home game, as we welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Kingsmeadow on Sunday for our final fixture of 2020. You can watch all the action live on this website and the 5th Stand app, with coverage beginning at 1.55pm.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Telford; Blundell (Spence 75), Bright (c) (Eriksson h/t), Ingle, Carter; Charles, Cuthbert (Harder 68), J Fleming, Reiten; Kerr (Kirby 68), EnglandUnused subs Berger, Orman, Thorsidottir, Mjelde, Andersson, Leupolz, SpenceScorers England 28, 90+2, Kerr 64
Benfica (4-5-1) Neuhaus; Amado (Nazareth 21), Rebelo (c), Costa, Seica, Fidalgo; Vitoria, Pauleta, Cameirao, Lacasse; Raysla (Amani 70)Unused subs Vilao, Alberto, Cristo, Lopez Silva, MaltaBooked Vitoria 59, Cameirao 84
Referee Lina Lehtovaara (Finland)