Chelsea go top of WCL group after Erin Cuthbert double earns win over Häcken

Photograph: Harriet Lander/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

Chelsea finished 2023 on a high with a professional victory against a stubborn BK Häcken that showed all of their experience. One goal from Sam Kerr and two from Erin Cuthbert took them top of Group D in the Women’s Champions League.

While being pleased with her side’s win, Emma Hayes was mindful of the challenge Häcken had presented throughout. “The first half was a little laboured,” she said. “I thought we were static. There were positional adjustments we made at half-time to correct that. I think we controlled the second half. It wasn’t perfect and they created chances but overall, I think we were dominant and deserved the win.”

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This trip to Gothenburg was one final hurdle for Chelsea to overcome before the winter break. They had endured a frustrating evening against the same opposition last week, dominating but lacking execution in a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge. It was an encounter that would have made Hayes’s side wary of complacency. The Swedish team have enjoyed an impressive campaign and came into the game sitting two points above their opponents.

Chelsea had returned to winning ways in the league against Bristol City on Sunday after a challenging week of disappointing results and a bout of illness in the camp. Hayes made three changes to the side that started in the WSL, with Kadeisha Buchanan and Zecira Musovic coming in. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, meanwhile, returned to familiar surroundings, having enjoyed two seasons with Häcken before signing for Chelsea in August 2022.

Mak Lind made two changes to his team as Monica Jusu Bah and Filippa Curmark starting. Curmark captained the side on her 100th appearance in yellow and black.

As expected, Häcken proved more ambitious this time. Despite Chelsea’s control in the opening minutes, the hosts produced the first real chance of the game when Anna Anvegard’s angled shot hit the crossbar.

It was the wake-up call Chelsea needed and they began to attack with purpose. Lauren James’s direct running and ability to keep the ball were causing problems and she had a trademark effort tipped over by Jennifer Falk.

Chelsea found their breakthrough in the 14th minute when Rytting Kaneryd escaped her defender to feed Kerr at the near post. The Australian forward struck the ball with no hesitation for her fifth goal of the campaign.

Real Madrid’s hopes of reaching the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals are over after they fell to a 1-0 home defeat in Group D against Paris FC, who followed up their 2-1 victory last week. Gaetane Thiney [pictured] scored the winner from the penalty spot, producing a nerveless Panenka finish 11 minutes from time to earn victory.

The result leaves Real with a solitary point from four games. The Spanish side face Chelsea next but with Häcken facing Paris next, they are guaranteed to go out in the group stages for the second straight year. Paris FC have six points, one behind Häcken and two behind leaders Chelsea.

Ajax emerged victorious from a battle with Bayern Munich to go top of Group C with two rounds of matches to go. Romee Leuchter scored the only goal just before half-time, finishing clinically into the bottom corner after the visiting defence failed to close her down.

Bayern pushed forward in the second half but failed to regularly trouble Ajax keeper Regina van Eijk, with Lina Magull firing a chance wide in stoppage time. Defeat at the Johan Cruyff Arena leaves Bayern third in the group, two points behind the Dutch champions.

PSG are a point above Bayern in second after a welcome 3-1 victory at Roma. Grace Geyoro set up Tabitha Chawinga for the opener after 26 minutes, before finding Marie-Antoinette Katoto in the area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half.

Korbin Albert’s volley made it three before Manuela Giugliano pulled one back for the hosts from a free kick. The Italian side are bottom with four points, and host Bayern on 24 January before going to Ajax the following week. PSG host Ajax and visit Bayern in their final two games.

Häcken were not going to give up without a fight and came back with intent. While their willingness to attack left them vulnerable defensively, their enthusiasm going forward paid off. Their equaliser came when a direct long ball found Jusu Bah breaking. She turned in the cross to Clarissa Larisey to head home and level the score at the break.

The sense of deja vu was palpable at the start of the second half as Anvegard frustratingly hit the crossbar for the second time. The sound of the rattling bar seemed to spark Chelsea into life once again. They got their noses back in front minutes later when their high press forced Häcken back. Turning over possession, Chelsea worked the ball superbly to Cuthbert and the Scottish midfielder took one touch to set herself before drilling the ball precisely past Falk.

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With Hayes’s side continuing their pressure, Falk was called into action with a diving fingertip stop to deny James again. The performance of the home goalkeeper did little to dent Chelsea’s flow, however, and with just under half an hour to play Cuthbert doubled their advantage. A dazzling display of footwork enabled her to surge into the box before shooting with aplomb for her third goal in four days.

The strike sucked the life out of Häcken’s resistance and audibly quietened the incredibly vocal section of home fans. Häcken rarely troubled Chelsea in the closing stages but will have felt aggrieved when Molly Johansson’s superb header was ruled out for offside. It looked a questionable decision in real time and replays proved she was in fact on.

Nevertheless, it was a display that encapsulated Hayes’s “mentality monsters”, a clear illustration of their quality and ability to find a way when challenged. “It was a tough pitch to play on,” she said. “It was a really good crowd and they made a great atmosphere. It was an enjoyable game. Two good football teams and I’m really happy with the three points.”

The win meant the English champions could go into the winter break safe in the knowledge they sit top both domestically and in Europe.


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