Chelsea starting lineup (3-4-3):
GK - Becky Spencer
LCB - Magdalena Eriksson
CB - Gilly Flaherty
RCB - Millie Bright
LWB - Gemma Davison
CM - Maren Mjelde
CM - Katie Chapman (c)
RWB - Crystal Dunn
LAM - Karen Carney (Eni Aluko 84’)
CF - Erin Cuthbert (Fran Kirby 61’)
RAM - Ji So-Yun (Drew Spence 77’)
Emma Hayes went with a rotated front three to start this match following the big win over Bayern on Wednesday. Becky Spencer was given her first chance between the posts this season, and looked comfortable, though she was never tested by a shot on target. Crystal Dunn got her first start as well, after an impressive substitute performance in midweek. The Blues were dominant throughout the match, producing 14 shots and commanding 73% possession, and the fourth successive clean sheet will surely have pleased Hayes.
The first chance came inside the first three minutes, with Ji failing to put her name on the score sheet, despite receiving Eriksson’s cross in good space. Minutes later, a mazy run and neat cross by Carney produced another chance. Cuthbert, who hasn’t seen much time as a lone forward since joining the Blues, couldn’t find a window for her shot. Maren Mjelde had another shot blocked before winning a free kick out on the right wing, but the Blues were unable to make anything of it.
For a short while, Liverpool turned it on and looked to be giving us some trouble, but then woman of the moment Mjelde ran onto a pass that Davison was able to send in after one of her trademark driving runs, and the Norwegian international finished with aplomb into the bottom corner. While that goal would be enough to decide the match, the game itself was nowhere near as close as the scoreline indicated. The Reds were kicking Chelsea players more often than they were connecting with the ball.
Crystal Dunn was causing trouble again on the right, and linked up well with Carney, who put another shot on target just before the half had reached its midpoint. Ji nearly added to the tally as Chelsea had a spell of corners, but Liverpool’s flying bodies did enough that time. The linesman’s flag kept Davison from seizing upon a great through ball from Eriksson. In the second-best chance of the half, Cuthbert needed to just poke a spot-on pass from Mjelde beyond the keeper, but Chamberlain was able to reach the ball in time to spoil the celebrations. Another shot from Cuthbert at the 40-minute mark was blocked, and the ensuing corner resulted in another blocked shot, this time from Gilly Flaherty. Former Red Davison was booked just before the whistle blew, a minor blemish in a scintillating performance.
The players went off, the players came back on, and nothing else really changed as Chelsea continued to steamroll their rivals in the second half. Karen Carney almost ran away with a lucky one for her first goal of the season, her cross nearly creeping in beyond the keeper. The game became a series of looped events, with Chelsea winning corners and free kicks, but still not putting the game away. Cuthbert departed for the excellent Kirby and there would be no let up for Liverpool. Dunn and Davison were particularly difficult for the visitors to handle, playing freely across the field and overwhelming their back line.
Mjelde was denied a second from 20 yards out by a solid save from Chamberlain, and the feeling was that the Ladies were due another. However, with the introduction of Drew Spence and Eni Aluko for Ji and Carney respectively, the Blues settled into defending in comfort and attacking on the break as the Reds desperately pushed for an equalizer. Aluko had a fine attempt stopped by the hard-working Chamberlain, and the clock hit ninety minutes plus three without any doubt about the final outcome. Easy, breezy, three points.
Up next, it’s the second leg of the Champions League Round of 32 matchup against Bayern. A draw in Munich will be enough to progress to the next round. Come on you Blues!