A professional display on a cool night under the Champions League lights saw Chelsea prove themselves true contenders for the trophy as they comfortably dispatched perennial contenders FC Rosengård. A single and somewhat ordinary goal from Ji So-Yun was the difference, though the match was not without chances for many more, as Chelsea shifted things around slightly from the first leg, making one change in replacing Fran Kirby with the willing running and fresher legs of Erin Cuthbert.
Chelsea LFC starting lineup (3-4-1-2):
Lindahl | Eriksson, Flaherty, Bright | Dunn, Mjelde, Chapman, Thorisdottir | Ji | Bachmann, Cuthbert
Chelsea almost started in the best possible way as Ji took the first shot of the match in the first minute, after Ramonna Bachmann, playing with the kind of intensity and sharpness that you would expect from a player facing her former club, got a cross in from the left. Alas, the Korean international’s bending shot from the top of the area didn’t curve quite enough to find the top right corner.
Two more chances followed in quick succession thanks to good work from Ji, again, and both wing-backs, first from a corner — Flaherty first to the ball but failing to make a proper connection — then from a Bachmann shot after Chelsea recycled possession. Rosengård closed down well however to force Bachmann to rush her shot and fail to put it on frame.
Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start for the visitors, who kept the hosts pinned down in their own half for the first ten minutes. A timely reminder of how quickly things can change was served by Rosengaård’s first foray forward however, as a wide ball out to the right caught the back line out and the ensuing cross found an unmarked Troelsgaard in the area. She had time to take a first touch to settle it, but failed to cause any problems for Hedvig Lindahl and sent her effort wide to the left.
At about the fifteen minute mark, some of the Blues’ high pressure paid off as Cuthbert won a free kick. Ji’s effort forced a fine save from Rosengård’s keeper just as it looked to be creeping inside the left post. The following corner was worked short and another shot led to a block, a clearance, and another corner. This one was not worked so well, but moments later, the Ladies had won themselves yet another, from which Thorisdottir had a penalty shout but the referee seemed totally uninterested.
Moments later, a shot wide from Maren Mjelde let Rosengård off again, and the hosts had their second meaningful trip to Chelsea’s half, though this time it was snuffed out by well-organized defending. Chelsea certainly looked the more likely side to score as the match approached the half hour mark, and Bachmann was again involved, working wonderfully from the right, but Ji’s first time volley was too close to the keeper.
It was Chelsea’s fourth good chance wasted, and it was swiftly followed by a fifth when uncharacteristically poor passing from Ji and Dunn allowed Rosengård to get away with some rather poor defending. Good work from Cuthbert on the initial counter, but the Blues failed to link up properly.
Still, the Swedish side were not without chances of their own, but Millie Bright made two-three important tackles and interventions to keep Hedvig Lindahl without much of anything to do as the first-half wound down. It had been a weird first-half, with the pattern of play going against all expectations — Chelsea, ahead by three goals on aggregate were dominating possession and looked the side far more interested in making something happen. Rosengård, perennial contenders, were supposed to be a tough draw, but other than a 10-minute period in the first leg, were anything but.
There were no changes from either side at half, and there were no changes in the balance of play either. Chelsea were nearly in again right away, but Cuthbert, having done the hard bit by dancing through much of the defense, failed to get any power behind her shot. Rosengård had a most hopeful penalty shout on the subsequent break, as their forward went down easily under the slightest contact from Bright, but the referee rightly waved away the insistent claims from the attacker. And that would be that for the hosts as a moment later, the tie was over.
Chelsea worked the ball down to the other end, with the effervescent Dunn skipping beyond the right back and cutting a brilliant ball back in for Ji, whose side-footed shot, aided by a minor deflection, proved too much for the goalkeeper. With away goals the tiebreaker, Rosengård suddenly needed to score five goals in the remaining 40 minutes -- a bit of a tough ask, given that they had hardly looked capable of scoring one.
The Blues were not about to let up however. The party almost continued a minute later, as Bachmann drove in, again from the left, and whipped a ball that nearly found the far corner. Mjelde then nearly added her name to the score sheet as her aggressive run lead to a header, but her fine attempt was saved. And even when Chelsea would get a bit too relaxed, key interventions from Dunn, Bright, and others kept the clean sheet intact.
Around the hour-mark, Hayes went to her bench for the first time, taking off a beaming Thorisdottir for the pacy and skillful Hannah Blundell, followed shortly by the introduction of Karen Carney for the tireless Cuthbert. Regardless of the changes, the Ladies remained dominant.
Neat interplay around the box led to a penalty shout for Ji, but the referee was too far from the action and kept play going. Ji looked a bit worse for wear as she got gingerly to her feet. Unselfish play from Carney then found Bachmann in tons of space, with time enough to sight, measure, aim, and measure again before unleashing the artillery. An immense save kept the scoreline unchanged. A wide open header from a free-kick drew a similar response, with Mjelde following her own shot but failing to tap in the rebound to make it a hat-trick of unfortunate misses for the Norway captain.
The final change saw Kirby brought on for Katie Chapman, who had again looked a step off her inimitable best. The armband was passed along to vice-captain Flaherty. Kirby was quickly into the fray, earning her side a corner after a fine shot was turned aside by Mušović, Rosengård’s best player far and away over the two legs. The ball was then worked short to Kirby, who found an unmarked Bright at the back post, but she was falling away and unable to direct her header between the uprights.
The final five minutes wound down in a rather unspectacular fashion, with the fresh legs of Hayes’ subs proving a nuisance to the hosts, but ultimately coming away without an additional tally. Job done.
Woman of the Match: Crystal Dunn. Another game, another outstanding performance from Dunn, who is quickly solidifying herself as one of the first names on Hayes’ team sheet. Her energy is astounding; dare I say Kanté-esque? Bachmann was also superb and hard-working, but the American edges it with the assist to her name.
Chelsea have already come further than ever in this competition now, but the hard work is far from over. Rosengård were (supposedly) ranked third in all of Europe, but their domestic season was already over (they finished second) and their coaching situation was in a state of flux (interim boss Malin Levenstad is all of 29 years old). The remaining teams are of the highest caliber, as one might expect. Lyon, Wolfsburg, and Barcelona, among others, are all possible opponents in the next round (the draw is on Friday, November 24). As a reminder, Chelsea have seen Wolfsburg in each of the last two years, and not only have they never advanced past the German side, they have never even looked as if they could hang with the elite squad.
So far so good however.