RWB Thorisdottir (Blundell 79)
FWD Bachmann (Carney 83)
FWD Kirby (Spence 79)
The big surprise ahead of the whistle was that the legendary German veteran Anja Mittag started on the bench for the visitors. I was also a bit amazed that Emma Hayes sidelined Karen Carney for the Blues, but perhaps the intensity of her play at the weekend inclined the manager to select the fresher option in Ji.
A sloppy pass from Millie Bright within the first minute had fans in fits, but Gilly Flaherty got across to clear it away in a very committed manner. The two sides were feeling each other out, each pushing into the opposition half, only to be beaten to the final ball. Both teams looked up for playing on the front to the best of their ability, while remaining solid at the back.
The first real chance of the match came after an Eriksson free kick was cleared for a corner. Ramona Bachmann worked it short with Ji for a cross from a better angle, and her whipped-in ball found the head of Katie Chapman, whose header was parried away for another corner.
From that set piece, Chelsea were more than unfortunate to not score. Another well-worked short corner lead to another on-target header, this time from Flaherty, forcing another save from Rosengard’s Zecira Musovic. But this time her parry found only Ji, whose looping shot had the goalkeeper scrambling backwards and nearly backflipping to keep it from going over her head and into the net. A scrambled clearance went only as far as Millie Bright, whose cannon of a shot found a body in the way.
That Chelsea raced to the throw-in despite the numbers Rosengard had behind the ball was a clear sign of the Blues’ winning intentions for the evening. Another shot, this time from Thorisdottir, won a another corner for the Ladies, who looked determined to make their spell of dominance count. Only an offsides from Bachmann gave Rosengard a chance to catch their breath.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the game at this point was the extent to which Chelsea were pushing forward. Indeed, Bright and Eriksson alternated like fullbacks in a back four, foraging deep into opposition territory. Crystal Dunn was an unstoppable force on the left flank, and Bachmann looked like she was going to be entirely far too much for the visitors to handle. The Switzerland international forced another decent stop in the twelfth minute, using strength and determination to overpower the defense and work room for a shot. Dunn made excellent use of her pace and skill to fashion a dangerous cross from space on the left, but though Thor’s Daughter had the direction right for her header, the shot wound up over the bar.
Fran Kirby finally got involved with her zippy feet, and it was really starting to look like
men against boys women against girls out there. One of my favorite moments of the match was a cut to the Rosengard interim manager at around the fifteen minute mark, eyes wide, jaw dropped, absolutely astounded at how far off her side were from the Kingsmeadow’s chosen gladiators.
A nasty foul on Thorisdottir lead to the match’s first yellow card, and an argument could be made that a challenge a minute later on Ji deserved one as well. The Blues had to settle for a free kick, from which they earned their fourth corner of the opening twenty minutes. Rosengard had yet to learn their lesson as they once again allowed a short corner and subsequent open header from Chapman, but her finishing was once again wasteful.
That letdown nearly turned sour as Rosengard raced away on the counter and fired in a cross from their left that met the head of an attacker. Fortunately, Dunn, who seemed to be everywhere, cleared the ball off the line. I’ve said it once, but I’ll say it again: she is outstanding and we’re lucky to have her. At the other end, Ji founds space for a long ranger, but while the ball was well-struck and Musovic found it hard to handle, she managed to keep it from getting past her.
The Blues were full of running and playing as if they had snuck an extra player onto the pitch; they seemed to be first to every ball and constantly finding and creating space for each other to run into. After an outstanding shot from distance from Chapman was saved and Kirby won the ball back from the defender with a slide tackle, it was Ji’s turn to rue a great chance, stabbing a Kirby rebound goalwards, but too close to the keeper.
Half-hour into the game, Rosengard had crossed midfield about twice. Chelsea’s high pressure was leading to good chances, but the team were being let down by most wasteful finishing. But Kirby eventually found the breakthrough, latching onto a Mjelde ball over the top, taking out two defenders with one move, and curling a perfect shot between keeper and post, to make it 1-0, good guys.
It doesn’t matter that we’re more than five games into the season and we have failed to win just one, I am still surprised at just how hungry this side is. Hayes must tell the squad terrible things about the opposition every week, because the Ladies look as if they have beef with EVERYONE. If Millie Bright could shoot like Lampard, the Blues could have had three more before halftime. As it was, Hayes and Co. had to settle for just the one goal as they went in with forty-five on the clock. A few more chances amounted to nothing for the Blues, and Rosengard were allowed to leave their half once more before the whistle, just giving Hayes the ammunition she needed for a pep talk.
And yet, it were the visitors who started the second half better. After looking like they were trudging through mud the entire first period, Rosengard were suddenly flying. Millie Bright made two key blocks as Rosengard won consecutive corners, the first of which was a header off the line after Lindahl missed the ball completely.
Rosengard came in with the more impressive CV, and for these few minutes, they showed just why they’ve had significant success over the year and why they will be a threat in the second leg as they turned up the pressure and camped out in Chelsea’s half. A dangerous counter eventually gave Chelsea a break as an audacious first touch flick from Dunn would’ve likely turned into the second goal had Bachmann not used her left arm to control the ball.
The match settled into a pattern of choppy, open play then, with Chelsea working terrific chances for Dunn and Kirby, but spurning both. It was at this point that the visitors finally introduced Anja Mittag into the fray. However, the arrival of the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer was marked by a goal for her opponents instead. From a driving run along the right side, Thorisdottir punched inside and found Ji at the top of the box. With a sagacious turn, she poked the ball on to Bachmann in one fluid movement, who finished neatly into the bottom right corner.
The second goal broke the visitors’ spirit, and Chelsea added a swift third to punish them for it. A long, looping lob from Eriksson found Kirby in the inside-right channel; her shot was blocked but the rebound came out to Flaherty, who proved as reliable in finishing as she normally is in defense.
Chelsea wound down the remaining fifteen-plus minutes without many scares. Hannah Blundell and Drew Spence joined the fray in the 79th minute and Karen Carney got a few minutes at the end after replacing Ramona Bachmann. There was time still for Eriksson to show off her free-kick-taking ability with a swerving strike that demanded an excellent save from Musovic, while Ji was also denied the Rosengard’s far and away best player on the night.
Chelsea were favorites to advance heading into the game, and this results just lengthens those odds. But the job is only half done: the second leg is coming up next week!
Woman of the Match: Ramona Bachmann. She was absolutely everything Chelsea needed. Her passing was crisp, her pressing relentless, her hold up play efficient, and her finishing top drawer. Crystal Dunn also gave an exceptional performance, and had she put away a chance or seen an assist finished, she’d be in with a good shout as well.