Lauren James’ second-half double helped Chelsea ease past PSG in their final Champions League group game, winning 3-0 to secure top spot in Group A.
Emma Hayes refused to be drawn on the permutations of Thursday’s game, with a draw or defeat by one goal still enough for them to go through as group winners.
And she kept her word of aiming for an all-out win. Despite a strong opening 20 minutes from PSG, Chelsea dominated the remainder of the game and ultimately cruised to victory in front of 10,129 fans at Stamford Bridge.
Sam Kerr (42) powered Chelsea ahead just before the break, before James scored (55) her first Champions League goal after the Blues capitalised on an error from PSG goalkeeper Sarah Bouaddi.
Like the buses on the Fulham Road, James’ second European goal was not far behind (62) as she slotted home after a fine Chelsea move.
It sees the Blues win Group A with 16 points from six games, only dropping points against Real Madrid at the start of December. PSG go through to the quarter-finals as runners-up with 10 points.
Fellow WSL side Arsenal also topped their Champions League group on Wednesday, and Hayes pointed to the increased experience and quality in the English league as a factor behind both teams’ strong performances in Europe so far this season.
She explained: “Sometimes, we just think ‘there’s investment into the game in England, therefore they’re going to compete’ without recognising what experience actually means. If you think about Paris, Wolfsburg, Bayern, Lyon, maybe less so Barcelona, their journeys in Europe, they’ve been longer.
“We think about two years ago in the final, that was the start of that, but actually we weren’t ready. I think English teams are at a better level to compete because the demands of our league, the quality of our squad depth, the training at higher intensity over a longer period of time has left us in a better position.
“I think the English clubs are exactly where we should be based on those factors, so I’m not surprised that Arsenal and ourselves are in the position we are.
“I remember being tonked here by Wolfsburg and it was a gulf [in quality]. So do you think that gulf is closed merely by signing players – it doesn’t work like that. There’s so much grind that goes on in a training capacity that takes years to actually get to the level where you feel like ‘that’s what experience looks like’.
“My team are experienced in Europe and that’s probably put us in this position in the group.”
How Chelsea eased to victory against PSG
PSG almost scored a stunning opening goal as they began well in west London. Zecira Musovic was caught off-guard as a poor Chelsea pass saw Kadidiatou Diani with the ball at her feet. She tried her luck from 40 yards, seeing Musovic scrambling, but the effort pinged off the top of the crossbar.
But Chelsea soon began to find their feet at Stamford Bridge, racking up a number of chances. In the 20th minute, Erin Cuthbert’s pass found the run of Fran Kirby down the left. The forward then swung a great ball into the area, but James lashed her effort wide at the back post.
Chelsea team news
- Chelsea made four changes from their 4-0 win against Vllaznia on Friday. Eve Perisset, Aniek Nouwen, Jessie Fleming and Jelena Cankovic – who assisted twice last week – all dropped to the bench.
- Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson, Erin Cuthbert and Lauren James came back into the team.
The England international then twice tested Bouaddi. The first saw the goalkeeper push away a fine effort from James after she cut into the area from the right flank with some delightful footwork. Then, some superb link-up play from Cuthbert and James saw the PSG stopper push the latter’s shot wide with an outstretched hand.
Chelsea finally made their pressure count just before half-time. Sakina Karchaoui let a loose ball pass her by, allowing Kerr to collect and drive goalwards. She easily turned past Elisa De Almeida just inside the area before unleashing a thunderous strike to see the hosts ahead.
Two goals not long after half-time made sure of Chelsea’s top spot in Group A. Bouaddi had already got away with some poor play from the back, but she did not find the same reprieve a second time. Her lackadaisical backpass was poked to the top of the area by James, finding Kirby. She then played in Kerr down the left, with the Australian’s squared pass turned home by the awaiting James.
The 21-year-old added her second of the evening just after the hour. It was a sublime team goal as Guro Reiten’s superb pass picked out Kirby down the left of the area. She then cut the ball back for James incoming into the area, with the Blues forward easily sweeping home past Bouaddi.
There were a few snapshots from PSG in the remainder of the game, but little to trouble Chelsea. Hayes’ side should have added a fourth late on as Bethany England fired just wide of the far post. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Kirby linked up well, but the England forward could not tuck it home.
But it was still a devastating final group game from Chelsea as they await the quarter-final draw on Friday February 10.
Hayes praise for James | ‘The Chelsea performance I wanted’
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes:
“You’ve seen Lauren in and around the penalty box, she’s exceptional. We have to be mindful that there’s still so much in her game to keep developing, whether that’s tracking full-backs, getting back into defensive positions early, whether that’s linking up with fewer touches when she’s got numbers around her.
“The team put Lauren in the best position possible tonight and she executed. I will always proceed with caution with her, but nonetheless, the talent is there for all to see, but we have to go one step at a time with Lauren, merely because you see the demand that is being placed in a high-intensity game. If I don’t do that, I risk being reckless and I don’t plan on doing that.
“It’s the performance I wanted [from Chelsea]. It’s the performance I’ve seen in training, particularly this week. I feel that most importantly, it’ll give the team confidence. Perfect is a strong word, but it was certainly a satisfying performance.
“I don’t even know when the draw is so I’m not thinking about that. I just know that if you want to compete in Europe, you’ve got to put in performances like that. It’s not enough to go away from home, sit and defend deep, keep clean sheets, you’ve got to be better attacking wise and that’s what I thought the difference was tonight.”
Chelsea will now take a three-and-a-half-week break and return to action on Sunday January 15 when they take on Arsenal in the WSL, live on Sky Sports.