“Credit to the players. They decided they wanted to go up a level and my job’s just to put the challenge there to them. I thought we were outstanding”.
Back to their best, Chelsea entertained everyone, including their manager Emma Hayes, as they breezed past Servette in Geneva, inspired by the partnership of Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr.
Champions League nights are always the best nights and there was more to this story than the heavy score-line. The Swiss Champions were underdogs on paper – and that would soon translate onto the pitch – but it didn’t stop their army of noisy fans backing them the whole way. 12,782 spectators packed into the impressive Stade de Genève on a wintery evening, providing a spine-tingling atmosphere to the occasion.
“It was amazing! It was a special night coming here. This is for most of us our first time coming here, and the fans mad it special. So yeah, I think it was a night most of us won’t forget for many reasons – good performance, good crowd, and Maren’s back.”
Éric Sévérac’s team contained a familiar face for Barclays FAWSL fans as they lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, a brave choice when faced with Chelsea’s attacking potential. Their 35-year-old forward, Jade Boho Sayo – formerly of Bristol City and Reading – led the line.
Emma Hayes made changes to the starting XI that edged past Aston Villa at the weekend. Zecira Musovic was handed a start in goal while Drew Spence came into midfield. Jessie Fleming was rewarded for her recent form and retained her place up front as the Kerr-by duo returned. A notable absence remained in the form of Pernille Harder who is still recovering from an injury picked up over the last international break.
The Blues raced out of the starting blocks and an early breakthrough seemed inevitable. They should have been ahead within the first two minutes when Kirby found her shot saved at point-blank range by Ines Pereira before she crashed the rebound off the underside of the crossbar.
When Chelsea’s forward players are in full flow, they are a formidable prospect and the Servette defence had no less than six attackers bearing down on them at any given time. The opener came in the eighth minute as Melanie Leupolz produced a superb finish from inside the area.
A lull followed before the visitors punished a leaky Servette back-line with four goals in a ten-minute spell. Kerr-by have been a nemesis for so many defences over the past couple of seasons and once again sliced through their opponents as if they were not even there. The first was set up by a deft flick from Kerr off Spence’s through ball and finished by Kirby. Kerr then got her name on the scoresheet with two in as many minutes, first turning home Leupolz’s cut-back before that seemingly telepathic relationship kicked in once more as she read Kirby’s pass perfectly to finish.
There were two more before the break. Kirby added her second before Fleming scored the goal of the evening, firing home spectacularly from a tight angle. It was pure dominance from the visitors with the hosts in desperate need of a half-time regroup.
You feared the worst when Guro Reiten hit the Blues’ seventh early in the second half. However, as Chelsea took their foot off the gas a little, Servette rallied. They created little in front of goal but delighted the crowd with their endeavour and occasional tricks and flicks in the midfield area.
In reality though, Chelsea were untroubled, leading perhaps to the moment of the evening. Maren Mjelde, out since March after sustaining a serious knee injury at the Continental Cup Final, made her long-awaited return as she replaced Jess Carter. If there has been any criticism of Chelsea in recent months, it has been that they do not look as defensively solid as they could be, and the return of Mjelde clearly delighted everyone including her manager who sung her praises after the match: “The work she’s done, and the work the medical team and my technical team have done with her, and the effort she’s put in, it was emotional for her. But she’s a Rolls Royce of a footballer.”
Tougher opponents surely await but that does not take away from a high-level performance that saw Chelsea move up a gear from their last league game. They were in the mood to entertain and did not disappoint, solid foundations ahead of a massively important league fixture against Manchester City on Sunday.