How Chelsea produced statement Champions League display to take charge against Lyon

It’s advantage Chelsea in the Champions League, but it’s also so much more than that. A 1-0 win at the home of the holders Lyon gives Chelsea a narrow lead heading back to Stamford Bridge, but this is also a result and performance that will give Emma Hayes’ side real belief that they can finish the job and deliver a statement result in this competition. Guro Reiten’s wonderful finish midway though the first half was the difference, but overall this was a hugely impressive away display from the English champions.

It also has to be Chelsea’s best result in Europe under Hayes. Only Paris Saint-Germain have managed to knock Lyon out of the Champions League over the past seven years and while the job is only halfway done, Chelsea have given themselves a huge chance. The visitors were made to hang on at times but they also carried the greater threat in large spells. In an ominous warning to Lyon, Sam Kerr did most of her work off the ball and had a wasteful night when chances arrived, although the record winners may have Ada Hegerberg back in time for Stamford Bridge.

This wasn’t Arsenal’s 5-1 thrashing of the serial Champions League winners in the opening round of the group stages, but this also was the quarter-finals, and with Lyon closer to full strength than they were at the start of the season. Chelsea were able to establish enough control to execute their plan after a nervy, uncomfortable opening, spearheaded by the wide threats of Reiten and Lauren James. Both were excellent, with Reiten curling a lovely winner and James striking the post, with the space opened up thanks to the tireless work of Kerr and Erin Cuthbert.

Sophie Ingle and Melanie Leupolz were also impressive after steadying to take charge of midfield, but this wasn’t a perfect night: Chelsea, as well as England, will face an anxious wait after Millie Bright hobbled off with a knee injury near the end of the first half. The Blues will come under further pressure in the return leg but they soaked up a good deal of what the French champions had to offer, and if anything looked more dangerous on the counter-attack.

Even when Chelsea were on the back foot, James and Reiten gave Chelsea a sense of effortless threat. Chelsea’s first attack came as James dribbled from the edge of one box to the other, with the winger thriving on the spaces Lyon were leaving behind. The breakthrough was opened up by the returning Cuthbert, who was excellent after missing the previous three games due to injury. The Scotland international held off Lindsey Horan and then swiftly nutmegged Damaris Egurrola with a sublime touch. The disguised pass to Reiten was even smarter, and the Norwegian curled a wonderful first-time shot beyond  Christiane Endler.

The goal perhaps caught Lyon by surprise after their early control, but the eight-time winners had been warned of Chelsea’s danger when James came close to doubling their lead moments later. From another break, James stood up Perle Morroni before gliding past the defender and onto her left foot. The shot, curled from the angle, struck the post in a let off for Lyon. Kerr dragged a snapshot wide shortly before half time and after a testing start, Chelsea were settled and in control.

It was Hayes who predicted this first leg would be a cautious, cagey affair, with both teams taking their time to work each other out. At first, it was Lyon who looked as if they were the side coming up with more of the answers. Chelsea initially struggled to keep possession and were sloppy on the ball, leading to a sustained period of Lyon pressure. Eugenie Le Sommer dinked past the post with the best of their opportunities in that early spell. At the end of which Lyon had a clear shout for a penalty when Eve Perisset clattered into Dzsenifer Marozsan, but VAR was not consulted.

Chelsea survived unscathed but a potential turning point came as Bright hobbled off with a knee injury before half time. Magdalena Eriksson came on to take the armband but played Chelsea into trouble with a pass straight to Vicki Becho. It took an excellent save from Ann-Katrin Berger to tip Delphine Cascarino’s shot onto the post. Lyon also went close later on when Danielle van de Donk’s shot was deflected wide.

But it was Chelsea who may live to regret not taking their further opportunities. Reiten shot wide after a clever lay-off from Kerr in the box before James lifted a cutting pass over to the Australian striker. With the angle closing, Kerr fired wide and Chelsea settled for a one-goal lead to take back to London. If the rest of Europe hasn’t already sat up to take notice, then certainly will if Hayes’ side can finish their task next Thursday.

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