If you wanted drama on Tuesday evening in the UEFA Women's Champions League---Paris was not the place to be. While Chelsea Women's former star attacker Pernille Harder saw her European season come to a screeching halt, the Blues cruised to another win in Group D, finishing the six group stage matches on 14 points. It was another step taken toward sending Emma Hayes off in the most "Hollywood" way possible.
As we've said before here at the PoL, taking down Paris FC on its home turf in this competition isn't for everyone. You know who were talking to. Thanks to three headed goals, two of which were set up by the left-foot of Jelena Cankovic herself and an easy finish by Guro Reiten, the west Londoners put an end to Paris' storybook run. Hayes praised her team's ability to finish the task last night.
"It showed a maturity. We were clinical, we had six chances and scored four goals," Hayes said. "There were young players who've not had a lot of minutes in the Champions League and it just shows you what quality we've got in our squad to be able to put in a performance like that."
Hayes unsurprisingly made nine changes from the three-goal triumph over Brighton and Hove Albion. Kadeisha Buchanan and Maren Mjelde made up the center back duo while one of the club's own, Aggie Beever-Jones slotted in for her first UWCL start on the left flank. The most encouraging thing about the lineup was seeing Cankovic back in the there acting as a conductor in the midfield after months out of the team.
Sophie Ingle acknowledged it before the match---PFC had a lot to play for despite it being reliant on the other match in Madrid. Sandrine Soubeyrand's team, by no means rolled over. It just didn't have the quality to match the four-time defending English champions. If you're not going to take your chances, sides with as much class as CFCW have the ability to punish you.
Quarterfinals, here we come. The draw for the next round will be on February 6 with the first leg not being until March 19 or 20. The Blues cannot draw Barcelona, Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain, or BK Hacken, for obvious reasons. Similar to last season's thriller against the French juggernauts, the west Londoners will head on the road for the first leg before returning to the SW6 for the second 90 minutes. Prior to thinking about that potential next opponent, here are our takeaways from a peaceful night under the Paris sky.
3 takeaways from another four-goal performance against this season's Champions League darlings, Paris FC
3. "The Architect" Jelena Cankovic makes her mark in a return to the starting XI
This was a real treat. Anyone who watched Chelsea last season knows the quality that oozes out of Cankovic's boots. It's world class stuff. The last time we saw her step between the white lines was back on November 12 against Everton. Transfer rumors a few weeks ago made her future at the club cloudy out of nowhere.
Luckly, for all of us, No. 28 looks like she's staying. In her return, "The Architect" as she otherwise known as amassed two assists and executed seven passes into the final third. Cankovic's second dime of the evening that ended up in the back of the net via a Mia Fishel header was pure brilliance. The Serbian received a pass from ABJ, faked Julie Soyer out with a cross before coming inside the 18-yard box to deposit a goal creating action.
Who knows how much time she'll get the rest of the way, but what we do know is that No. 28 is impactful more often than not when given the nod. With Jessie Fleming out the door, it'll give her one less player to compete with in the middle of the park. This display, while not perfect reminded everyone of that cutting edge in vital areas.
2. Chelsea produced one of the most efficient performances this season with the opposition having all to play for
Four goals on a 1.1 expected goals. Six shots. Four on target. Four rippled the back of the net. If this was the men's team, it would have been in your dreams. Similar to at Everton and Bristol City earlier in the WSL campaign, there were no wasted opportunities. First shot...goal. Second shot...goal. This was all done with Chiamaka Nnadozie in net, a player who was coming off a stunning display last time out against BK Hacken in which she saved a penalty to earn a clean sheet.
The last time the west Londoners scored four or more goals in the WSL or UWCL on an xG under 1.5 was that title clinching victory over Manchester United in 2022. Sure, you can blame the defense for some mistakes, especially when it came to the third goal, but someone still has to finish. Hayes gave all the credit to her players for the shift they put in.
"The leadership at the back was excellent. We took our moments when they came. When you make lots of changes you never know but I believe in our training environment."
1. Paris FC was unable to put away what it created, seemingly running out of "magic"
Even with the lead essentially belonging to the away outfit for the entire game, Paris still managed to find itself in dangerous areas of the pitch. Three different PFC players were able to get off three shots last night. The problem was---only Mathilde Bourdieu managed to test the Blues' Swedish goalkeeper. Julie Dufour was the one who missed the really big chance for the home side throughout the 90 minutes. No. 11 in navy blue had the goal at her mercy, lacing her shot over the bar from just a few yards out. Her dejected reaction summed up the night for the home outfit.
You can point to Mjelde and Buchanan's inexperience playing with each other as a cause, but really, it was Paris' hunger. In a match where the club's European season was on the line, the team put itself in positions to succeed in the attacking third. In short, PFC simply ran out of "magic." For the football fans around the world, it was fun while it lasted. The run by Soubeyrand's crew into the final day of the group stages of the Champions League will be remembered fondly.
Chelsea Women return to the confides of Kingsmeadow for the first fixture of February on Sunday evening against an out of form Everton team.