Chelsea rescued a point against Real Madrid but could not get the win needed to confirm the team’s progression to the Champions League knockout stage with two games to play. Guro Reiten’s second-half penalty, which went in off the back of Real’s goalkeeper, Misa Rodríguez, cancelled out a mistake by Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Ann-Katrin Berger, who gifted the ball to the Scotland midfielder Caroline Weir for the opener in the sides’ 1-1 draw.
Emma Hayes called it “a point gained” after a “team performance [that] was as bad as I’ve seen us.” The London side remain top of Group A, three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain and five ahead of Real, with a trip to Albania to face the minnows Vllaznia next before they welcome PSG to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea made four changes to the side that demolished Leicester City 8-0 on Sunday, with Ève Périsset, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Fran Kirby and Niamh Charles all shifted to the bench in favour of Jess Carter, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin Cuthbert and Lauren James, who all returned to the starting XI.
For the Real Madrid manager, Alberto Toril, there were two changes to the team that beat Levante Las Planas, with the midfielder Sandie Toletti and captain, Ivana Andrés, back. Emma Hayes said the Champions League “is the goal every year” before the game and said her side needed to “focus on our experience and what we’ve done in the competition. We weren’t this time last year.”
Last year Chelsea failed to escape the group stage having finished tournament runners-up the previous season. This time they have dominated Group A with three wins from three games. In the reverse fixture at Kingsmeadow, goals from Sophie Ingle and Cuthbert gave the Blues a comfortable win.
Perhaps the pressure of being on the verge of assuring progression got to Chelsea as a calamitous mistake from Berger allowed Las Blancas to take a shock first-half lead. Berger collected a backpass and played it straight to the feet of the former Manchester City midfielder Weir, who fired into the unguarded net.
Chances for Hayes’s side were few and far between but Sam Kerr hit the woodwork twice in the first half.
There were two changes for the visiting team at the break at the Alfredo di Stéfano Stadium, with Kirby and Charles on in place of the captain, Magda Eriksson, who was engaged in a feisty first-half battle with Athenea del Castillo, and Jessie Fleming, to boost Chelsea’s attacking options.
“I was forced to make two changes and to be honest anyone could have come off,” said Hayes. “At 1-0 down I wasn’t going to wait – and the team know that.”
If there was a degree of misfortune in the goal they conceded, then there was a dose of good fortune in the leveller, which marked a shift in the game’s momentum. A ball over the top was latched on to by Reiten, who was brought down by Andrés just inside the box. The Norwegian forward got up to take the spot-kick and her effort came off the post, but was deflected over the line off the back of Rodríguez, who had dived the right way.
Chelsea pushed for the winner that would have put them through while Real sought to ease the pressure on next week’s tough trip to Paris. There was a chance for some redemption for Berger late on, with the goalkeeper coming out to block the effort of Olga Carmona after the full-back was played clean through on the left.
Kerr was denied in stunning style late on by Rodríguez after she was released by Reiten. Progression to the next round is very much in Chelsea’s hands but they will have to wait for it to be confirmed.
“It’s a great place to be in,” said Hayes. “I always knew this would be a difficult place to come and the size of the pitch makes it difficult. I don’t think you’re going to sail through winning every game.”