Vlasnia 0 Chelsea 4
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes says the strength in depth in her squad means her players give her “earaches” every week with their pleas to be part of the starting line-up, and while she may not necessarily mean it literally, the quality of so-called The ‘squad players’ at her disposal were demonstrated loud and clear on Friday as they eased past Albania’s Vllaznia with a 4-0 win to book a place in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals.
In particular, two of Chelsea’s summer signings – Serbian midfielder Jelena Cankovic, who provided two assists – and Czech midfielder Katerina Svitkova, who headed in the third goal – made the most of their latest chance in Europe as they both continue to look increasingly at home in Hayes’ team, after adjustment periods.
Cankovic, who arrived from Rosengard on a three-year deal in August, enjoyed one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt so far and Hayes said: “She came into the club and picked up and got injured quite early on and then got another injury. and it hasn’t been until the last couple of weeks that she’s been ready to start from scratch because we wanted to get a bank of training minutes behind her, but she’s providing something different in terms of her ability to dictate the game.
“And also her last pass, I think, offers something different. And when you lose a player like Ji (So-yun), it’s really hard to replicate, but Jele (Cankovic) has come into the team and I think , she just wants to keep growing into the side. She also has a massive goal threat and I think tonight is just the beginning for her.”
Chelsea joined Arsenal to reach the quarter-finals of this season’s competition and, in truth, ever since Hayes’ side hammered Vllaznia 8-0 in London in October’s reverse fixture, Friday’s game was likely to be a question of ‘how many?’ There was never any doubt about the outcome. The English side were dominant, as expected, on Friday with 18 corners to Vllaznia’s one, 10 shots on target to their hosts’ none and 70 percent of possession.
The youthful Vllaznia – whose oldest player was 28 and the majority of whom were 21 or under – offered virtually no attacking threat at all, but their defense was vastly improved from the reverse fixture. Nevertheless, they have not picked up any points in this group and, unsurprisingly, Wales’ Sophie Ingle slotted in an early opener after good work by Guro Reiten and a quickly taken set-piece allowed Fran Kirby to score Chelsea’s second, in a moment when Vllaznia did not seem to be ready for the free kick.
Chelsea were forced to wait for their third and fourth goals, but eventually came through with Svitkova’s near-post header from Cankovic’s fine cross, before Maren Mjelde sent the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot in second-half stoppage time as Chelsea claimed a 13th win from 15 away games in this period.
Hayes praised former West Ham United star Svitkova for her valuable work ethic, adding: “It’s tough, I get more earaches on a weekly basis because of the depth and the size of the squad, we have so many quality players. But credit to the whole dressing room – they joins, they train hard and I don’t mind them knocking on my door asking what they have to do to make the team as long as that application keeps happening.
“And Katerina is someone who really puts it into practice on the training pitch. She is so diligent, hard-working and also patient, which you have to be for any new player coming into this team because we have so much quality.”
Arsenal also mathematically secured their progression to the last eight from Group C on Thursday, despite losing 1-0 to defending champions Lyon, meaning England’s top flight will have two representatives in February’s draw for March’s quarter-finals.
Match details and brands
Vladivostok (4-2-3-1) Williams-Mosier 6; Popovic 5 (Davidson 6, 45), Gjergji 6, Maliqi 6, Gjini 6; Ramadan 5 (Vuksani 6, 89), Franja 5; Doci 5, Shala 6 (Boric 6, 45), Cavanaugh 5 (Kodra 6, 81); Lufo 5.
Deputies Raxhimi (gk), Rexhepi (gk), Curraj, Piranaj, G Berisha, Saranovic, Panayiotou, Bashka.
Booked Popovic, George.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Musovic 6; Perisset 6, Buchanan 7 (Mjelde 6, 64), Nouwen 7, Charles 6 (Carter 6, 75); Fleming 7, Ingle 7 (James 7, 65), Cankovic 8; Kirby 7 (Rytting Kaneryd 6, 75), Kerr 6, Reiten 7 (Svitkova 7, 64).
Deputies Berger (gk), Orman (gk), Bright, England, Eriksson, Cuthbert.
Judging Karoline Wacker (Germany).