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James dazzles as Chelsea put one foot in UWCL semi-finals.

James dazzles as Chelsea put one foot in UWCL semi-finals.

Chelsea have one foot in the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals after beating Ajax 3-0 in what was eventually a comfortable victory in the first leg of their quarter-final on Tuesday. The Dutch side started well but sloppiness at the back allowed Lauren James to put the Blues ahead with less than 20 minutes on the clock and the champions of England were never going to let their lead slip from there.

Chasity Grant gave Chelsea an early scare when she struck the post but as bright as Ajax looked going forward, they were anything but at the back for the goal that broke the deadlock. As James pounced on a ball that had ricocheted off a defender, the home side completed stopped and allowed the England star to find the back of the net. A lengthy VAR check confirmed that she was indeed offside and the Blues had their lead.

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Ajax seemed somewhat disheartened by the goal and their level dropped off, allowing Chelsea to take control. Chances flowed towards the end of the first half and almost immediately after Guro Reiten had a goal controversially ruled out by VAR, Kadeisha Buchanan’s cheeky Cruyff turn, at the Johan Cruyff Arena off all places, created the space for her to find Reiten, who in turn set up Sjoeke Nusken to double the Blues’ advantage.

The onus was on the Dutch side in the second half then, but they struggled to carve out any notable chances and the Blues thrived on the counter, Nusken eventually, surely, killing the tie off when she converted Catarina Macario’s brilliant cross late on. Emma Hayes’ side are in full control ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge next week.

EPRODITY rates Chelsea’s players from the Johan Cruyff Arena…

Goalkeeper & Defence

Hannah Hampton (6/10):

A first-half error nearly gifted Ajax an equaliser but she was fine after that and stood up to any danger that came her way.

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Eve Perisset (7/10):

Set pieces were great. Allowed little threat down her side.

Jess Carter (7/10):

A couple of questionable decisions in the early stages of the game but improved as it went on. Composed on the ball.

Kadeisha Buchanan (7/10):

Also got better after a shaky start, a lovely turn and pass setting Reiten free to tee up Nusken to double the lead.

Niamh Charles (6/10):

Solid at the back but didn’t get involved as much as usual going forward.

Midfield

Melanie Leupolz (7/10):

Fantastic in possession and won plenty of duels.

Erin Cuthbert (7/10):

Battled well in midfield, was great on the ball and took up good positions in the final third. Probably should’ve scored.

Sjoeke Nusken (8/10):

Superb in a free-roaming role which saw her occupy the Ajax centre-backs at times. Scored two and could’ve even had a couple more. Great movement.

Attack

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (7/10):

A constant threat out wide with her desire to run at players and create something.

Lauren James (8/10):

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Was the only one on her toes for the opening goal and put in a super cross for Chelsea to double their lead. Pressed brilliantly.

Guro Reiten (7/10):

Should’ve had a goal but for a contentious offside. Got a great assist moments later, though. Also played her part in the effectiveness of the press.

Subs & Manager

Ashley Lawrence (7/10):

On for the final 15 minutes or so and was lively in a more advanced role than usual. Played her part in the third goal.

Catarina Macario (7/10):

Almost scored with her first touch, but Lawrence’s cross was just too high. Got an assist before the game was done though, her superb cross met by Nusken.

Jelena Cankovic (N/A):

Only on for the final few minutes.

Aggie Beever-Jones (N/A):

Only on for the final few minutes.

Emma Hayes (8/10):

Plan to press Ajax high was effective and well executed by her players. The free role for James and Nusken’s instructions to fill that No.9 space was a great combination, too.

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