A powerful second-half strike from the Chelsea forward Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz’s penalty saw the Blues pull clear at the top of Group B of the Continental League Cup in a tightly fought contest with Tottenham.
Tottenham and Chelsea were level on points, with a win apiece, but their seasons could not have been more divergent to date. Chelsea have suffered one defeat, to Everton in the rescheduled FA Cup semi-finals, and have dropped only two points in the league, in a draw with Manchester United.
Spurs, meanwhile, had one win from seven games in all competitions, to Championship side London City Lionesses in this tournament, and one point in the league, from their opening-day draw with West Ham.
In south London they would also be without co-manager Karen Hills. She was self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. “We got used to the new technology in lockdown so that was a good preseason for this moment of quarantine, but I miss her, the girls miss her,” said her co-manager Juan Amoros after the match.
The visiting side held their own under a bright low moon at Kingsmeadow. In their last outing, before the international break, Spurs were four goals down to their north London rivals Arsenal by the 36th minute. Here, there was no first-half collapse.
“We played them [Tottenham] in preseason and thumped them 6-1 and there was no way that this was going to go the same way. I thought Tottenham were aggressive, they defended well from the front, they made it difficult for us and it took us a while to find our rhythm,” said the Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes. “When teams are fully professional, it’s not a case of winning games early on, you have to grind teams down.”
Tottenham had the first chance. When the forward Angela Addison was clattered, up stepped the defender Siri Worm and her whipped-in ball ricocheted heavily off the bar before being cleared.
Slowly though, the patient home team crept up the pitch but struggled to carve a path through the resolute Spurs backline. Just before half-time they forced Becky Spencer into her first meaningful save, a slightly slap-dash free-kick eventually found its way to the feet of Millie Bright and her effort was tipped away.
Those on “Alex Morgan watch” could stand down with the World Cup winner absent from Tottenham’s squad. It was expected, with the striker having told the Associated Press that she picked up a knee injury while preparing to return after the birth of her daughter Charlie in April.
“You just can’t replicate all the changes of direction, the amount of decelerations, and that puts a toll on your body, especially my body, that’s just gone through building and creating, growing a human.”
Amoros said he did not expect the striker to be heading back to the US without playing a game. “No, I’m not worried for that. I think she will,” he said with a big grin.
There was some good news for Chelsea fans in the build up with the announcement the tie would be streamed across their app, website and social media channels. The club was criticised by their fans following the 4-1 defeat of Arsenal in their League Cup opener, which was not broadcast.
Spurs did not sit back in the second half and, in the 54th minute, Rihanna Dean nicked the ball and set up the forward Rosella Ayane, who saw Ann-Katrin Berger off her line and sent a sweeping chip goalwards but it spun narrowly wide.
Hayes’s team are used to biding their time and when the Scottish forward Cuthbert picked up the ball in the 70th minute on the edge of Tottenham’s penalty area she blasted a shot at goal. Spencer got two hands to it but could not prevent the powerful shot from rippling the net. Chelsea doubled their lead when a handball resulted in a penalty. Spencer again got her hands behind the ball but she could not keep out Leupolz’s strike.