Chelsea will play Ajax in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals, with defending champions Barcelona potential opponents in the semis.

Emma Hayes’ side will play the first leg of the last-eight tie in the Netherlands on March 19 or 20 before hosting the second the following week.

The winner will then over two legs in April face the victors of the quarter-final between Barca – 3-2 winners against Wolfsburg in the 2022-23 final for their second title – and Norwegian outfit Brann.

Chelsea, whose best run in the competition came when they were runners-up in 2021, losing 4-0 to Barca in the final, are aiming for glory in what is the final season of Hayes’ lengthy tenure before she steps down as boss to take charge of the United States national team.

The Blues were unbeaten as they topped Group D, which also featured Hacken, Paris FC and Real Madrid, while Ajax were second in Group C.

The other quarter-finals see record eight-time champions Lyon face Benfica and Paris St Germain take on Hacken.

The final is set to take place at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames on May 25.

A much-changed Chelsea side eased to victory at Paris FC to end their Women’s Champions League group stage undefeated.

First-half headers from Fran Kirby and Mia Fishel before late efforts from Guro Reiten and Maren Mjelde secured a comfortable 4-0 victory in the French capital for the Blues.

Emma Hayes’ side had already guaranteed themselves a quarter-final spot and she took the opportunity to shuffle her pack.

After an even opening, it was England international Kirby who broke the deadlock with the visitors’ first clear opportunity.

Jelena Cankovic crossed to the back post where Kirby arrived unmarked to head home for her first Champions League goal of the campaign.

The hosts, making their group-stage debut – having knocked Arsenal out earlier in the tournament – responded well as Chelsea goalkeeper Zecira Musovic was forced into a smart save, courtesy of an acute Mathilde Bourdieu.

Paris, though, had not learnt their lesson from Kirby’s opener and were caught out in startlingly-similar fashion later in the half as Cankovic this time crossed for Fishel to head home.

With the hosts needing victory to keep alive their hopes of reaching the last eight, Julie Dufour missed a sitter after the restart, leaning back and firing over the crossbar from close range.

A number of defensive mix-ups allowed Chelsea to wrap up the win as Reiten was the beneficiary, tapping home after miscommunication on the edge of the Paris box.

There was more questionable defending as Mjelde flicked home a corner with goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie poorly positioned.

Chelsea were good value for their win and will be seeded for the quarter-final draw on February 6 – avoiding some of Europe’s big-hitters.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes does not expect her players to be intimidated by a partisan home crowd in Paris in their final Women’s Champions League group match.

Hayes’ side, who secured their place in the knockout stages by beating Real Madrid 2-1 last week to finish top of Group D, face a Paris FC side who can also progress with victory.

Paris must win at the Sebastien Charlety Stadium on Tuesday night and hope Swedish side Hacken fail to beat bottom club Real Madrid.

Hayes told a press conference: “It’s an important game for both of us. We know from the home game the qualities of Paris. We know it’s a game they want to win, but so do we.

“We respect them. It’s their home, we know it will be a big crowd and we’re looking forward to it.

“Playing in front of a crowd is normal for us. We’re used to big numbers, we like to play with a crowd.

“We’ve played in Paris before, albeit at PSG, so we know what the atmosphere is like and the players very much like playing in front of numbers.”

Chelsea, currently top of the Women’s Super League after just one defeat in their first 12 matches, are unbeaten in Group D after three wins and two draws.

They will be bidding to extend their three-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the WSL on Sunday when they face Everton at home, but Hayes is not looking beyond the next challenge in the French capital.

“We respect the competition and the group,” added Hayes, whose side beat Paris 4-1 at home in November. “We know what their threats are. We know particularly the pace they have in the wide areas.

“I also think they’ve got good experience centrally. I think it will be a different game from the game at Stamford Bridge.”

Goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger has remained at home due to injury and Germany midfielder Melanie Leupolz will be rested, but Hayes confirmed she will otherwise be selecting from an unchanged squad.

Emma Hayes admitted Chelsea played a boring game against Real Madrid as a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge ensured progression to the Champions League quarter-finals with a game to spare.

In the first half, Chelsea struggled to find a way through against Real, already eliminated after collecting a single point from their four games.

Chances fell to Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert, both denied by goalkeeper Mylene Chavas, while Mia Fishel put an effort wide of the near post from close range.

It took a clumsy challenge from Real full-back Kenti Robles, bringing down the lively Niamh Charles as she darted into the box, to earn Chelsea the penalty from which Reiten finally broke the deadlock just past the hour.

Substitute Athenea tapped in to level as Real made Chelsea sweat on qualification, leaving them facing two dropped points and an awkward trip to play Paris FC next week needing a result to seal a last-eight berth.

But Cuthbert, wearing the armband with Millie Bright unlikely to be back this side of the international break, took charge and within a minute had forced the winning goal, her cross bouncing in off Chavas as the goalkeeper’s concentration deserted her.

“We expect to go through, that’s a bare minimum,” said Hayes. “We should expect to go through as group winners. That’s already a sign of progress, that we expect those things.

“I didn’t think it was a scintillating performance, I thought it was a boring game. Not every game is swashbuckling and dynamic. I thought it was flat.

“I think it was understandable. We had an amazing performance at the weekend against Manchester United. Our league is really tough and I think it showed in some of the flat play for us. But we controlled the game without maybe doing enough in the final third.

“I brought Lauren (James) on at half-time, I thought that helped. Got the penalty, concede a sloppy goal from back to front, a poor goal.

“Then a really good response to go 2-1 up, then managed the game somewhat to the end in what was an efficient performance, but it was boring.”

Hayes said she looked forward to rotating her side in what will now be a dead rubber in Paris next week.

“Managing a squad of players is tricky when you’re making multiple changes,” she said. “I didn’t want to change much from the weekend, I think you need to build rhythm.

“For us the priority has got to be experimenting, giving opportunities in one of these two games coming up; Brighton (in the Women’s Super League) and Paris.

“It’s making sure we get Millie Bright back, we get Nat Bjorn registered. Maybe there’s a new player coming at some point (reports say a club record deal has been agreed for Colombia international Mayra Ramirez).

“But we’ve got to get ourselves ready. If we want to progress, we’ve got to get better. I think it was comfortable and measured from us.”

Real boss Alberto Toril reflected on a game that got away from his side despite a spirited performance.

“We played with our strengths, we contained them,” he said. “We restricted them. They’re a great team and we’re happy with the performance, even though we’ve lost. Sometimes you learn from the defeats.”

Chelsea advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a game to spare after an own-goal from Real Madrid goalkeeper Mylene Chavas handed them a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge.

Emma Hayes’ side looked to be facing the awkward prospect of requiring a result next week away at Paris FC when Real substitute Athenea del Castillo tapped in on the rebound, reacting quickest after goalkeeper Hannah Hampson had beaten out Hayley Raso’s effort with 20 minutes to play.

A penalty earlier in the second half from Guro Reiten had seemingly put Chelsea en route to the win they required.

But after the visitors had hit back it fell to Erin Cuthbert, wearing the armband with Millie Bright still absent, to lead by example, sending over a cross that bounced in off the unfortunate Real goalkeeper.

Chelsea’s first chance fell to the left foot of Cuthbert, drilled low against the legs of Chavas after Fran Kirby had found her with a deft through ball.

Jess Carter drilled a searching pass to the left flank that was helped on by Niamh Charles, rampaging forward from full-back, into the path of Reiten. She hit an audacious, dipping effort that was just clawed out from underneath the crossbar.

Real threatened through Colombia international Linda Caicedo, tricking her way in behind Kadeisha Buchanan and looking to poke it beyond Hampton from a devilish angle. The goalkeeper, making her Champions League debut, instinctively threw up a strong right hand and beat the ball away.

Reiten set up Cuthbert, who swung and missed her kick with the goal gaping, before the Scotland international and stand-in captain crossed to the near post to present Mia Fishel with seemingly an easy finish, but she could only guide it wide.

Hayes sent on Lauren James, fresh from her weekend hat-trick, at the break as her side searched for the goal that would seal a last-eight berth, whilst the precocious 18-year-old Caicedo, injured during the first half, was withdrawn by Real boss Alberto Toni.

Anything less than a win and qualification for Chelsea would go to the final matchday, a result likely needed away at impressive Champions League debutants Paris, twice conquerors of Real in this season’s competition.

The goal to radically alter that equation arrived just past the hour. Melanie Leupolz’s pass split Real’s defence and ran through to Cuthbert, arch-tormentor of her opposite number Kenti Robles.

The full-back’s challenge was a mess, scything Cuthbert to the ground. From the spot, Reiten put one Chelsea foot in the quarter-finals.

James looked to seal it with a goal all of her own making, cutting in from the right and standing up two defenders before racing beyond them and clipping a shot towards the near post that was brilliantly deflected away by Chavas.

Then all of a sudden, Chelsea switched off. There seemed little on for Real when the ball was pinged up to Raso, high up on the right of the box but with Charles in her path and only Athenea to aim for.

Instead she looked to do it herself, blasting low at goal, her shot beaten out by Hampson but into the path of the substitute who tapped home.

Fortune smiled on Hayes’ team almost at once, their lead restored within a minute when Chavas lost concentration at the critical moment and fumbled Cuthbert’s cross over her own line.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes warned that Real Madrid will “fear nothing” when the two sides meet in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The Blues can secure qualification for the quarter-finals of the competition with a win against Real at Stamford Bridge, having won two and drawn two games already in Group D.

It has been a disappointing campaign for Real, who linger at the bottom of the table and they are unable to qualify for the last eight, but Hayes warned Las Blancas will be playing for their pride on Wednesday.

She told a pre-match press conference: “There’s nothing more dangerous than playing a team who has nothing to play for.

“They will fear nothing, they have their pride on the line and yes they’re playing for three points, but they can’t qualify. I think it’s a dangerous place for us if our mentality is to rule them out of the game and it’s something we won’t be doing.

“(It’s) critical (to win the group), we expect that for ourselves and we’re at home – I think everybody would expect us to be favourites going into the game.

“However it’s Real Madrid, they have a quality squad, a lot of internationals, they did score against us and draw with us in the reverse fixture so we know what we have to do.

“I always say to our players, let’s focus on that and put all our energy into making sure the performance is as good as it can be.”

Madrid’s sole point in the group so far came in a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in their opening game.

It played out in controversial circumstances, with Madrid awarded a penalty for a challenge outside the box before the Blues had a goal chalked off for an apparent offside, and Hayes is hoping for “strong officiating” this time round.

She said: “There was a goal scored legitimately that was an offside and a penalty that wasn’t inside the box.

“Let’s hope for strong officiating, that’s what the girls deserve tomorrow to make sure we’re not on the receiving end of poor official decisions.”

Hayes confirmed there are no new injuries for Chelsea and that midfielder Erin Cuthbert has been given the captain’s armband for the match.

Speaking about the decision, Cuthbert said: “I’ve had (the armband) a couple of times now, but it’s always an honour.

“I think nothing about me changes whether I’ve got the armband on or not, I’m still the same person and will conduct myself the same way.”

Erin Cuthbert’s second-half brace helped Chelsea take control of Group D in the Champions League with a 3-1 win at Hacken.

The two teams had played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last week, which left the Swedish outfit top after three matches, but Emma Hayes’ side were able to finish 2023 with a crucial victory.

Sam Kerr broke the deadlock with her ninth goal of the campaign and, while Clarissa Larisey scored for Hacken to ensure it was 1-1 at half-time, Cuthbert netted twice in the space of 12 minutes after the break.

It ensured the Women’s Super League champions moved into top spot of the group after four matches and hold a one-point advantage over Hacken while Real Madrid, who they will host on January 24, are no longer able to qualify for the knockout stage following a 1-0 loss to third-placed Paris.

Hayes had warned her players there were no excuses despite this being their fourth match in 10 days but they nearly conceded early on at Bravida Arena.

Only four minutes were on the clock when Anna Anvegard hit the crossbar after Larisey’s cross, but Chelsea regrouped and a Lauren James curled effort signalled their intentions.

While Hacken goalkeeper Jennifer Falk was equal to James’ 20-yard strike, she had no answer to the prolific Kerr minutes later.

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd was the architect of the opener after she outmuscled Elma Junttila-Nelhage on the right before she cut back for Kerr, who fired into the roof of the net from close range in the 14th-minute.

It was a much-needed opener for the WSL champions, but they were caught out with 26 minutes on the clock by a slick counter-attack.

Jusu Bah showed great speed out wide and crossed in from the left where Larisey powered home a header.

Chelsea could have retaken the lead before half-time, but Falk pushed wide a firm strike by Sophie Ingle.

It was a different story after the break with Anvegard firing against the woodwork again for the hosts after linking up with Larisey, which proved a crucial moment in the group fixture.

Minutes later and Hayes’ team were back in front when Rytting Kaneryd’s cross was cleared to Ingle, who showed her composure to pick out Cuthbert and the Scotland international rifled into the bottom corner to make it 2-1 after 52 minutes.

It was Cuthbert’s first goal in this season’s Champions League but she doubled her tally again with 64 minutes played.

Kerr’s smart pass sent Cuthbert away and after she fooled Filippa Curmark with a fake shot, the midfielder’s low effort was too powerful for Falk.

Hacken pushed for a response and substitute Molly Johansson found the net in stoppage-time, but it was ruled out for offside and Chelsea earned a crucial three points.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said Lauren James’ mental health has been affected by the latest racist abuse she has received on social media.

James was booked in Chelsea’s 4-1 Women’s Super League defeat at Arsenal on Sunday after appearing to stamp on Lia Walti and was withdrawn by Hayes soon after.

Chelsea have condemned the online abuse, while Hayes compared the treatment of James to that received by David Beckham after his red card during the 1998 World Cup.

James was sent off in the World Cup last summer for stamping in England’s last-16 penalty shoot-out win against Nigeria and was handed a two-game ban.

Hayes, whose side face Hacken in a Champions League group game at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, said: “She’s not in a great place if I’m honest.

“I think when it starts from broadcasting and the way they speak about things, maybe they need to reflect on labelling players.

“She’s a young player. She made an error in the summer. Of course she has to keep learning those things.

“Of course every opponent tries everything possible to get Lauren red-carded. That’s been clear in every game we’ve played and she has to learn to handle that.

“When she gets antagonised in a certain way, managing emotions comes with maturity and that isn’t there yet with her.

“It reminds me very much of David Beckham in many ways when he got red-carded in the World Cup.

“I think the treatment of Lauren is sometimes very similar and I think we have to realise for a young person, in a day and age when social media is unbelievably vitriolic, some of the nasty language and labelling and name-calling goes over the edge.

“And if you add racism to that for her, you can understand why her mental health is not in a very good place this week.”

Hayes said other Women’s Super League players who had “had their own challenging moments” have not received the same criticism as James.

“I think it’s disgusting the amount of abuse she’s received from the public, from the media, you’re talking about a young player here, who no question is always working to learn in the background,” Hayes added.

“Some of the language I’ve seen used to vilify her certainly I think is unacceptable.

“I don’t see the same level of abuse attributed to other players in the league who might have had their own challenging moments.

“It’s fair to say that if I’m in her position I’d be thinking there is racial profiling going on.”

Chelsea, bidding to bounce back from Sunday’s first defeat of the season in all competitions, are still without injured pair Millie Bright and Jelena Cankovic, but Melanie Leupolz will return to the bench.

Swedish side Hacken are top of Group D after victories over Paris and Real Madrid in their first two matches.

Emma Hayes praised “80 per cent fit” Sam Kerr after her hat-trick helped Chelsea to a 4-1 Champions League win against Paris FC at Stamford Bridge.

Kerr has been easing back to fitness after missing most of the World Cup with injury and has made a modest start to the Women’s Super League season with only two goals so far.

But against Paris she ensured her side’s European campaign began in earnest following last week’s controversial draw with Real Madrid, though the result had looked in doubt when the visitors levelled through Thea Greboval’s header before half-time.

That cancelled out Kerr’s opener which she had prodded in on the half-hour mark after getting between goalkeeper and defender to turn home Lauren James’s superb right-footed cross.

She added quick-fire goals early in the second period to put down Paris’ resistance, the first a far-post finish from Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s low ball in before an effort that looped over the head of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.

Sophie Ingle evaded her marker to roll the ball into the corner in stoppage time to add gloss to the scoreline.

And afterwards Hayes revealed she had predicted pre-match that Kerr would finally rediscover her scoring touch against the French side.

“I fancied her to score a hat-trick tonight,” said Hayes. “I said it in the dressing room before the game. She doesn’t get credit for all the other little bits she does.

“By her standards she’s not on top, top (fitness) yet, but I don’t know anyone who puts the ball away like she does. She’s so alert and decisive with her movement. Brilliant centre-forward play.

“If that’s her at 80 per cent, I’ll take that. That’s not bad. I can’t wait for the hundred per cent to come.”

Hayes opted to start with Fran Kirby on the bench with the forward also in the early stages of a return from injury having missed most of last season.

She emerged at the start of the second half to play a crucial role in restoring Chelsea’s lead, playing in Rytting Kaneryd down the right who crossed for Kerr to slide in her second.

“I rate Paris,” said Hayes. “I felt there’s a lot of work you have to do over 90 minutes that might have been too much for Fran. It’s so important we keep her healthy for England and Chelsea.

“Fran wants to play in every moment but I thought that was the perfect cameo for her. The team needs it.

“We were sloppy in the first half. I think the games accumulated caught up on us. People don’t realise how hard it is to keep going.”

Paris coach Sandrine Soubeyrand reflected on a brave performance from her team against a side that many fancy for the Champions League crown.

“I think maybe we lacked a bit of efficiency and clinical nature in front of goal,” she said. “I wanted the players to come and give an account of themselves, not so much thinking about the score.

“We wanted to play, not sit back, and I think we did that. We had opportunities. I think we could have done better on one of the goals (conceded), but we go away with no regrets.”

Chelsea eased to a comfortable 4-1 win against Paris FC as Sam Kerr’s hat-trick helped them to a first Champions League victory of the season.

The result had looked in doubt at half-time after the visitors had stunned Emma Hayes’ side with an equaliser from defender Thea Greboval’s header, wiping out the lead given to last year’s semi-finalists when Kerr turned in Lauren James’ cross.

But two goals early in the second period settled Chelsea nerves and ensured there would be no upset from the tournament debutants at Stamford Bridge. Kerr grabbed her second and third in the space of seven minutes before substitute Sophie Ingle capped the night off in stoppage time to ensure three points after last week’s controversial draw away to Real Madrid.

Chelsea started unusually subdued and allowed Paris to have the better of the first 20 minutes, though neither side mustered much in the way of chances.

The first opening fell to James and it came from a mistake by Greboval at the back for Paris. The defender played a casual, aimless pass out from the edge of the box straight to the feet of Erin Cuthbert, whose quick ball forward was dummied by Kerr and allowed to run on to James.

With the goal at her mercy, Chelsea’s hat-trick hero last time out against Liverpool opened up her right foot and skewed horribly wide of the post.

Yet the England winger soon made amends. On the half-hour mark the ball was worked to her wide on the left by Jess Carter, and with a deft step-over to fox her marker she carried it inside and delivered a curling cross that pitched perfectly between goalkeeper and defender for Kerr to lunge in and prod her side in front.

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd spurned a golden chance to double the lead when she nipped in behind and was denied brilliantly at close range by Chiamaka Nnadozie in the visitors’ goal.

Within minutes Chelsea’s advantage was wiped out and the equaliser was simply worked. Gaetane Thiney’s corner was swept over from the right for Paris, and there rising highest above the grounded Cuthbert from 12 yards was Greboval, her header looping into the air and over the head of Carter whose goalline intervention succeeded only in helping the ball into the roof of the net.

Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger saved her team in the first minute of the second half, flying out at the feet of Mathilde Bourdieu after she had stepped inside Kadeisha Buchanan to make space to shoot.

It turned out to be the moment on which the game turned. Within two minutes, Chelsea’s lead was restored and it was substitute Fran Kirby who began the move.

Picking up the ball wide on the right, she looked up and fed the charging Rytting Kaneryd bursting forward from midfield. Her low cross into the six-yard box evaded the defender by a millimetre, and there stealing in with a poacher’s finish was Kerr to make it 2-1.

Chelsea were out of sight when Kerr completed her hat-trick, Berger’s long, searching kick requiring only two touches from the Australian before she hoisted the ball high over Nnadozie, who may have misjudged its flight as she sought to paw it out from underneath the crossbar.

From there, Paris competed gamely and might have pulled one back late on had Berger not been alert to flip a high shot over the bar with her fingertips.

But Chelsea’s superiority showed. With victory assured, Ingle slid the ball home unmarked from a corner at the death as their bid to send departing boss Hayes out with a Champions League medal began in earnest.

Chelsea captain Millie Bright is likely to miss her side’s Women’s Champions League meeting with Paris FC at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.

Blues manager Emma Hayes confirmed Bright has a knee problem and, although it is not a serious issue, said the 30-year-old will also be a doubt for Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses squad for the upcoming Nations League games against the Netherlands and Scotland in the first week of December.

Bright had knee surgery prior to last summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where she skippered England to second place, before returning to pre-season training at Cobham ahead of the Women’s Super League season.

The defender, who took over as Chelsea skipper from Magdalena Eriksson for the new WSL season, featured in all seven matches as England finished runners-up behind Spain having not played a competitive game for club or country since March.

“I’ve made it clear that having so many games in quick succession, we’re managing our load,” said Hayes. “We wanted to give her a bit of extra time but I think she’s very much in doubt for (Thursday).

“Prior to the World Cup she had surgery on her knee, so preparation going into the World Cup wasn’t ideal. She rushed herself back.

“She’s come back and quickly into the Chelsea season, so perhaps she needed a little bit longer.

“Her knee’s a little bit angry at the minute. It’s not anything too detrimental, we’re just listening to her body and how it’s feeling.

“There’s a strong possibility (of missing the Lionesses’ games).”

Hayes said she is yet to decide whether she will travel to the United States during the international break, following the announcement last week that she is to take over the US national team after standing down as Chelsea coach in May.

But she reiterated her stance that until then she remains committed to helping the club to a fifth straight WSL title and a first Champions League crown.

The team will be looking to get the first win of their European campaign against Paris following the controversial 2-2 draw with Real Madrid last week.

“I’m not watching (the US players), I’m watching my own team,” said Hayes. “That’s the work of the full-time team that are in place. I don’t start working for US Soccer until May.

“Since I’ve been appointed as the coach I’ve had conversations with people. There are full-time people in post in the US and I’ll be there in May. When the opportunity arises I will have conversations. But my full focus is on Chelsea.”

Striker Sam Kerr praised her manager’s impact on the club during her 12-year tenure.

“It’s obviously sad,” she said. “Emma’s a great coach, a great leader and she’s been here for so long. But that’s football.

“Chelsea are very lucky that they’ve had her for as long as they have, but most of us in football are used to these things (managers leaving). We all wish her all the best (with the US).”

Hayes interjected: “Do you mean that?”

“No,” said Australia international Kerr.

Emma Hayes felt her Chelsea side had been “robbed” after they were held 2-2 at Real Madrid in their Champions League opener.

In a contest with no VAR in operation, Real equalised through a 79th-minute Olga Carmona penalty awarded by referee Frida Klarlund for a Jessie Fleming challenge on Athenea del Castillo – which Hayes had no doubt took place outside the box.

The Chelsea manager was also unhappy about Niamh Charles’ finish being disallowed in stoppage time, seemingly for offside, stressing that Charles had been onside and Sam Kerr had not interfered with goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez.

Hayes told reporters in Spain: “I could see from the bench that the tackle (for the penalty decision) was outside the box. So I’m absolutely shocked that those managing the game couldn’t see that.

“Of course maybe Jessie shouldn’t lunge in that area, but it happens clearly outside the box. At this level when you are in control of a game and important decisions like that go against you, it makes it difficult.”

Regarding the stoppage-time incident, she added: “We score a really legitimate goal with Niamh Charles three or four yards onside.

“It is embarrassing. I had to check why it was disallowed. Was it Niamh? No. Was it Sam (Kerr) interfering with the goalkeeper? She was about seven yards away, no way near the keeper.

“I cannot understand the decision whatsoever. I think we’ve been robbed of what was a 3-1 game.

“You can’t (ask the referee for clarity at full-time). You’re not allowed to speak to the officials. Can’t speak to them there (on the pitch), can’t speak about it here (to the media).

“For me I am going to focus on the performance, I can only control that. Everybody saw the decisions, you don’t need me to comment on them any further.”

Real took the lead at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium through a deflected 10th-minute shot from Carmona – scorer of Spain’s winner against England in the summer’s World Cup final – before Chelsea hit back through two headers, Charles equalising in the 41st minute and then setting up Kerr in the 74th.

After Carmona levelled from the spot, Lauren James hit the crossbar before the late disallowed effort as the visitors were unable to secure a winning start to what is to be their final Champions League campaign before Hayes leaves at the end of the season for the United States job.

Hayes said: “I think the performance was well controlled by us, especially away from home in Europe. We had so much more of the ball and it was comfortable.

“(There was) just a tactical adjustment that we had to make (at half-time) – the pivots weren’t carrying out a small detail there. Overall it had to be better in the final third, either the last pass or whatever it might have been.

“I think the team did better with that (in the second half). We hit the bar as well, we should have scored from that. We had chances, so we should be disappointed with ourselves.

“I can’t remember the last time we were in a game like that when two humongous decisions like that have gone against us – that is a lot tonight.”

Wednesday’s earlier game in Group D saw Paris FC – who Chelsea play in their next pool game at Stamford Bridge next Thursday – beaten 2-1 at home by Swedish side BK Hacken.

Chelsea had to settle for a point in their Champions League opener as Olga Carmona’s penalty saw Emma Hayes’ side held 2-2 at Real Madrid.

After Carmona put Real ahead in the 10th minute, the Blues turned things around via two headers either side of the break, Niamh Charles equalising and then setting up Sam Kerr.

But moments later Carmona – scorer of Spain’s winner against England in the summer’s World Cup final – converted from the spot after Jessie Fleming was judged to have fouled Athenea del Castillo in the box.

Chelsea substitute Lauren James rattled the crossbar before Charles controversially had an effort ruled out in stoppage time as the visitors were unable to secure a winning start to their final Champions League campaign before Hayes leaves at the end of the season and becomes United States head coach.

The west London outfit – who have not won this competition among the glut of trophies they have claimed under Hayes, going closest as runners-up in 2021 – return to Women’s Super League action against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before continuing their Group D games by taking on Paris FC at the same ground five days later.

Wednesday’s earlier game in the pool saw Paris FC beaten 2-1 at home by Swedish side BK Hacken.

Real grabbed the lead with the first real effort on goal as Ann-Katrin Berger’s attempted clearance came to Claudia Zornoza and she passed to Carmona, whose strike from 25 yards flew in via a deflection off Chelsea skipper Millie Bright.

While the hosts offered little more in the way of attacking threat for the rest of the first half, Chelsea looked increasingly likely to hit back.

And after Kerr had seen a rising shot well turned behind by Misa Rodriguez just prior to the half-hour mark and Erin Cuthbert fired off-target, the equaliser four minutes before the break when Charles headed in from Ashley Lawrence’s cross.

Further Chelsea pressure in stoppage time included a Cuthbert free-kick going wide off a white shirt and Sjoeke Nusken’s shot being caught by Rodriguez.

The opening stages of the second half saw Rodriguez deal with a Kerr header and do superbly to divert a shot from the same player wide moments later.

Hayes introduced James for Fran Kirby and after Charles blocked a Del Castillo strike, the substitute put a shot into the stand at the other end.

Chelsea got themselves in front with Charles once again involved as her 74th-minute cross was nodded in by Kerr.

But only five minutes later, the score was back level after Fleming made a challenge that started outside the box on Del Castillo, she went down in the area and – with no VAR in operation – referee Frida Klarlund pointed to the spot, with Carmona powerfully dispatching the penalty past Berger.

As Chelsea pushed to regain the lead, Rodriguez produced another good save to deny Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and James sent a wonderful shot crashing against the bar.

The visitors then had the ball in the net again deep in stoppage time through Charles’ finish, but the effort was chalked off – seemingly for offside, although replays showed she had not been – to leave Hayes looking frustrated and Real breathing a sigh of relief.

Emma Hayes admitted it would be a fairytale end to her Chelsea career by lifting the Women’s Champions League for the first time at the end of the season.

Hayes will end her 12-year stay with the west-London club after this campaign.

The Champions League is the one major trophy that has eluded the 47-year-old during that time, with the Blues having lost 4-0 in the 2021 final to Barcelona and reached the semi-finals on three other occasions.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s opening Group D fixture v Real Madrid, Hayes told a press conference: “It would be a fairytale to win it, of course. But I didn’t grow up liking fairytales – my sister did.

“I would love nothing more than to be in a winning position with this team.”

Chelsea beat Real 2-0 at Kingsmeadow last season courtesy of goals from Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert before they drew 1-1 in the Spanish capital.

And Hayes, who highlighted the threat of left-back Olga Carmona, believes the experience of playing Wednesday’s opponents has helped her side’s preparations.

She added: “We have analysed last season’s match and Real Madrid’s other matches, including this weekend’s match (7-1 win v Real Sociedad). We know what to expect.

“I think having been here helps, it’s something familiar, but we don’t underestimate them.

“They have many qualities, but I think they have the best on the extremes. The ability to go upwards, especially on the left with Olga.

“They have players looking for the back and putting balls into the area and they are very good in transition.”

Chelsea captain Millie Bright admitted the news of Hayes’ departure is “devastating”.

She said: “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I was devastated.

“She is a mentor, a coach, a friend, life coach – it’s more than football playing under her. It is the hard part of football. I feel privileged to have played under her for so long.”

Manchester United manager Marc Skinner has clarified his comments around the Champions League qualifying format.

After finishing second in the Women’s Super League last season, United went through the competition’s qualifying rounds and were knocked out at the second hurdle on Wednesday night after being beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Paris St Germain.

Last year’s WSL winners Chelsea earned an automatic group spot, while third-placed Arsenal went into the qualifiers, where they were eliminated by Paris FC in the first round.

Skinner criticised the qualification rules post-match on Wednesday, suggesting it was “crazy” United played PSG in a qualifying round.

However, he moved to clear up his comments in a press conference on Friday, suggesting that the competition could be expanded.

Skinner said: “My comment was much more about the breadth and quality, I believe there is a need for more teams to be in this competition, and then you’ll see who is average and who isn’t.

“Who knows, we might have been average in a group stage, you don’t know that. If there was any offence taken then I’m sorry for that, but that’s not what I meant.

“What I meant, and I’ll be clear on it, was I think there should be a broader scope of teams and there should be more teams in this competition so that we can actually then see where the elite level lies within Europe.

“I still think that’s a bit cloudy because the reality is, if we were playing a team that are from – what people might believe- to be a league that doesn’t have the experience, then we don’t know until we’ve played those, we only ever play those teams in friendlies.

“If you really want the real quality from all of the European leagues to rise, then you’ve got to play them against each other, which I think now other teams are ready for.

“If you enter that stage and are getting through, then congratulations. We’re not there so we can talk about what that looks like, but they are there so congratulations to everyone who’s gone through.”

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