Chelsea boss Emma Hayes believes her side has simply lived up to expectations by securing passage to the Champions League semi-finals after a 1-1 draw with Ajax at Stamford Bridge.

Mayra Ramirez opened the scoring 33 minutes into in the first half of her Champions League debut and, while Chasity Grant netted a second-half consolation for the visitors, the Blues ultimately booked their place in the final four with a comfortable 4-1 aggregate victory.

The Blues, who progressed to the semi-finals for the fifth time in seven seasons, will face the winners of the last-eight clash between holders Barcelona and Norwegian side Brann, who play their second leg on Thursday.

Hayes said: “If you look at our record in the Champions League, even in the last five years, it was only once we didn’t qualify from the group. We’ve made the latter stages every year.

“We expect to be here, I should say that. I don’t make any excuses. We should be at this level, and we should be at the semi-finals. Of course we have a little bit more depth to be able to do things like make six changes tonight than we’ve ever had.

“But we haven’t won anything. We’re in the place we want to be. I don’t know who the opponent will be, but we’re ready.”

The Champions League trophy is the one that still eludes Hayes, who has secured 13 major titles in her 12-year run at the Blues’ helm that will conclude when she departs at the end of this season to take over the US women’s national team ahead of this summer’s Olympics.

The now five-time semi-finalists came closest when they reached a maiden final in 2021, ultimately finishing runners-up in a 4-0 loss to Barcelona, the same side who knocked them out with a 2-1 victory on aggregate in last season’s semi-finals.

This time around Hayes feels Chelsea have “more attacking options, more variety, a little more experience”.

“We’ve been in the latter stages so many times, we know where we have to be to play in those sorts of games,” Hayes added.

Ajax captain Sherida Spitse, whose side were just the second Dutch club to reach the last eight in Women’s Champions League history, insisted she and her team-mates will walk away from the competition with their heads held high.

She said: “I think we can be really proud of each other. Of course you always want to win, you always want to go through, but in the end we have shown who Ajax are and that we have developed in a good way, especially in the games in the Champions League.

“We have to be here every year because I think that is the best place to be.”

Chelsea reached the Champions League semi-finals for the fifth time in their history after a 1-1 draw with Ajax at Stamford Bridge secured a comfortable 4-1 aggregate victory.

The Blues entered the evening already 3-0 ahead from their first-leg victory in Amsterdam and further eased any tension when Mayra Ramirez netted her first Champions League goal to open the scoring after 33 minutes in west London.

It came after a nervy start for the hosts, who narrowly avoided conceding from a first-half mishap before Chasity Grant drew Ajax level with one of few chances after the break.

Chelsea will face the winners of the last-eight clash between holders Barcelona and Norwegian side Brann, who play their quarter-final second leg tomorrow night.

Emma Hayes made seven changes from the side that beat West Ham in the Women’s Super League on Sunday, while 16-year-old Ajax midfielder Lily Yohannes, called up to the US women’s national team on Tuesday, served a suspension after picking up her third yellow card of the competition in the first leg.

Ajax captain Sherida Spitse nodded onto the roof of Zecira Musovic’s net from a short corner at the beginning of the first half.

Erin Cuthbert, wearing the captain’s armband for the hosts, skimmed the edge of the post with an effort, before Ashley Lawrence made perhaps the wrong decision when she might have had a shot of her own, instead unable to find the sliding Aggie Beever-Jones with a cross.

There were also missed opportunities for Ajax. First Romee Leuchter dragged an effort wide before the Blues survived a nervy incident when Musovic crashed her clearance against Tiny Hoekstra and gratefully watched as it rolled inches wide.

Chelsea had multiple chances to do it sooner but finally opened the scoring in the 33rd minute when Guro Reiten slipped Ramirez through and the Colombian obliged with a low finish through the legs of crouching Ajax keeper Regina van Eijk.

Jonna van de Velde looked to level, firing just over, and while Chelsea enjoyed a surge of chances before the break it was Ajax who looked most likely to score when Leuchter sent an effort across the face of goal on the stroke of half-time.

Leuchter threatened again, forcing Musovic into a low save after the restart, one of the only chances for either side until Hoekstra played through Grant, who drew the sides level when she fooled Musovic with a low finish in the 65th minute.

It took a brilliant block from Musovic to claw away another Leuchter effort and Ajax kept the Chelsea keeper busy to the end.

Musovic denied substitute Danique Tolhoek’s attempt as the Blues – who had their own late chances – secured safe passage to the final four. 

Chelsea broke the Women’s Super League transfer record even as their men’s team sat out the January window.

While Premier League spending was down across the board to a combined £100m over the month, compared to last year’s record £815m as estimated by finance company Deloitte, an increasingly active WSL market peaked with the Blues’ move for Colombia forward Mayra Ramirez.

An initial 450,000 euros (£384,000), as stated by selling club Levante, is the English top flight’s highest ever fee – with add-ons worth 50,000 euros (£42,600) making it a potential world record in the women’s game.

Ramirez was recruited to cover for Sam Kerr’s expected season-long ACL absence while Manchester City replaced the similarly injured Jill Roord with Aston Villa’s Laura Blindkilde Brown.

With WSL sides increasingly following the lead of the men’s game in turning to the transfer market in response to injuries, Calum Ross, assistant director in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, told the PA news agency: “Player trading is a key part of any club’s business model, whether that’s in the women’s game or the men’s game.

“Obviously at the moment the values that we’re looking at are a lot more modest in the women’s game but we’d expect to see that growing in line with revenue.

“They’re all positive changes for the women’s game and it’s exciting to see that, and hopefully it does deliver the growth that it really deserves and is capable of.”

After lavish spending in recent windows, Chelsea were one of five men’s Premier League sides not to make a single January addition along with Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United.

The slowdown has been attributed to the threat of sanctions under the league’s profit and sustainability rules, with the Toffees already docked 10 points this season – though spending over the full season still hit £2.4bn, second only to last season’s £2.7bn.

Ross said: “I think compliance with financial regulations is a key part of it.

“We’ve obviously seen the Premier League’s response to breaches of their regulations, which is heightening clubs’ awareness to comply, and it’s the first year of UEFA’s new squad cost rules for clubs participating in UEFA competitions.

“There’s other reasons as well. In the summer we saw transfers like (Jude) Bellingham, (Declan) Rice, (Harry) Kane, which then create that domino effect across the market. We’re probably seeing a moment to pause and reset after they’ve done a lot of that business in the summer.”

Only £30m was spent on deadline day on permanent moves into the Premier League, the majority of that money heading into the Sky Bet Championship as Crystal Palace signed Adam Wharton from Blackburn and Aston Villa brought in Middlesbrough’s Morgan Rogers. Radu Dragusin’s move to Tottenham for a reported £26.7m on January 11 remained the biggest of the month.

For the first time since the Chinese Super League boom of 2019, the Premier League was not the biggest global spender as Ligue 1 clubs in France splashed out 190m euros (£162m) and Brazil’s Serie A over £123m.

The Saudi Pro League was not in that bracket, spending barely £20m after its headline-making summer splurge had echoed that previously seen in China.

Jordan Henderson returned to Europe with Ajax after six months at Al-Ettifaq and other high-profile signings expressed discontent, but Ross said: “I don’t think the bubble’s starting to burst. I think it’s a similar story (to the Premier League) – they’ve invested heavily in the summer and there’s an opportunity in this window to reflect and reset.

“I certainly expect to see them back in the market in the summer, whether that’s to the same levels that we saw this summer is to be seen. It does seem there are strong business plans behind the Saudi Pro League but there obviously is a need for them to prioritise financial sustainability over the long term.”

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