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Macario scores on debut as Chelsea go top of WSL with big win at Leicester

Catarina Macario scored on her Chelsea debut as Emma Hayes’ side moved back to the top of the Women’s Super League table with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

After wins for Manchester City and Arsenal earlier in the weekend, Chelsea knew anything but a win could derail their title hopes in Emma Hayes’ last season at the club.

However, goals in the first half from Nathalie Bjorn (38) and Mayra Ramirez (44) put the Blues in firm control of the game, despite Leicester causing them a few problems in the opening 45 minutes.

Chelsea added a third in the 38th minute through Johanna Rytting Kaneryd before Hayes rung the changes with the game safe.

Fran Kirby returned from injury, while Macario came on to make first Chelsea debut after 20 months on the sidelines with an ACL injury, and she marked the occasion with a goal to round off what proved to be a perfect night.

Victory sees Chelsea restore their three-point gap on third-placed Arsenal, who beat Spurs earlier in the day, while the Blues move level on points with Manchester City, but above them at the top of the standings on goal difference.

‘Chelsea back where Hayes wants them’ | ‘Season-defining period coming up for Chelsea’

Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:

“It’s a brilliant weekend for Chelsea.

“They are back on top and that is where Emma Hayes will want to be, especially as the focus now turns to cup football for a little while.

“They have a League Cup semi-final, the FA Cup, the crucial game in the WSL with Arsenal before the Champions league returns. It’s a huge coupled of weeks coming up for Chelsea.

“This is a massive period for Chelsea coming up. It is season-defining.

“So, to get three points, scoring four goals, debut goals and getting players minutes on the pitch, Hayes will be delighted.”

CHelsea fixtures

How Chelsea cruised past Leicester to go top…

Catarina MAcario
Image: Catarina Macario scored on her Chelsea debut after 20 months out with ACL injury

Chelsea almost made the perfect start. Rytting Kaneryd slid the ball across to Guro Reiten, and she nearly grabbed an opener within the first 10 seconds, but goalkeeper Lize Kop managed to bundle the ball behind.

Jelena Cankovic then saw a header cleared away from goal by Josie Green before Leicester started to grow into the game.

Jutta Rantala’s strike flew straight into the hands of Hannah Hampton and moments later the Finland international was denied by Hampton again. The rebound fell to Yuko Momiki, who failed to hit the target from around 10 yards.

Leicester were causing Chelsea problems but all that good work was undone in the 38th minute. Willie Kirk’s side had ample opportunity to clear their lines from a corner, but with the ball bouncing around the penalty area, Bjorn hooked the ball over Kop and defender Green to find the far corner.

The lead was doubled six minutes later. Ramirez passed Julie Thibaud and into the Leicester half. She showed pace, power and composure, rounding Kop and finding the empty net with a calm finish to put Chelsea in full control.

After the break, Chelsea further stretched their lead.

Rytting Kaneryd found plenty of space to run into before her shot took a heavy deflection off Janice Cayman and past Kop for Chelsea’s third.

With Chelsea’s rammed schedule in mind, Hayes turned to her bench with Kirby fit enough to return to action, but the story of the night was a Chelsea debut for Macario, who signed for the club in July while still recovering from her injury picked up playing for Lyon in 2022.

She had 20 months in total out of action with an ACL injury but she proved to be the story of the night as she fired a strike past Kop to make the smiles on Chelsea’s faces even bigger.

‘Playing again a dream come true’

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Catarina Macario looks back on her ACL journey as she finally makes her return to football and says what it means to her to score on her Chelsea debut

Chelsea striker Catarina Macario to Sky Sports:

“That was really fun. Finally, I’m able to be back on the pitch and it was a dream come true, not only to be back from injury, but to play for Chelsea for the first time.

On her recovery from injury: “Obviously there’s so much you can control, considering I’ve been out for 21 months, I’ve been able to focus on what makes Cat the person happy and what makes me happy as a player and make me perform better. Chelsea have supported me a lot, my team-mates have been tremendous and I’m super lucky to have them.”

On Hayes’ support: “Emma has been tremendous, she’s been so supportive through this time, not pressuring me to come back. No one wants to come into a club being injured. I couldn’t ask for a better manager. I attribute the success to her.”

On being welcomed back for club and country by Hayes: “She did, she said how lucky Chelsea and the United States are to have me back. Hopefully, I can make an impact for both teams.”

‘A special moment for Macario’

Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:

“I’ve got a smile from ear to ear and I’ve never met Catarina Macario.

“From her journey of 20 months and to come to just be on the pitch, what an achievement.

“Also, for a new player, to see that reaction from the rest of the squad, she must be very special to that group of players.

“It’s her moment.

“When you are out for that long there are so many low moments, but to come back onto that pitch and get a goal, it’s special.”

Hayes to Chelsea fans: ‘I’m leaving you a superb player’

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Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes reflects on her side’s confident win over Leicester and shows her delight as Catarina Macario scores on her debut

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes on Macario to Sky Sports:

“She hasn’t played football for more than 600 days, she came to Chelsea not fit to play.

“For her to get this moment, I’m so immensely proud. She showed her quality, she’s a super footballer and just what we need coming into the run-in. We’re super proud.

“I love her to bits, she’s a great human.

“I knew bringing her to Chelsea we’d have to go backwards before going forwards.

“To the Chelsea fans, I’m leaving you a superb player, she’s a world-class striker for a long term.”

The goals…

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Nathalie Bjorn hooks it into the Leicester goal to put Chelsea 1-0 ahead at the King Power Stadium

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Mayra Ramirez outmuscles Julie Thibaud and gets her first WSL goal in style to put Chelsea 2-0 up at half-time

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Johanna Rytting Kaneyrd shows off some fantastic footwork before her shot deflects off Janice Cayman and gives Chelsea their third

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Catarina Macario has the debut of dreams as she scores the fourth for Chelsea against Leicester

What’s next?

Chelsea travel to Man City on Thursday for a League Cup semi-final clash; kick-off 7.15pm.

Their busy schedule continues after that with an FA Cup quarter-final at Everton on Sunday March 10 (kick-off 1pm), before a crucial home clash against Arsenal in WSL, live on Sky Sports on Friday March 15; kick-off 7pm.

Leicester are also in FA Cup quarter-final action. They travel to Liverpool on Saturday; kick-off 12pm.

Kirk’s side are back in WSL action on Sunday March 17 with a trip to Tottenham; kick-off 2pm.

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