Gareth Taylor maintains his team are good enough to win the Champions League and, on this evidence at least, it is difficult to disbelieve the Manchester City manager. Chloe Kelly’s vibrantly incisive wing play thoroughly unhinged the Italian visitors who were second best to an irrepressible City in every department and cannot be looking forward to the second leg in Florence next Thursday.
Even Taylor, something of a perfectionist, appeared quietly delighted – and with Kelly in particular. “Chloe’s a real street fighter,” he said. “She doesn’t get bullied off the ball and I love that about her. There’s still a lot of room for improvement but Chloe’s very coachable and a real team player so there’s no limit to how far she can go.”
By half-time Antonio Cincotta, Fiorentina’s coach, looked a study in introspection – and small wonder. His side, fifth in Serie A, were fortunate to be only two goals down and could find no answers to Kelly’s right-wing excellence.
A characteristically stellar Kelly cross prefaced the opening goal after two minutes. With Greta Adami apparently helpless in the face of Kelly’s advance down the right, the winger’s delivery was met by the onrushing Lauren Hemp, who headed beyond Katja Schroffenegger.
Two minutes later another cross, from the left this time and at the end of a wonderfully fluent one-touch passing sequence, undid Fiorentina once more. Turning provider, Hemp picked out Ellen White and the England striker’s adroit first-time shot, lashed into the roof of the net from six yards, doubled City’s lead. It was White’s fifth goal in five games.
To say Taylor’s side were dominant would be an understatement and, as their hosts monopolised more than 70% of possession, Fiorentina at times resorted to some brazen attempts to win phantom free-kicks. At one point, with no City marker in touching distance, Daniela Sabatino collapsed as if she had been shot.
Fiorentina had crumbled in the course of a 6-0 aggregate defeat against Arsenal in this competition last season and, despite some superbly defiant goalkeeping on Schroffenegger’s part, their hopes of reaching a first quarter-final seemed to be fading by the minute.
Admittedly Cincotta’s introduction of Scotland’s Lana Clelland at the start of the second half in place of Sara Baldi – injured in a clash with Steph Houghton – improved the Italian side, with Clelland swiftly creating a decent chance curled wide by Frederikke Thøgersen. Overall, though, Fiorentina appeared to have retreated into damage limitation mode and looked reasonably content to pack their defence and simply avoid too many more concessions.
Perhaps noting that City’s passing rhythm was being disrupted by such spoiling tactics, Taylor liberated two United States World Cup winners from the bench in Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis. The former imposed herself as a dominant creative force but it was the latter who scored the third goal. In the 89th minute another defence-bisecting Kelly cross found the American at the far post and Mewis’s header did the rest.