The UWCL Final is just a day away. Chelsea fans are desperate to see Emma Hayes’s side lift the final piece of silverware that has long eluded them. Moreover, it has been a arduous road to get to Sweden. 8 matches across six months. The Blues have taken on European newcomers, established heavyweights, coupled with even a long-running nemesis. How exactly did Chelsea reach the UWCL Final?
UWCL Round of 32: Chelsea vs Benfica
Again, Chelsea received a relatively kind early UWCL Draw. Although Benfica were all-conquering domestically, this was their first bow in the UWCL. It took just 80 seconds for the Blues to show it was a different ballgame.
It was a historic goal too, as Fran Kirby drew level with Eni Aluko as Top Chelsea FCW goalscorer of all time. Of course, it didn’t take Kirby long to become outright record holder. In addition, goals from Pernille Harder and Millie Bright, as well as England’s second-half strike meant this UWCL tie was over in 90 minutes.
Chelsea rotated heavily for the 2nd leg. In light of the commanding lead, there were chances for players like Drew Spence to rack up her 200th Chelsea appearance. Despite rotating, Chelsea still comfortably dispatched the Eagles again. Beth England’s fortuitous opener, Sam Kerr’s clinical finish and a late goal from Fran Kirby resulted in 3-0 on the night. More impressively, it was a huge aggregate score.
FT: Chelsea 8-0 Benfica (Aggregate)
UWCL Round of 16: Chelsea vs Atlético Madrid
If Chelsea received a kind draw in the previous round, comparatively this was the harshest possible. Although faltereing domestically, Atlético Madrid had proved tough nuts to crack for many teams. They had already given bloody noses to Manchester City twice too.
Missing captain Magda Eriksson for the 1st leg was bad. Going down to ten players and conceding a penalty with barely 12 minutes on the clock? Worse. Fortunately, Ann Katrin-Berger produced a stunning save to deny Los Colcheneros the opener. Chelsea regrouped, defended doggedly and counter-punched brilliantly. Their own 2nd half penalty from Maren Mjelde gave them a priceless lead before Fran Kirby doubled it. Atleti’s sickening night at Kingsmeadow was compounded as AKB saved ANOTHER penalty.
As far as UWCL 2nd legs go, file this one under damp squib. Played in sunny Monza, Chelsea were content to sit back and Atlético barely laid a glove on them. Until a frantic final 15 minutes at least. Atlético won another penalty which this time Toni Duggan missed, before Maren Mjelde dispatched a spot-kick for the Blues to end all hope of recovery. It was an embarrassingly harsh decision on the Atléti defender but our Norwegian stalwart didn’t care. Chelsea’s competition clean sheet was blotted for the first time, however, in injury time as Laurent curled home a consolation.
FT: Chelsea 3-1 Atlético Madrid (Aggregate)
UWCL Quarter Finals: Chelsea vs Wolfsburg
It was always going to happen. Chelsea’s perennial UWCL nemesis: VFL Wolfsburg. The She-Wolves are second only to Lyon for pedigree and prestige in this competition. They are also responsible for so many Chelsea tears.
This year felt different, with both sides viewed as evenly matched. A lot of eyes naturally were on Pernille Harder: world record signing having switched from Green to Blue last summer. Would she be key to unlocking the puzzle to beat the She-Wolves? The tie had another subplot too – both legs played in Budapest due to COVID-19.
The first half was an utter onslaught. Chelsea, paralyzed in fear against their prestigious opponents defended for their lives. AKB was in fine form, but Popp and Rolfo both spurned chances against the post. The former blatantly handballed a disallowed effort into the net. Ewa Pajor saw her bicycle kick cleared off the line. Targeting a perceived weakness down the flanks, Stephan Lerch’s outfit ran riot. At least, on everything but the scoreline.
A chance to regroup her charges provided Emma Hayes with the ideal moment to shift momentum. Chelsea came out with renewed purpose and vigour and counter-punched. A superb piece of interplay between Ji and Kirby saw the latter play in Sam Kerr. The Australian made no mistake with her deadly finish. Wolfsburg, stunned by this, tried to fight-back and AKB made another stunning stop to deny Rolfo’s volley.
However, Wolfsburg committed the cardinal offence: playing out from the back against Chelsea’s press. In the same way Chelsea had done damage to less prestigious opposition this season, they seized initiative. Kirby snatched the ball from Kiedrzynek’s short goal-kick, played it to Kerr who simply rolled it to Pernille Harder. She stroked it home with the confidence and nonchalance of a world superstar. Game over?
Well not quite: Wolfsburg won a penalty from Magda Eriksson’s clumsy challenge on Svenja Huth. Former Arsenal defender Dominique Janssen stepped up to give Wolfsburg the lifeline of an away goal.
The second leg, again in Ferenc Puskás Stadium saw Chelsea as the away team. Wolfsburg tried to once again assert dominance on the front-foot. However, in light of the last week’s result, the monkey was off Chelsea’s back. They were happy to meet the Wolfsburg press and frustrate them. Although Popp, Huth and Blomqvist all had half-chances, Chelsea once again drew first blood.
A longer pass over the top from Harder set Sam Kerr away and she sped towards the box. Doorsun clumsily bundled into the back of the Aussie striker right on the edge of the box. It could easily have been a free kick, but the referee pointed to the spot. Step up Pernille Harder, who confidently and clinically stroked past Kiedrzynek again – this time with added celebration.
With Wolfsburg’s away goal advantage ruled out, the UWCL tie swung firmly back in Chelsea’s favour. At least, after they survived a real scare – Blomqvist’s teasing cross found Pajor but the She-Wolves attacker couldn’t convert. A let-off and a costly one for VFL. Minutes later, Ingle found herself advanced on the right-wing. She measured a cross into Sam Kerr. What happened next was pure brilliance, as Kerr’s immaculate first-touch-and-turn saw her gain a yard of space between the Wolfsburg defenders. The resulting finish, drilled low at the near post was equally excellent. Suddenly, Wolfsburg needed 4 goals without reply to win this tie.
The She-Wolves, clearly wounded failed to muster up any sort of response. Only capable of minor forays forward, and despite desperately throwing players forward late on, it was Chelsea who once again took advantage. A long pass out of defence controlled by Kirby who found Ji. The South Korean’s excellent pass back to Kirby on the right saw her able to skip into the box and loft a cute finish over the despairing keeper. Absolute elation and in like manner, Chelsea into the UWCL Semi Finals. More importantly, the burying of demons that had long haunted Emma Hayes and her side.
FT: Chelsea 5-1 VFL Wolfsburg (Aggregate)
UWCL Semi-Finals: Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
Chelsea facing Bayern Munich in a huge match in European competition? I think I’ve heard this one before. Despite ludicrous suggestions that Chelsea had ended up on the kind half of the seeding, avoiding PSG, Lyon, FC Barcelona and Manchester City, they still faced Bundesliga challengers, and champions-elect. Bayern represented a tougher challenge for Chelsea: the most ‘Chelsea-like’ side left in the competition. Again, the sub-plot of Melly Leupolz facing a former side. Moreover, the tantalising promise of the UWCL Final just 180 minutes away.
After a relatively even opening set of exchanges, Bayern (the home side in the 1st leg) landed the first meaningful punch. Hanna Glas tore down the wing past Jonna Andersson and delivered a telling cross. Ann-Katrin Berger, so often excellent at these situations made a rare error and flapped. Unfortunately, the ball fell kindly for Sydney Lohmann who was never going to miss such an easy opportunity. It was the sort of situation missing captain Magda Eriksson would have commanded and resolved with ease.
Chesea’s leveller – a priceless away goal – came in bizarre fashion. A deep free kick was delivered into a good area by Guro Reiten. As Bayern attempted to clear, the ball ricocheted up off an unaware Melly Leupolz and looped over Laura Benkarth. As ridiculous as it was, Chelsea knew it was a huge moment in the tie as long as they stayed in the game.
The second half saw Chelsea continue to struggle against Bayern’s press – and a particularly poor refereeing display. A controversial throw-in decision overruled by the referee left Chelsea at sixes and sevens as Bayern tore through and Hanna Glas stormed past Jonna Andersson before rifling in a brilliant strike for the Bavarians. Despite trying to throw on additional attacking impetus in Niamh Charles and Beth England, Emma Hayes’s side were frustrated. The closest the Blues came to a leveller was Ji’s rasping strike which cannoned off the crossbar and bounced kindly for Benkarth. The celebrations at the final whistle were exuberant but Chelsea were not out of the tie just yet.
Emma Hayes promised Chelsea fans the Blues would give the performance of their lives at Kingsmeadow. From minute 1, the tie felt tense and edgey. The first few forays forward from both sides were nervous, as they felt each other out.
It took superstar quality to break the deadlock. Correspondingly, it took a Kerr-By moment. Fran picked up the ball just inside the Chelsea half and drove forward. Slipping the ball wide to Sam Kerr as she floated into space. The Australian showed her own speed to cut in from the wing, and deliver a pinpoint pass back to Kirby. The English superstar had time and space to measure her finish and did so. 1-0 Chelsea and the Göteborg date was back on.
The script deviated, however, as so often in big games. With about 30 minutes on the clock, Hanna Glas’s corner was cleared as far as Sarah Zadrazil, about 30 yards out. She did this.
Suddenly, the tie had swung back in favour of the Bavarians and correspondingly it was almost completely out of Chelsea’s grasp. An errant moment from Melly Leupolz saw Bayern pounce and slip through top scorer Lea Schüller one-on-one with Berger. In an uncharacteristic moment, she sliced and fired a strike into the side netting. A huge let-off for Chelsea and one they took advantage of right before half-time.
Sam Kerr broke away before being cynically chopped down by Lina Magull. The Bayern captain took the yellow card and must have felt it was worth it when Ji’s initial free kick crashed into the solid wall. However, the ball rebounded to the South Korean who took a swing. Although she mishit it completely, the bounce deceived absolutely everyone and with the crowd of defenders in the way, Benkarth could only watch it squirm into the corner of the net. 2-1, 3-3 on aggregate. Extra time would be needed.
A second half game of cat-and-mouse began. Chelsea chased the goal to put them ahead, but keeping a clean sheet was equally important. If Bayern scored, Chelsea would need two to get to the UWCL final. Dallmann, Lohmann and Kerr all went close. Then on the 84th minute, Jess Carter was fouled by Beerensteyn just outside the box.
The fullback recovered from the challenge to step up and deliver. Her cross was a unique one – low, flat and pacey. It was begging for any touch and consequently Pernille Harder gratefully applied it. The Blues were now 6 minutes away from a first UWCL Final.
With Bayern now desperately throwing players forward to get the goal they needed, utter chaos followed. Zadrazil’s cross was thundered clear by Magda Eriksson. Sam Kerr broke away similarly but could only curl agonisingly wide when presented a chance to seal the tie. AKB’s feet blocked substitute Bühl before Eriksson scrambled Beerensteyn’s goalbound effort off the line.
Bayern’s keeper Benkarth deployed as centre-forward for the final aerial bombardment. She decided to occupy the role as playmaker instead after the final corner cleared. The German was caught in possession by Erin Cuthbert and who turned and played an inch-perfect skidding through-ball up the pitch for Fran Kirby. With an empty net, it was now a formality. The FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year stroked it home and proceeded to kickstart the wild celebrations befitting such a moment.
As a result, Chelsea qualified for the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final. Emma Hayes in tears on the touchline. Big celebrations all around Kingsmeadow. And, of course one final date with destiny awaits in Göteborg.
FT: Chelsea 5-3 FC Bayern Munich (Aggregate)
Chelsea will face FC Barcelona in the 2021 UEFA Women’s Champions League Final at Gamla Ullevi, Göteborg, Sweden.
Moreover, both teams are bidding to win the trophy for the first time in their respective histories.
Written and edited by Rob Pratley (@RJPJournalism)
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