Chelsea FC Women’s Champions League Campaign
Initial Feelings After the Final Whistle
Some pills are just tough to swallow. Chelsea’s result in the Women’s Champions League final is that tough to swallow. For a team that has played so well and limited mistakes, they could not get out of their way. It was honestly quite shocking and something that will be a growing experience for this club and players. It hurt to see them playing poorly, and it hurt at the final whistle. The final score does not do this Chelsea side justice.
The way that this team had performed throughout the campaign had been fantastic to see. While their round of 32 match-up with Benfica was not as challenging (8-0 aggregate result), they still needed to put in an effort over two legs to not have complacency. They then faced trials going down to 10 players 10 minutes into the first leg against Atletico Madrid. Two penalty saves by Ann-Katrin Berger, and one off the crossbar helped solidify their place in the quarter-finals with a 3-1 aggregate victory over the Spanish side.
In the quarter-finals, they slew their dragon, finally getting through Wolfsburg over the two legs 5-1. After a solid away performance in Hungary, they returned to the same stadium for the second leg. While not always comfortable, they found the strength to put in a masterful performance. They then faced Bayern in the semi-finals and had a disappointing performance at the Bavarian club’s home ground. Chelsea needed a performance; they responded with a resounding 4-1 home victory to fire themselves into the first final in the club’s history.
In the final, the Chelsea that showed up was not the team we had seen the entire campaign. They looked shocked by how quickly Barcelona came at them from the opening whistle and a fluke’s own goal but them down within the first minute. Followed up by a very contentious penalty to go down two within 12 minutes made things more arduous than expected. They still fought and tried to get themselves back into the match, but after allowing two more goals before halftime, the game was over. Chelsea showed their character and skill in the second half. They fought to get something back, and that shows the class and perseverance exuded by this team.
The Team and Staff
The final was challenging for the forwards. There were few chances for them to fully get at the Barcelona defense. While Harder had the best opportunities, one was saved while the other two went over the bar. The chance that ended up over the bar could have completely changed the game as it came less than a minute after the opening goal from Barcelona.
In their first season together, Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, and Pernille Harder combined for 13 goals and five assists in their first Champions League campaign. Adding in Beth Englands 3 goals, 16 of the team’s 21 goals in the Champions League were from their forwards. The depth they had across the front line allowed them to rotate through when needed in both the Champions League and the Women’s Super League. Having these players coming back and all fully fit for preseason will give them even more connection for the upcoming attempt at winning the Champion’s League.
Shared Golden Boot winner Fran Kirby was an inspirational story throughout the entire campaign. After an extremely difficult 2019/20, she came back into a side and excelled. Some pundits claimed that Sam Kerr was signed as her replacement, and she proved them wrong. The connection between the two of them all season was mitigated by Barcelona, but still, something can only get stronger.
Chelsea’s midfielders were overrun at times in the match against Barcelona. They couldn’t get their metronome player Ji So-yun on the ball to link the play between the defenders and attackers. They spent more time in their defensive half than the attacking half and struggled to complete passes in the first half. You also saw Sophie Ingle and Melanie Leupolz getting dragged around the pitch. In the second half, initially, Guro Reiten was brought on, and the formation changed, which created more opportunities but ultimately fell short.
Overall the midfield this Champions League campaign has been spectacular. This game again felt like an arbitration to the team I watched and cared for all season. The depth they have has been helpful in this competition. Their talent has always risen to the challenges in front of them. Having players like Erin Cuthbert, Reiten, young talent Jessie Flemming, and Drew Spence allowed them to handle any situation thrown at them.
Guro Reiten had seven assists in this season’s competition, primarily being a substitute. A player who could have walked into many of the other sides starting lineups. Reiten shows the luxury that Emma Hayes and Chelsea had and will continue to have in the 2021/22 edition of the Champions League.
The final was not the shining moment for the Chelsea defense this season. Coming into the final, they had given up five goals in total in the previous rounds. This match was the first match that Maren Mjelde’s injury was truly felt. While both Niamh Charles and Jess Carter have deputized on the flanks well, they were exposed against Barcelona. While I trust Emma Hayes, part of me wonders with Hannah Blundell and Jonna Andersson, both natural fullbacks, on the bench if they could have started the match.
For the first two goals, I do not blame the defense. A fluke deflection for an own goal and a penalty that VAR should have overturned (I will fight you on that) you have no control over. Carter and Charles each got beat on the other two goals and may have slightly been dragged back on her attempted clearance in Carter’s case. Both came from crosses across the 18 or six-yard box to an open goal.
Again these defenders had proven themselves all season, and while they had a tough day at the office, I wouldn’t expect to see more of these situations next season. Bringing back the players they have combined with the new signing of young dutch defender Aniek Nouwen this team has everything to look forward to.
Like the defense, I don’t put much on Ann-Katrin Berger’s shoulders for the first two goals. The own goal barely crept over her fingers, and the penalty was exceptionally well taken. Her defense did not give her much chance on the other two goals, but there was a chance on the fourth she could have cut down the crossing angle slightly,
Ann-Katrin Berger, at times this Champions League season, has kept Chelsea in the tie. The most significant example is the two penalty saves in their first leg with Atletico Madrid. Her saves have always seemed to come at the big moment, and unfortunately, she was unable to keep any of the four goals out. Chelsea may have found the best keeper in the world in the years to come.
Like the other positions, they have solid depth in English international Carly Telford and Swedish international Zećira Mušović. Mušović came in in the winter transfer window and saw some time to give Berger a rest. Again this will be helpful in the upcoming attempt to take the final step in the Champions League. Berger, at times, looked to be playing through injuries, therefore having backups Hayes trusts will help keep her healthy.
Emma Hayes has done an excellent job creating a group of talented individuals who have come together as a team to create something unique. She continues to grow as a manager and will have this team rearing to challenge for this title again next season.
I believe she is one of the best managers in football, men or women’s. She is a student of the game and understands both the player management and tactical side needs to succeed. Simply put, during her tenure as Chelsea FC’s manager on the women’s side, nine managers have held the position with the men’s side. This shows the trust the board has in her. She has also won 10 trophies over her nine seasons in charge of Chelsea, making her the most successful manager in Chelsea history. She stands apart since the owner is trigger happy on management if they are not meeting his standard. Rumor is she is getting a new extension.
If I have learned anything from watching this team this season, they find a way to bounce back even in defeat. They are bringing back a talented and deep squad that not has even more fire in their belly. While the pieces may not be fully known yet, Emma Hayes will develop the team to continue to challenge for the Champions League. With the full backing of ownership and the board at Chelsea, this team will continue to grow into a juggernaut of women’s football.
With Roman Abramovich at the final and going to see his team after the match and congratulating them on their accomplishments this season, he is proud of his women’s program. All reports said the player’s response was, we will be back, and we will win this. There is a fire in this team, one that others will need to match next year.
Finally, fair play to FC Barcelona and congratulations on their victory in the Champions League final, they came out and executed a game plan, and it worked well. They thoroughly deserved to win the final. Barcelona took the game by the scruff of the neck and pushed Chelsea further than anyone had all season.