Chelsea FC v VfL Wolfsburg
Final: Chelsea FC 3 – WfL Wolfsburg 3
There was a lot of intrigue to see how Chelsea would come out in this year’s Women’s Champions League. After last year’s disappointment and their conviction to win this competition, all eyes were on them. While the team fired on all cylinders to start, the overall performance left much for fans to quandary since three simple mistakes had almost proved costly. It took a bit of good fortune and determination to come away with a point in the opening game of the group stage.
Following their 3-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, Emma Hayes made two changes to the starting eleven, bringing Ji So-Yun for Sophie Ingle and Beth England for Fran Kirby. The first change was a tactile switch changing the midfield to add the creativity of Ji over the steel of Ingle. It also would put more onus on Melanie Leupolz to play as a holding midfielder than a box-to-box number 8.
The second change was made more for protection. Kirby was moved to the bench as she had been suffering from a slight cold in the lead-up to the match, and England can offer similar team qualities.
A very wonderful moment was the Maren Mjelde was back on the bench for Chelsea. This was the first time her name was on the team sheet since her tragic ACL injury in the Continental Cup Final earlier this year.
12′ Minute: Goal – Sam Kerr: Chelsea 1 -Wolfsburg 0
The opening passage of the game saw Chelsea dominate the match, pushing and pulling Wolfsburg’s defense all over the place. The attacking trio of England, Kerr, and Harder were stretching the backline and opening up acres of space in the midfield. These tactics allowed Ji to see Kerr’s run and play a sublime ball over the top from Kerr, who then chipped the keeper for the opener for Chelsea.
I am not sure which part of this goal was more impressive. Ji’s pass over the top was inch-perfect from just inside her own half to outside the opposition’s 18-yard box. Kerr’s chip was on the half volley on the 18-yard line straight into the back of the net. The entirety of this passage of play was mouthwateringly good and made you think how many would Chelsea get.
17′ Minute: Goal – Tabea Waßmuth: Chelsea 1 – Wolfsburg 1
The first moment that started turning the tide of the game and gave Wolfsburg a foothold and something to hold onto. Wolfsburg’s long clearance out of defense ended up being not dealt well with by the Chelsea women. Most likely due to missed communication between Ann-Katrin Berger and Magdalena Eriksson, Waßmuth was able to get in behind and slot home Wolfburg’s opener.
The first of three self-inflicted wounds by the Chelsea defense and goalkeeper feels that while Erikson will stand up and claim some responsibility, the majority should fall on AKB’s shoulders. Rewatching the goal, Eriksson is clearing out the area expecting Katrin Berger to run onto the ball and claim it. Due to the hesitation not to, the two run into each other, allowing the ball to get behind them. While Waßmuth has little to do, she keeps her cool at Guro Reiten, tries to get back, and makes a valiant attempt to block the shot.
33′ Minute: Goal – Jill Roord: Chelsea 1 – Wolfsburg 2
The second mistake by Ann-Katrin Berger, a sloppy pass out of the back to a marked Mellanie Leupolz, allowed for Wolfsburg to force a quick turnover through Lena Oberdorf. She then passed to Jill Roord, who buried the shot in the bottom corner for the second Wolfsburg goal.
This mistake was worse than the first, in my opinion. While the first goal can be attributed to poor communication, this is a poor decision by AKB. While Leupolz shows for the pass option by coming short, it opens more space behind her. Either Ji So-Yun, Beth England, or Pernille Harder could have explored this space to receive the goal kick and push forward the attack. She also should have seen Oberdorf coming in behind Leupolz and marking her and not deciding to play that ball. Afterward, it was a simple pass over to Roord, who slots it past the onrushing Carter and AKB.
End of Fist Half: Chelsea 1 – Wolfsburg 2
While Chelsea was highly dominant in the opening 15 minutes of the match, they failed to be as ruthless as possible. Once they made the first mistake and gave Wolfsburg a foothold in the game, they gained confidence and continued to push back at Chelsea. They could calm down and set up defensively since the goal seemed to shell shock this Chelsea side, similar to the final. The second goal only gave them more to hold onto and allowed them to set up shop defensively.
From a Chelsea perspective, they got the most joy down the left-hand side, with Reiten and Harder combining well to cause issues for Wolfsburg. Also, as Wolfsburg grew in the game, Ji So-Yun seemed to go missing at times. Being unable to find as much space to create minimized her impact on the remainder of the half, though her main contribution was remarkable.
48′ Minute: Goal – Tabea Waßmuth: Chelsea 1 – Wolfsburg 3
Similar to the calamity of the 2nd goal, the third was another simple mistake from a Chelsea player to give the ball away in an advantageous position for Wolfsburg. Jess Carter sold AKB short in playing a pass back to her, which allowed Waßmuth to get in and steal the pass. This doesn’t take anything away from the finish, though. Waßmuth scored with a lovely curled effort around AKB from a tight angle.
This mistake from Carter undid a lot of good work she had done in the first half. Carter knows that Waßmuth is there too since it’s a ball over the top, and she wins the footrace. Sadly, instead of playing it back to the keeper, she plays it into open space, and it is also a soft touch. This allows Waßmuth to get onto the loose ball and then take a quick shot curved into the far post.
From rewatching it, it’s like instead of being aware of where AKB is, she assumes that since she ran to the wing with the ball over the top, Eriksson will fill in her roll in the middle. She plays where she expected someone to be instead of where someone was. If she hits that a bit firmer, we don’t even have this moment of what could have been an excellent overall game for Carter
51′ Minute: Goal – Beth England: Chelsea 2 – Wolfsburg 3
A beautiful corner to the back post put in by Guro Reiten created a free header opportunity for Melanie Leupolz. She headed it back into the middle, and Beth England slammed the ball into the back on the net in the issuing chaos.
The corner came from more good interplay down the left-hand side. Reiten was fed by Harder, who put in a lovely cross to Sam Kerr. From there, the ball was headed back into the middle, and Ji had a shot blocked before Ji, and Harder got in each other’s way and fluffed a chance at goal.
This goal is entirely about staying with the play. While Leupolz’s header back was met, a Wolfsburg defender England, Harder, and Kerr converged to win the second ball. Putting the additional pressure on the Wolfsburg defense and being in the correct positions allowed England to have the chance that she then took.
90’+2 Minute: Goal -Pernille Harder: Chelsea 3 – Wolfsburg 3
Pernille Harder, netting for the third time against her former club, paid good hard work from the Chelsea attack. In the match’s closing moments, Harder combined with Fran Kirby and Melanie Leupolz to pounce on a lost ball in the box and score from close range. While some were unhappy with how she celebrated, the number of emotions running through any player at that moment would cause that reaction.
The build-up play to the goal was vintage Chelsea. A beautiful ball into the Fran Kirby from Magda Eriksson, who then turned three Wolfsburg defenders. From there, she plays a one-two with Ingle before laying the ball off to Harder. Harder tried to set up a one-two with Leupolz, but the Wolfsburg defender slightly intercepts the pass. Leupolz recovered possession with her winning back control, presenting it to Harder to score.
End of Match: Chelsea 3 – Wolfsburg 3
While one point felt like a victory at the full-time whistle, Chelsea can only look at themselves for not keeping control of the game. Mistakes from their defenders and goalkeeper directly caused all three goals for Wolfsburg. Anne-Katrin Berger had one of her worst performances in a Chelsea shirt, and while she made two good saves in the second half, that does not wipe away those errors.
Again the left-hand side of the attack looked the most dangerous throughout the second half, and the introduction of Fleming and Kirby made a real difference going forward. While Ji had her moment in the first half, she disappeared and was not nearly as productive in the second half. Once Ingle substitution for Carter, the team seemed more comfortable in a back four or a back two with a sitting CDM, and wing backs pushed forward. There was a moment when Carter was substituted and coming off that some people thought she was laughing at being subbed off. While I see the smile, I will give the player the benefit of the doubt since the other implications are not good.
Hayes’s substitutions made an impact on this game. Charles coming in for Reiten, freshened up the left side of the attack and helped to solidify the left-hand side defensively. Bringing Fran Kirby off the bench is never a problem. Even with her cold, she changed how Chelsea attacked in the later stages of the match. Kirby’s ability on the ball helped to create opportunities and lead to the game-tying goal. Jessie Fleming provided creativity in tighter conditions than Ji So-Yun had and was more noticeable in her connection with Harder. Finally, Sophie Ingle coming in for Carter gave a bit of solidity at the back. Ingle played in front of Eriksson and Bright, allowing Leupolz to get forward with more regularity.
Player Of The Match
Harder was everywhere for this Chelsea side and epitomized the spirit needed during their second-half comeback. Her interplay with Guro Reiten down the left-hand side of the Chelsea attack was a bright spot the entire match. Throughout the game, Harder pushed the backline of Wolfsburg. The perseverance and determination shown throughout the game were rewarded with the match-tieing goal in the game’s final minutes. Her work ethic was noticeable even in the last minutes of the match, coming back for defensive help after her tieing goal. Harder has been on a different level this season, and this match was just another example of why Chelsea went out to get her.