Ann-Katrin Berger was the player of the hour as Chelsea showed their fortitude to battle with Europe’s best in a ballsy win over Atletico Madrid.
The Chelsea lineup did not initially surprise, with Emma Hayes going heavy on the attack with Fran Kirby, Bethany England, Sam Kerr, and Pernille Harder all awarded starting spots.
The only unexpected omission was skipper Magdalena Eriksson, leaving second-in-command Millie Bright to hold up the defence. The absence of the captain was a nervewracking one, but Chelsea’s determination was clear.
Kingsmeadow welcomed back former Blue Hedvig Lindahl, now shot-stopping for the Spanish side.
Team link-up created Chelsea’s first proper chance on the goal, almost netted by Harder before Lindahl got fingertips to the ball.
Suddenly, disaster struck. A challenge by Sophie Ingle on Ajibade in the box saw her sent off the pitch and a penalty awarded to Atletico. Chelsea were rescued by a miraculous save by Berger, who made a perfectly-calculated dive.
Down to ten players after 15 minutes, Chelsea’s challengers looked even more frightening. The Blues retreated heavily, now playing on the back foot. Atletico presented several more chances, but the home side continued to deny efforts.
The defecit left by Ingle did little to deter the Blues, who continued to amp up their attacking pressure. Passing grew in confidence and some deft play set up several chances for Hayes’ side to climb on top of the score sheet.
Half-time saw the sides goalless – the fight was far from over.
History repeated itself. Kerr was brought down in the box for a second penalty. This time the shot was pounded past Lindahl by Maren Mjelde, notoriously relaxed when taking from the spot. Against all odds, the Blues were on top.
Less than ten minutes later, Kirby widened the goal margin with her usual plucky finishing in combination with Kerr.
The Spanish side scrambled for a goal in retaliation, but their efforts were too frenzied to find any real footing. Bookings on both sides were unsurprising in the scrappy challenging.
A sloppy tackle from Berger saw the Blues’ keeper facing her second penalty of the evening, and saved it yet again. The German international’s heroism almost ended in a serious injury, but she proved to be made of seriously strong stuff.