Chelsea beat Wolfsburg for the first time ever in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.
The Blues faced the German champions with a predictable starting lineup, with the only irregularity being the absence of Maren Mjelde. The Norwegian was absent due to the season-ending injury she picked up in the Continental Cup final. Niamh Charles stepped in at right-back, showing her versatility as both an attacker and a defender.
It was a goalless first half, with Chelsea largely playing on the back foot. Emma Hayes’ side were sloppy in their passing, preventing any substantial chances inside the box. Passes were rushed and touches were heavy, with Wolfsburg bringing out a vulnerable side to Chelsea they don’t often show.
Wolfsburg captain Alexandra Popp was denied a goal that deflected off her arm. It was one of several lucky escapes for the Blues. Their opposition, much fiercer in their attack, nevertheless landed two bookings in the first 45 minutes.
At half time, Chelsea were looking no closer to breaking the deadlock. Instead, most of their effort had gone into chasing Wolfsburg up the right-wing. Ewa Pajor and Fridolina Rolfö of the German side were ruthless in their attack, and it was only the capable hands of Ann-Katrin Berger that kept their shots at bay.
When the teams took to the pitch once again, things weren’t looking much better. Wolfsburg got another early shot away that was miraculously deflected off the goalpost.
Chelsea fight back
Suddenly, the tables turned for Chelsea. Fran Kirby found herself just outside the box with her trusty partner on her right. A neat pass and a perfectly-timed run from Sam Kerr saw her finally best Katarzyna Kiedrzynek in front of the goal. The first shot on target for Chelsea was made to count.
Ten minutes later, a rare blunder by Kiedrzynek planted the ball at Kirby’s feet yet again. This swiftly led to a second goal by Pernille Harder, against her former club. Finally Chelsea seemed switched on, and Wolfsburg instead the shakier side.
The clean sheet could not be saved however. A poor tackle from skipper Magdalena Eriksson gave away a penalty, which was swiftly converted by Dominique Janssen. The away goal put the German side back in contention, and they fought on until the final whistle.
Hayes’ side were frankly lucky to escape with only one goal conceded. Poor connection and lack of foresight throughout kept Berger far too busy in goal. The German international has been something of a life-saver for the Blues, and has picked up her fair share of knocks. Nevertheless, her resilience – and a twelfth player disguised as a goalpost – has kept Chelsea with the semi-finals in their sights.
Hayes will no doubt want to see a more concerted win in the second leg of this quarter-final. With only one goal between them, and some sheer luck involved, Chelsea will have to do a lot more to keep Wolfsburg off their backs. Both sides bared teeth this round, but will need to rein themselves in after six bookings across the board. What a rigmarole.