How Chelsea beat Wolfsburg: A tale of luck, being clinical and Erin Cuthbert

Wolfsburg's Kathrin Hendrich and Chelsea's Erin Cuthbert in action.
Wolfsburg's Kathrin Hendrich and Chelsea's Erin Cuthbert in action during the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-final match at Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by IMAGO / Sports Press Photo)

For the first time in their UEFA Women’s Champions League history, the reigning English champions beat their nemesis from Germany. With that, Chelsea have progressed into the semifinals where another German team await them. Bayern München, current league leaders in the Frauen Bundesliga.

The story of the quarter-final

Having ridden on the very successful road with what has looked like a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond; Emma Hayes chose the same for the Blues when they stepped out on the pitch last week for the first leg to face Wolfsburg. Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby as the two up front, with Pernille Harder, just behind them as the attacking midfielder. Behind the Dane, we could see Ji So-Yeun, Sophie Ingle and Melanie Leupolz as the trident whose roles was to protect the back four; Jonna Andersson, Magdalena Eriksson, Millie Bright and Niamh Charles. In goal, Ann-Katrin Berger.

Wolfsburg’s squad might have suffered from losses such as Pernille Harder and Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir since the last season. But one can’t be fooled; Stephan Lerch, the Wolves head coach, still is managing a squad stacked with experience, quality and talent. One of the Bundesliga’s top scorers, Ewa Pajor, recently back from a long-term knee injury took place upfront as a lone striker, well backed by Fridolina Rolfö, Alex Popp and Svenja Huth. The Germans defensive midfield was young, super talent Lena Oberdorf and by her side; Ingrid Engen. The back four with Felicitas Rauch, Dominic Janssen, Sara Doorsun and Katrin Hendrich were all ready to see that their goalkeeper, former Paris Saint-Germain player, Katarzyna Kiedrzynek could have a calm day at work.

Chelsea’s luck

Having seen Wolfsburg play, there were no surprise that Rolfö and Huth would play huge parts in the Germans attacking play. Oberdorf behind them, both quality deep playmaker but also a very skilled defensive midfielder, played more than one important role. One was, that together with Engen feed balls up to Rolfö and Huth. The second, to “take care” of former teammate Pernille Harder.

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One of Chelsea’s many strengths this season has been that the three midfielders behind Harder, have protected their backline well. Few other teams have managed to cause threats for Chelsea down the flanks. Manchester City, with similar players to Rolfö and Huth, such as Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp, has been less threatening when the Blues defensive midfield has operated out on the wings.

What Chelsea did not manage in the first leg was to stop Rolfö and Huth from storming down along the sidelines. Wolfsburg had 27 crosses, Huth having 10 of them, challenging Ji and Andersson down her side while going forward. The German titleholders must be disappointed in more than one way to have been knocked out seeing the stats. They had five big chances to score, missing four of them. Berger’s woodwork was hit twice, while 19 out of Wolfburg’s 22 shots, were made from inside the box. The Chelsea keeper also played her part, saving the Blues from concede no less than seven times.

What had been Chelsea’s strength in defense did suddenly not show.

Chelsea being clinical

In this leg, while Wolfsburg furiously attacked, Chelsea in return had six shots, three on target. Two big chances to score. As we all know, the Blues won 2:1. To win a football game, you have to capitalize when you get chances to score. Chelsea did, Wolfsburg did not. What could easily have been taken straight from a fan fiction story, Wolfsburg’s goalkeeper made a sloppy pass. Kirby quickly acted, passed the ball to Kerr who served no other than Harder to score the second after getting the first herself.

Chelsea did not concede on Wolfsburg’s many chances from open play. Neither in the second leg. The penalty Dominic Janssen got to score last week had to come from Chelsea’s backline struggling to handle Huth. Eriksson’s challenge on Huth was unfortunate, but the Swede had no choice. Someone had to stop the winger inside the box.

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The luck, mixed up with ruthlessness and individual quality, continued for Chelsea at the beginning of the reversed fixture this week. It’s the luck that winning teams who are among the best in Europe has. Lyon is another. The challenge on Kerr from Doorsun in the 27th minute, in the area so close to the penalty area, that it got the ref to point at the spot. It is in these moments, teams like Chelsea can be compared to Lyon. They put their opponents in awkward situations where it could cause severe trouble for them. We saw it when Lyon were giving the penalty in the dying minutes of their first leg against Paris St Germain too.

When Harder stepped up to the spot to take the penalty the Wolfsburg players must have known that the uphill from there was only higher. If no one had been aware before the Dane showed worthy of the money Chelsea had paid for her. Harder was ice cold when she put the ball into the back of the net.

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The second leg turned out differently from the first, still yet not. Wolfsburg attempted 29 crosses, this time Rolfö with nine of them. Again, they had a huge opportunity to score, but Pajor who might need a little bit more time to get back to her usual goalscoring self missed. The shots from the Wolves were fewer, only eight in total, with two on target and yet again, Chelsea had two big chances. Kerr and Kirby made no mistakes and Wolfsburg had to see themselves say goodbye to the Champions League.

Wolfsburg, in this second leg, without Lena Oberdorf, who had picked up a yellow card last week after a challenge on Pernille Harder. The Dane knew very well what she was doing when she received the ball, turned and cut in. Just in front of her former teammate, who challenged Harder roughly, only to be given the card. A yellow card that would suspend her in the second leg.

Erin Cuthbert

Chelsea and Hayes made two changes in this second leg. Niamh Charles second yellow card forced the Blues to make another change in the backline where Jess Carter took place next to Millie Bright as the fullback on the right-hand side. Although Carter did this with the honour, there was the second change in Chelsea’s lineup that is worth mentioning.

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Erin Cuthbert replaced Ji in order to protect Andersson from having to deal with Huth alone again. Chelsea’s success and win are of course due to things such as tactical changes as a whole with small changes and adjustments from Hayes. Huth had six crosses in this game, none accurate. Cuthbert was the player on the winning team’s side involved in the most numbers of duels; 15, winning eight of them. She had the most amount of numbers in tackles; 4. Cuthbert is known for being a hard-working football player, fighting and doing dirty work to protect her teammates. Overall, Chelsea’s defence looked solid again, back to its usual self, well-led by Eriksson.

What’s next for Chelsea

Another German team riding on huge success this season will be the Blues next hurdle in the tournament to reach the final. Bayern München. A team, with what looks like to have a very similar playing style to Chelsea. Marina Hearing, Bayern’s left centreback, could easily be compared to Eriksson. An important piece in Bayern’s puzzle in the attack and buildup play.

They have been quick, ruthless and very efficient so far. The Reds from Germany have scored 68 goals in the league so far, only conceding three. Chelsea will face their equals in playing style this season from the Bundesliga, and to remain as the only English team heading into the final, the Blues need to find ways to break down Bayern’s so far solid defence.

A tough task? Yes. Impossible? No.

Bayern suffered their first loss of the season this weekend when they played Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal Cup semifinal. What Chelsea managed, Bayern did not. Two crosses from Svenja Huth caused the Red’s defence massive problems, similar to what Chelsea had dealt with in the first leg of the UWCL quarterfinal.

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Only this time, Wolfburg’s attackers did not miss. Alex Popp scored the first and Ewa Pajor the second. This leaves Bayern knocked out of the DFB Pokal Cup and Wolfsburg can defend their seventh cup title in a row. The opponent will be Eintracht Frankfurt and the competition DFB Pokal will end on 20 May 2021 with the final at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne (Köln) a nominally neutral venue, which has hosted the final since 2010. Considered the second-most important club title in German women’s football after the Bundesliga championship, the DFB-Pokal is run by the German Football Association.

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