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UEFA Women's Champions League

Free-scoring Chelsea facing biggest task yet in bid to overturn Bayern deficit

09:00 BST 26/04/2021
Bayern Munich Chelsea Women composite
The Women's Super League champions were almost shut out by their German opponents in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Sunday

“You can’t stop players like Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, or Fran Kirby, Guro Reiten as well, Erin Cuthbert, who didn’t play today,” said Jens Scheuer, with a chuckle.

Bayern Munich’s head coach was aware he had already listed plenty of Chelsea’s attacking weapons, and he laughed with a realisation of how many he had still yet to mention.

Yet, on Sunday, in a 2-1 win, his team did as good a job of silencing the Blues' forward line as anyone has in any competition for a long time.

Given Bayern had conceded seven goals in their three games before the first leg of this Women’s Champions League semi-final clash, it was an impressive, and timely, recovery.

Scheuer switched to a back five and his players, defending from the front, executed the game plan to perfection.

The goal the Blues did score was a freak one too. Bayern defender Marina Hegering headed the ball against an unknowing Melanie Leupolz and Chelsea had an away goal. It was the only negative for the German side going into the second leg.

To highlight how impressive Bayern were, this is a Chelsea team averaging over three goals a game in the Women’s Super League that had scored 16 in their six Champions League games before the weekend.

In fact, the last time they failed to score in a game was in April 2019. They’ve now scored in each of their last 77 competitive games. That run was so close to ending on Sunday.

“They changed their shape,” noted Chelsea’s manager Emma Hayes afterwards. “When teams do that, it presents different challenges.”

Breaking down defences is something Chelsea are certainly used to in the WSL – it is something they are used to overcoming, too.

This is a side that has so many ways to attack. That is why they so often break through even the most resolute of defences.

They have the ability to carve through the middle of teams with the magic of a midfielder like Ji So-yun, widely regarded as the greatest foreign player in WSL history.

They can go out wide and put a ball in the box, with the aerial ability of Kerr and of Beth England devastating in open play, while centre-backs Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright are threats from dead ball situations.

With the pace of Kerr and Kirby, they are dangerous with a simple ball over the top too, while those such as Sophie Ingle, Harder, Ji, and so many more are able to find the back of the net from range all the same.

There is always an inevitability of them scoring, though it was tested to the maximum at the weekend. But for Ji hitting the bar from range and Harder somehow not converting from close range, Bayern kept them very quiet.

Problems at the back did contribute to the defeat too, but with regular right-back Maren Mjelde and their captain Eriksson missing, that is no huge shock – and anyway, that was the case on Wednesday in a huge game in the title race against Manchester City, but they still scored the goals and created the chances to get them a point.

“My team is extremely resilient and there's a mentality within the dressing room that, regardless of if we're not playing very well, someone's going to bail us out. You cannot underestimate how valuable that is,” Hayes said after that 2-2 draw.

After Kirby, likely to be the undisputed player of the season, produced a poor pass that led to Man City’s equaliser, goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger pulled out a world-class save to stop Chelsea losing that game.

On Sunday, it was Berger’s error that gave Bayern the lead, as she completely misjudged a cross and Sydney Lohmann was there to punish her mistake.

Hayes described both goals conceded by her side as “really poor” defensively, noting that the team had prepared for the crosses and expressing her disappointment at how the second, scored by Hanna Glas, had come from a throw-in.

While Chelsea probably do not need "bailing out" in the second leg given the scoreline, they do need players to come up big to send them through to that final stage.

Scheuer was clear that Bayern want to create opportunities and attack in the second leg, but that will likely be in an even more counter-attacking manner than the dangerous one on show on Sunday.

“They will play exactly the same way,” Hayes said. “We have to solve it, but I've got a week in training and that's my job to try and do that.”

It is rare that the Chelsea boss is beaten in the tactical battle, particularly when it comes down to her attack versus the opposition’s defence.

With a Champions League final at stake, there has never been a bigger moment to come out on top.