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UEFA Women's Champions League

Harder’s priceless Champions League strike shows exactly why Chelsea broke the bank for her

5:00 AM EDT 5/3/21
Pernille Harder Chelsea Women 2020-21
The Blues reached the UWCL final for the first time on Sunday, thanks to a header from a player who craves this trophy as much as any

When Chelsea made Pernille Harder the most expensive player in the history of women’s football in the summer of 2020, it was a statement of intent.

They had just won the Women’s Super League for a third time and the Continental Cup for the first time. Manager Emma Hayes had every domestic trophy in her trophy cabinet now – and her sights were set on that elusive Women’s Champions League.

Signing one of the best players in the world, less than 12 months after getting another of those in Sam Kerr, would help them to perform in those big moments in Europe.

On Sunday, with Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich seemingly going to extra time, Harder made sure it did not, putting Chelsea 4-3 up on aggregate with only minutes to go.

Her transfer fee was record-breaking, but this goal was priceless.

As Fran Kirby secured victory in stoppage time, the Chelsea players dropped to the ground in realisation of what they had done.

The Blues had just become only the third team in the competition's history to come back from a semi-final first leg defeat to progress, reaching the final for the first time.

It is a feat they’ve been working towards for years, with semi-final defeats in their past, and the ultimate prize is their most craved.

"I'm not going to sit here and give you a load of crappy platitudes. I worked my whole life for today and I'm so f*cking proud of the players,” Hayes told BT Sport after the game.

The desire to win this trophy is almost beyond words – but the uncensored nature of her immediate reaction said it all.

It is an ambition that extends beyond the pitch. Sunday’s game was played behind closed doors, but Bayern’s players could have been forgiven for thinking Chelsea has sneaked some fans in, such was the way the hosts were cheered on and supported by every member of staff at Kingsmeadow.

Few want to win this trophy more than Harder, either.

The former Wolfsburg star has experienced plenty of heartbreak in the past, losing in the 2018 and 2020 finals. She has always won individual awards and plaudits for her performances on the European stage, but it is not that which she is after.

"When my goal went in, it was the best feeling ever,” Harder told BT Sport afterwards. “To win the final would be the biggest thing in my career.”

On Sunday, she was as tenacious and hard-working as ever, the desire clear in her performance. Indeed, no one on the pitch won more tackles or created more chances.

“We've worked hard all week on her being aggressive,” Hayes explained. “We said that it's important in your pressing moments you're 100 per cent in them.”

Those who have seen Harder, last year’s Goal 50 winner, play will think first of wonderful technique and excellent finishing – but her goal at the weekend showed another big strength.

“I think she's really dangerous from set-pieces,” Hayes added. “I think she comes alive in spaces that you might think sort of more aggressive aerial players would be, but I actually think it's a strength of hers.”

It was a goal that served as a reminder of just how well-rounded she is as a footballer.

It has been some first season at Chelsea so far for the 28-year-old. Harder has scored nine goals and provided three assists in 20 WSL games, just 14 of those starts, to help the Blues sit in pole position for the title with two games to go. She has also won the Conti Cup and is now in another Champions League final.

There were several heart-in-mouth moments for Chelsea on Sunday, several moments where it looked like that heartbreak they have experienced in the past might cruelly strike once more. But this time the outcome was different.

Now, Harder will hope that the result in the final at long last goes her way. Against a Barcelona team who have also never won the trophy before, rather than the seven-time champions Lyon, who regularly crush dreams in the UWCL with their incredible experience, this will be her best chance yet of winning the tournament.

With her world-class ability to produce in the biggest moments, you would not bet against her doing something special to help her and Chelsea win the trophy for first time, either.

That is exactly why Harder is one of the best players in the world - and worth every penny.