It’s been half a decade since a side other than Lyon lifted the Women’s Champions League, but with the French outfit’s reign of terror currently under threat domestically, their hopes of a sixth straight European title are also expected to come under siege this season.
Manchester City and Chelsea have both been touted as potential challengers to Lyon’s throne, and while neither turned in vintage performances during their quarter final ties, City have it all to do in the second leg, yet Chelsea hold a slender one-goal lead.
The Cityzens were outclassed for much of the game by a slick Barcelona side, who could have bettered their 3-0 win were it not for the heroics of Ellie Roebuck. However, City were also left to rue missed chances of their own, and while they are not completely out of the tie, they would be requiring less of a miracle in the second leg had they been more clinical in the final third.
Chelsea meanwhile also spent much of the game on the back foot but were ruthless in front of goal, scoring with two of their three shots on target as they ran out 2-1 winners over Wolfsburg – their first ever victory over the She Wolves.
Much like Roebuck four-and-a-half hours earlier, Ann-Katrin Berger was in inspired form in between the sticks for Chelsea. The Blues may not have made it to the quarter finals at all were it not for Berger’s penalty heroics against Atletico in the previous round, and she was at it again in open play on Wednesday evening, denying Fridolina Rolfo with two saves in quick succession in the first half, before producing a spectacular reaction stop to keep out the Wolfsburg forward from point blank range in the second.
And this is where Chelsea succeeded where City had failed. Roebuck had offered City lifeline after lifeline with a number of fine stops, only for her side to see numerous chances go begging up the other end.
Chelsea scored with their first shot on target.
Fran Kirby fed Sam Kerr (obviously), and the Australian striker rounded Katarzyna Kiedrzynek before finding the top corner from the tightest of angles. It was her 17th goal of the season, Kerr’s slightly unconvincing start in front of goal at Chelsea now a distant memory.
Kirby and Kerr have really brought the best out of one another this season, with Kerr seemingly having a knack to instantly link up efficiently with whoever she is partnered with – Beth England another who has seamlessly teamed up successfully with the Australian international.
It was the familiar duo who combined again for Chelsea’s second, Kirby capitalising on a mix up in the Wolfsburg backline to pick out Kerr, who laid it on a plate for Pernille Harder to slot home. For a striker renowned for breaking goalscoring records, Kerr isn’t half unselfish.
Though Wolfsburg pulled one back from the penalty spot, Chelsea defended resolutely – shout out to the again excellent Niamh Charles at right back – to preserve their lead and leave the tie tantalisingly poised heading into Wednesday’s second leg.
15 months ago, Chelsea already had a pretty healthy forward line. Emma Hayes has since completed the blockbuster signings of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder and welcomed Fran Kirby back to full fitness. Victory over Wolfsburg has shown her investments to be crucial as the Blues continue their pursuit of excellence.