Chelsea Women 2 Atlético Madrid Femenino 0
Turns out it takes more than a sending off, and giving away two penalties for Chelsea’s star-studded line up to be beaten. Emma Hayes’s side did not just survive 75 minutes with 10 players on the pitch, but thrived, as they picked apart top side Atlético Madrid in a dramatic night of Champions League football.
Chelsea looked like they might have a mountain to climb after Sophie Ingle’s sending off just 13 minutes into the tie. But goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger’s heroics with two penalty saves gave them a clean sheet against all odds, and second-half goals from Maren Mjelde and Fran Kirby see Chelsea head into the second leg of this last-16 match-up well in control.
Hayes hailed the “real team performance” post-match, but singled out Berger’s heroics in goal.
“Goalkeepers don’t get spoken about enough,” Hayes said. “Two penalties, two saves, a kick on the head, I thought her overall performance was outstanding. Let’s give her the credit tonight she was absolutely brilliant.”
Her team showed major composure in the face of multiple disruptions to come through this first leg. First, they were without their usual anchor in defence, skipper Magda Eriksson, who was a surprise omission from the line up after picking up a knock in training. It meant defensive midfielder Sophie Ingle dropped back to replace her at centre back, but before long she had conceded a penalty and earned herself a red card, and was storming back to the dressing room with Eriksson running down from the stands to follow her down the tunnel.
Ingle was undone by a searching long ball from Atlético left-back Kylie Strom, who found Ludmila up front. Ingle caught the Atlético striker’s heels as she chased and – as she was the last defender and not contesting the ball – referee Tess Olofsson had no choice but to eject her.
Deyana Castellanos, who has scored 10 goals this season for Atlético, was a solid choice to step up to the spot, but Berger’s brilliant save stopped her low shot and kept Chelsea on equal-footing on the scoreboard.
But they still had the small task of 75 minutes to play with 10. Mjelde shifted to centre back, while striker Beth England made way for Niamh Charles who slotted in at right back to deal with Atlético and England winger Toni Duggan.
Atlético did not take advantage though, and looked disjointed in the final third throughout the tie – rushing the ball forward with the panicked look of a team trailing. On paper they were the most difficult unseeded team for Chelsea to draw in the last 16, and the past two years have ended Manchester City’s European ambitions. But they have struggled for consistent form this season, trailing Spanish league rivals Barcelona by 13 points, and it showed.
Chelsea trio Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby sensed their weakness, and come the second half began charging forward. Kerr’s superior pace down the left flank exposed Atlético ahead of the hour mark, and as she was tripped up in the box to earn Chelsea their own penalty. Mjelde converted it calmly, and from then on the top side in England pushed on.
Soon after Kirby’s quick feet got her past two Atlético shirts before striking the post. A minute later, Harder, Kerr and Kirby combined and the latter got her third Champions League goal in as many games this campaign.
But Atlético started counter-attacking and Berger fouled Ludmila in the area late on. With 10 minutes to spare, Atlético had a second chance to at least salvage an away goal, but Merel van Dongen’s penalty was saved by Berger – who took a knee to the head to clear the rebound too, requiring medical attention. It keeps Chelsea on track to reach the quarter-finals as they head to Madrid later this month.
Chelsea Women (4-3-3): Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Ingle, Andersson; Harder, Leupolz, Ji (Cuthbert, 69); Kirby (Reiten, 78), England (Charles, 19), Kerr.
Substitutes not used: Music, Orman, Blundell, Carter, Fleming, Spence, Fox.
Booked: Ji, Kerr.
Sent off: Ingle.
Goals: Mjelde (58, pen), Kirby (64).
Atlético Madrid Femenino (4-4-2): Lindahl; Aleixandri, Tounkara, van Dongen, Strom; Ajibade (Knaak, 75), Silvia Meseguer, Santos, Duggan (Laurent, 75); Ludmila, Castellanos (Sampedro, 88).
Substitutes not used: Peyraud-Magnin, Kazadi, Bernabe, Garcia, Nkout, Iglesias De La Cruz.
Referee: Tess Olofsson (Sweden).