The Champions League draw blessed us with a homecoming for Pernille Harder, who helped guide VfL Wolfsburg to four Frauen Bundesliga titles in four seasons, and two Champions League finals, including last year’s, before swapping wolf-green for Chelsea-blue.
But the draw also brought back haunting memories of campaigns past, even as we did well to avoid Lyon, PSG, Barcelona or even Manchester City. Wolfsburg eliminated Chelsea from the Champions League three of the last four times we played in it — 2016 (Round of 16), 2017 (Round of 32), 2018 (semifinals). Chelsea repeated as semifinalists in 2019, losing to Lyon, and did not qualify for last season.
But a lot has changed in London since then, with Chelsea strengthening under the watchful eyes of manager Emma Hayes. All that work on and off the pitch has given us full confidence that the
third fourth time is the charm.
Date / Time: Wednesday, March 24, 2021, 16.00 GMT; 12pm EDT; 9:30pm IST
Venue: Ferenc Szusza Stadium, Budapest, Hungary — both legs will be played in Budapest due to COVID-19 travel restrictions
Forecast: Cloudy; 8°C, 46°F
Wolfsburg team news: The biggest news for Wolfsburg is that star forward Ewa Pajor is back on the pitch, though her overall fitness is questionable still. She only played a total of 39 minutes in the two legs against LSK Kvinner, but played half an hour in Wolfsburg’s 2-0 win over Leverkusen just over a week ago. It was the combination of Pajor and Harder that made Wolfsburg so dangerous, and while Harder torched the Frauen Bundesliga for 27 goals in 21 matches, Pajor scored 16 in 17. Pajor was meant to step up even more this season, before the injury.
Though Wolfsburg’s scoring output may be lower, their defense remains stingy, having notched ten clean sheets in sixteen domestic matches, and in both legs of their Round of 16 4-0 aggregate win. Of course, Chelsea are a much taller task than LSK Kvinner, or even Bayern Munich, the only club to have defeated Wolfsburg in the league.
Lena Goeßling is still ever-present in the back line, even at age 35. Talented midfielders Lena Oberdorf and Ingrid Syrstad Engen are barely 35 combined, but they may both get a chance to start. Alexandra Popp was a handful up front in the previous round, scoring a brace in the first leg. Hungarian Zsanett Jakabfi may be the player to feel most at home at a match played in Budapest: she has been clinical in front of goal this season and leads the team with ten league goals.
Wolfsburg will surely be motivated to prove that they are capable of going deep into the Champions League without Harder, and what better way to do that knocking out her and her new superteam from the competition?
Chelsea team news: Starting right back Maren Mjelde tore her MCL in the League Cup final victory over Bristol City. She’ll be out for the remainder the season. Also absent will be Bethany England, who suffered a concussion in our previous Champions League match. Emma Hayes indicated that the team neurologist believes England needs just a bit more time prior to returning. While her absence will be missed, it is refreshing to see a concussion being taken seriously.
Harder’s likely to start alongside Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby up front. In midfield, Melanie Leupolz has been the key anchor, and could partner either Sophie Ingle or Ji So-Yun, or both. Wolfsburg boast an impressive midfield and a base of Leupolz-Ingle would provide additional strength in front of what might be a bit fo a makeshift defense. Millie Bright and Magda Eriksson will no doubt form the center back partnership. They’ll be joined by Jonna Andersson and ... Niamh Charles maybe? Charles performed admirably in her audition as Mjelde’s replacement.
Previously: As mentioned above, these two last met in the 2018 Champions League semifinal, where Wolfsburg won 5-1 on aggregate. The second leg finished 2-0 with Pernille Harder getting on the scoresheet.