Given the signings Chelsea have made in the last year and a half, namely Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, and Melanie Leupolz, a run to the Champions League final might be expected. I need you to understand that this is not so. Football is never that easy, and, to add to the difficulty level, this is the most stacked the Women’s Champions League that has ever been. I need you to understand that.
I also need you to understand that Emma Hayes is brilliant. She may have a tendency to back whoever she calls on in the first leg a bit too much, but there is no one better at adjusting to an opponent and dominating them in the second leg. Hayes did this against Atlético Madrid, Wolfsburg (last year’s runners up), and now Bayern Munich.
I need you to understand that Emma Hayes asked Niamh Charles to play left back. For the first time. Ever. IN THE SECOND LEG OF A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTERFINAL! I need you to understand that Charles was brilliant, and gave exactly what Emma Hayes needed her to. I need you to understand that her opposite number, Hanna Glas, is one of the best fullbacks in Europe, and torched Chelsea in the first leg, assisting Bayern’s first then scoring their second.
I need you to understand that Magda Eriksson is one of the best center backs in the world. I also need you to understand that I hate comparing women’s players with men’s players, but that the simplest analog to understand Magda Eriksson’s impact is to note Liverpool men’s rapid decline in all three areas of the pitch without their talisman, Virgil Van Dijk. I need you to understand that Magda Eriksson has a similar impact, if not greater.
I need you to understand that she is key to all three lines playing well, and that in the WSL alone, she has carried the ball forward for over 3.8 miles. Chelsea’s off-ball movement relies on Eriksson trotting up the pitch calmly, seemingly without danger, while the rest of the team weave and rotate to find gaps and create links between each other.
I need you to understand that for as much possession as Chelsea had in the first leg (64%) we weren’t able to create consistent danger, and being without Eriksson was a major reason why. I need you to understand that having her back in the XI was vital to matching up with Bayern and imposing our will to the tune of four goals.
I need you to understand that Fran Kirby is no longer Super, she is God Mode. This Fran Kirby, fully unlocked via the pairing with Sam Kerr, is a new level of ruthless. In the 90s sugary cereals and capitalism combined to inform kids that their favorite tooth-rotting breakfast candy was some percentage ‘chocolatier’ — in a similar vein, This Fran Kirby is 40 per cent more Kirby-er. To understand, I need you to watch Chelsea’s first goal. I need you to see how Kirby breaks through midfield at a pace only Sam Kerr could keep up with. I need you to notice Kirby’s off-ball movement as well, in particular how she lays the ball off to Kerr to go park her center back before cutting across to receive a pass and drill into the bottom far corner.
I need you to understand that this is God Mode Fran Kirby.
Sam Kerr Fran Kirby— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) May 2, 2021
1-0 Chelsea early! 2-2 on aggregate and Chelsea have the away-goal tiebreaker at the moment. pic.twitter.com/yDPLyt7wW3
I need you to understand that this midfield was the same midfield that was nearly run off the pitch in the first leg versus Wolfsburg. I need you to understand how chillingly hollow I felt when I realized this moments before kickoff.
I need you to understand that Emma Hayes is so much smarter than me, and that she knows exactly what she is doing.
I need you to understand that Sophie Ingle, Melanie Leupolz and Ji So-yun were brilliant at shepherding Bayern into areas where we could press them on the flanks. This was their best attribute in the first leg, and that it is both cruel and unreal that we snatched and turned it into one of ours in the second.
I need you to understand that Ji’s goal was so important. Bayern had equalized and taken control of the tie on aggregate just fourteen minutes earlier. Bayern’s goal was deflating, and one of the best you’ll see all year. I also need you to understand that Ji’s goal came two minutes from half-time, altering team talks and the advantage in the tie.
I need you to understand that it was Ji’s sharpness of thought and skill that created the goal. The free kick was aimed at the near post, and a half second after it smacked off the wall, Ji was sending a bouncing shot arrowed toward the side netting of the far post. I need you to understand how outrageous it is to reset your body for a half volley after striking a free kick while aiming at opposing posts.
I need you to understand that Pernille Harder really hates Bayern. It’s not so much a surprise that a four-year ex-Wolfsburg player would still despise their primary rival, but that hatred still burning this brightly was exciting see. Harder is typically a smooth, lethal player. She floats about the pitch, manipulating the ball until she can unleash a drive beyond the keeper’s fingertips. I need you to understand that versus Bayern that smoothness had been sharpened by a blacksmith’s grinding wheel.
I need you to understand that she was never going to rest until she scored in this match, so she did. It was a quick, stunning header from a flat delivery that caught every Bayern player flat-footed, and I need you to understand that Didier Drogba loved that stroll down memory lane.
I need you to understand that the final moments of this match were torture. I lost count of how many clearances Chelsea made off the line but it was surely near a hundred, and I swear ninety-five of them happened within one forty-five second span.
I need you to understand that my heart drained into my shoes when Sam Kerr missed her one-on-one. The headlines wrote themselves, and I saw so vividly the avalanche of a year’s worth of undeserved harshness waiting to tumble into reality the moment Bayern bundled a ball across the line.
I need you to understand that some things are bigger than football. It was only right that the match would end, officially, with Fran Kirby scoring into an empty net for the simplest though most important finish of her career.
I need you to understand that after a nearly decade-long project, Chelsea FCW are going to a Champions League Final.