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Pernille Harder talks Champions League, opposition, new Chelsea signings, WSL title defence

Harder challenges ahead

Chelsea Women Training Session Photo by Harriet Lander - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The 2020-21 season was one of the Chelsea Women’s best ever years, with their success in defending both the Women’s Super League and League Cup titles. But the end of the term was not as sweet as most hoped for, since the Blues fell to Barcelona at the final stage of the Champions League in the first ever time reaching the last phase of the continental competition.

Despite the heartbreak from the loss, Chelsea attacking midfielder Pernille Harder feels it was still a very positive experience for the Blues to show not just the world but themselves that they can reach the upper echelons of football. Better yet, they also know how hard they have to work to reach that same stage again.

“It was the first time Chelsea were in the Champions League final, so it was a big step and a big achievement to get there, but obviously we also want to go on to win it. And that’s what we aim for now and the future, to not just be there, but also to win it.

“I think it’s important to get this experience of being in finals. We have been there now but we think we can develop even more.

“We have the potential to play even better and to be able to win against Barcelona. We are working hard in our pre-season, and we will work hard during the season to get better every week.”

Repeating the feat of reaching the Champions League final stage will not be an easy one given how Chelsea’s opponents at home and abroad have been able to secure great reinforcements. Our main rivals to the WSL title, Manchester City, added Barcelona’s former captain Vicky Losada and prolific Bordeaux goalscorer Khadija Shaw to their squad.

Meanwhile in France, seven-time Champions League winners Lyon have been under a rebuilding effort after finishing second in the league behind Paris Saint-Germain, whose young attacking trio is one of the best in the continent. And Spanish champions Barcelona, whose players also form the core of the Spanish national team, remain the team to beat.

“There are a lot of good teams now in Europe. And the competition is just getting bigger and bigger.

“It’s difficult to say which teams, because I think there are a lot [that could be in contention]. Obviously, Barcelona, yes. They won it last year and are a great team.

“But there is also PSG, Lyon, Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, us, Arsenal and Manchester City. So there are a lot of teams who are on a high level.”

What many will feel like a welcome addition to the Women’s Champions League, is the introduction of a group phase starting this season. The previous setup starting with a round-of-32 playoff gives way to a stage composed by four group with four teams each, with the top two clubs of each group advancing to the quarterfinals.

For fans, the group stage will lead to more opportunities of seeing the Blues on the pitch. Whereas for the sport, it can open more opportunities for exposition, and for more brands to be involved in it.

“With this new group stage [in the Champions League], I think it will be really exciting.

“I think it’s good because all teams who reach their group stage will be playing like six games at least or against three opponents.

“This will develop it to make it really interesting for all the teams. And also, it will be better for brands to get in to with partnerships when it’s like this.”

Chelsea Women did not make many moves in the transfer market. One could argue there was a need for more signings to be made, especially with defender Hannah Blundell making her way to Manchester United Women this summer.

But the few signings we made to the first-team were more than welcomed by the fans. Manchester United’s Lauren James is certainly the highlight given how talented the 19-year-old is at the wings. And we also brought 22-year-old defender Aniek Nouwen from PSV, who already has 20 caps for the Netherlands national team.

“Lauren James, she’s a huge talent and she’s only 19, but she can do something in front of goal that not many can do and so it’s really exciting to have her on the team.

“Aniek [Nouwen] is also is a player who is really calm on the ball. She’s also a young player who will give a lot to the team during the season and seasons ahead. She’s a player who is really good with the ball at her feet.”

Since the first edition of the Women’s Super League in 2011, no team has been able to successfully defend a title for a second time in a row. Title-winning is no easy feat, and doing so repeatedly is certainly a harder feat.

In the face of these odds, motivation can often wane. That is not the case for Harder, who still believes the Blues can be champions for a third consecutive time in the WSL this season.

“It is always like this when you win [the league], the next time will be even tougher because there’s nothing other teams want more than to beat Chelsea.

“So it means that we have to be even more focused. We have to be even better and we have to develop. And I believe we will be able to defend the title.”

-Pernille Harder; Source: Daily Mail

The title defence begins in less than 24 hours. Let’s do this!