Chelsea at full flight are a marauding wave that overwhelms opponent in bursts, and piles on as many goals as in short of a time as possible. In the first half of the League Cup semifinal versus Manchester United last night, the Blues were in precisely such a marauding form. Chelsea scored in the 26th, 31st and 39th minutes, and did so in such a soul-crushing manner that it didn’t matter that United scored one as well between our second and third.
The weapons at Emma Hayes’s disposal are some of the best in the world, and are often used to produce peak ruthlessness through their own individual brands of goalscoring nous. Sam Kerr’s timing and movement make her inconceivable to mark while Fran Kirby’s dribbling, acceleration and vision make her impossible to cope with. Pernille Harder has a combination of both skillsets, but her particular brand is that she makes use of them in extremely mean ways — for the opposition.
Against Manchester United, who were actually playing well up until Harder uncorked a bottle of her best cruelty, center back Aiofe Mannion found herself in the highly unenviable position of having to defend 1-v-1 against Harder. What happened next, was a total disgrace.
As this was beginning to unfold live, it seemed just for a second that Harder lost control of the ball and that the universe might take pity on the visitors as Mannion might pounce and prevent what was to follow. Instead, Harder uses her strength to keep separation until she could get the ball back under her feet and continue doling out her signature evil.
Harder then hops slightly to her left, as if going to strike the ball or dribble wide. Mannion bites hard. Harder senses this and drags the ball with her left over to her right, forcing Mannion to twist the wrong way to recover. Mannion has her back turned at this point, but Harder is patient, diabolically so. She’s not done yet. She waits for the defender to get her head back around and eye on the ball before faking another shot and touching the ball with her right back onto her left. Mannion, bewildered, off-balance and out of options, then proceeds to fold herself neatly into a pile on the grass.
Meanwhile, the goalkeeper, presumably rendered motionless by Mannion’s exorcism, just stares dumbfounded as Harder dispatches the ball into an empty net.
It’s worth another, closer look.
It’s a classic Pernille Harder goal: exceptional footwork and balance to bamboozle, before delivering the ball into the net. Nutmeg, feints, hesitations, twists, turns, instant changes of direction, and of course pure close control to weave through defenders, Harder’s at her best when she’s at her villainous
The shared character trait of all villains, particularly supervillains, is that they derive satisfaction from inflicting some measure of suffering. It’s why they can’t resist a monologue when their plan comes together.
In the scripted world, it’s a given that the hero will outwit and somehow break free to turn the tables. But this is the real world. And in the real world, when Pernille Harder has you where she wants you, there’s no escaping the embarrassment to come.
Thanks to the talent of matchday photographers, we can even see Harder in full villain monologue moment, admiring her work.
Siri, zoom in...