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Chelsea LFC survive and advance on another dramatic Champions League night in Munich

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Bayern 2-1 Chelsea (2-2 agg.), UWCL Rof32: Match report

Chelsea Ladies v Bayern Munich - UEFA Womens Champions League Round of 32: First Leg Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chelsea starting lineup (3-4-3):

GK Lindahl

RCB Bright
CB Flaherty
LCB Eriksson

RWB Blundell
CDM Chapman
CDM MjeldeL
WB Thorisdottir

RAM Spence
CF Kirby
LAM Bachmann

Heart-pounding action from start to finish. If you missed it, find the match on replay; it’s worth it. On a night when Chelsea Ladies had to be at their best, they came together and produced an outstanding team performance to overcome elite opposition in Munich.

Chelsea started with good intensity, and their consistent running kept a more than willing Bayern from making any real challenges to Lindahl’s goal in the early minutes. A strong run from Blundell released Bachmann for a shot, but it was blocked well by the German defense. It was clear that the Blues were looking to provide some impetus in attack immediately with a couple runs on each wing and also a few long balls looking for Kirby and Bachmann.

It was a testy first ten minutes, with nothing too exciting at either end due to solid defending. But Chelsea were leaving a bit too much room in build-up, though the only shot which required a save to this point was a long distance strike comfortably gathered by Lindahl. Both sides were doing the majority of their attacking down the wings, and each was defending with numbers. Chelsea’s wing-backs swapped sides in an effort to combat this, while Bachmann was the most dangerous-looking of the Blues going forward.

Bad news came in the 17th minute, as an awkward landing on an acrobatic move resulted in a muscular issue (ankle?) for Drew Spence, who came hobbling to the touchline. Fortunately, she was able to return within about 30 seconds, but she never did seem to run off the knock and was eventually replaced early in the second half.

An error from Bright, caught out of position, led to a half-chance from a cross, but Chapman was on hand to disrupt and clear. Nevertheless, the Blues were on their heels again as good interplay opened up a shooting opportunity from the right and the rebound fell to a Bayern player facing an open net. The relief was immense when she put the ball over. By minute 25, the Blues had looked to be reduced to the same pattern in which they played the entire second half in the first leg.

However, the blueprint for overcoming that narrative was sketched out by Fran Kirby and Hannah Blundell as the former made a gut-busting run after a long ball to get some possession, and Blundell arrived in support, ultimately turning the move into a chance for Thorisdottir, who had her shot blocked, and Chapman, whose effort went over the bar. Moments later, a similar story played out with different players, as Thorisdottir and Spence won a corner with an aggressive attack. The ensuing set piece left the Viking warrior ruing a missed chance as she wasn’t able to get good contact with her header at the far post.

The match had a great air about it at this point, with 15 left to play in the half. Each team was attacking with purpose and defending with everything. Bachmann’s shot over the bar was possibly the best chance for the Londoners, though she had options in Mjelde and Blundell in better positions. Eriksson nearly saw her name in those proverbial lights as she blasted a ball from Mjelde at the goal but a good save from the Munich keeper meant the Blues were rewarded with only a corner.

Nothing came of that corner, nor another that Blundell won on 40 minutes, as Bayern were dealing with our set piece threats well (as we were with theirs). All-in-all, Chelsea were hanging with one of the big clubs in Europe: defending, pressuring, passing, and creating well. All that was missing was the clinical finish. Most importantly, the Blues were looking comfortable at half, still up 1-0 on aggregate.


The start of the second half was sluggish, sloppy, and surprisingly without any real sense of urgency. This nearly played right into Chelsea’s hands when Kirby was able to send Bachmann in on goal, but the latter wasn’t able to muster a good strike. Bayern forced a save from Lindahl a minute later, and then a scramble in the Blues’ box after another minute caused both sides to wake up some.

Manager Emma Hayes was quite audibly growing concerned on the touchline, and she saw fit to introduce Crystal Dunn for Spence, who hadn’t had the impact she would’ve hoped for. The home side responded with a double-change of their own as Chelsea committed fully to defending once again. The only player who stayed ahead of the ball was Bachmann, as Dunn and Kirby flew about the pitch, assisting their teammates with the “dirty work” of marking and pressing.

Finally, the Blues got their reward for that hard work as a loose ball came to the waiting Bachmann, who was able to spring Kirby breaking the lines with a perfect ball over the top, and she rarely makes a mistake when it’s just her and the goalkeeper. Kirby clipped her short over the keeper and into the far corner. It was a picture-perfect counter-attack goal.

Shortly thereafter, was forced off with what appeared to be cramps, with speedster Gemma Davison coming on in her place. With less than 30 minutes to go, Chelsea looked well on course for the next round of Champions League.

Suddenly, the script was flipped, and the last 30 minutes were anything but comfortable.

Alarm bells were ringing as Lindahl spilled a cross and only a last ditch clearance from Flaherty spared the Blues. Davison and Dunn were doing their best to cause trouble for Bayern, but Chelsea kept dropping deeper and Bayern kept ratcheting up the pressure.

Bachmann was fouled in the 72nd, but the referee had swallowed her whistle, which gave Bayern an undeserved chance. Bright, who had grown into the game as it went along, made a spectacular tackle to kill off that chance.

Unfortunately, her heroics were ignored by the football gods, as a Bayern corner came in while Chelsea were defending with ten due to a Blundell injury. The looping cross caught Bright by surprise and it ricocheted off of her and into the net (glancing off Davison on the post in the process) to give Bayern the equalizer on the night. Blundell was then carried off without putting weight on either leg; Carney replaced her.

The goal put the wind in Bayern’s sails and Chelsea were looking shaky. Bachmann went down with cramps as well, and was off for about five minutes with all three subs already used. Thorisdottir picked up a knock and had to receive treatment and Chelsea were temporarily down to just nine. Bayern certainly weren’t waiting around for the numbers to return to even. A long-range effort from a second ball on a corner wasn’t held by Lindahl and Bayern pounced on the loose ball. Winning 2-1 on the night, but losing on away goal on aggregate, Bayern needed one more goal to advance.

Thorisdottir came back in, but Chelsea were under siege. Bachmann joined as well, but looked like she could barely walk, let alone run. The Bayern fans by this point had frothed over, believing the injuries to be faked, even as their team was benefiting from them. The next few minutes were so chaotic, I may have blacked out. They consisted mostly of madness in the box, desperate clearances to absolutely everywhere, a player down for each team, and a vociferous yet probably valid cry for handball by Bright in the box. Oh yeah, and then there were SIX ADDED MINUTES! Does anyone know what to do when they feel a heart attack coming on?

Bright, who wasn’t at her best for much of the game was absolutely terrific in these closing minutes, seemingly there to win every duel. Karen Carney ran the length of the pitch down to the opponent’s corner flag a couple times, though once she opted to shoot rather than just taking the ball to the corner flag. Lindahl was making up for his spill with sticky hands. Ramona Bachmann must have gotten new bionic legs, because she was clearing balls 150 yards.

It was classic backs-to-the-wall effort from Chelsea in Munich. A not altogether unique sight, but just as welcome as ever. When Bayern’s third goal was ruled out for offside in added-time, it truly felt written in the stars once again. Not too long after the final whistle sounded, and it was met with tears and jeers and cheers and just about everything else you could imagine.

Victory!

What a match. My heart is racing; it’s 4am here. How can I possibly sleep now? Why would I want to? Come on you Blues!

NB. The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on Monday. Hopefully we can avoid Wolfsburg and Lyon.