Chelsea LFC starting lineup (3-4-3):
GK - Hedvig Lindahl
LCB - Magdalena Eriksson
CB - Gilly Flaherty
RCB - Millie Bright
LWB - Maria Thorisdottir
CM - Maren Mjelde
CM - Katie Chapman (c)
RWB - Hannah Blundell
LAM - Fran Kirby (Eni Aluko 76’)
CF - Ramona Bachmann (Crystal Dunn 72’)
RAM - Drew Spence (Gemma Davison 67’)
Both teams started aggressively under the Champions League lights at Kingsmeadow (2100+ in attendance), with the Blues pressuring everywhere on the pitch. Both teams set up with a back three and a pair of wingbacks, and that made for a close contest from the start. A foul on Chapman after five minutes showed Bayern’s intention to challenge the Blues physically. The ensuing free kick was nearly a connection between two of our new signings: Magdalena Eriksson’s delivery finding Maria Thorisdottir’s far post run, but the latter couldn’t quite get her header on target.
A brilliant counter attack had the Blues in front moments later. Hannah Blundell charged down the right flank and found Bachmann’s bending run, who put in a perfect cross along the ground into the path of an on-rushing Drew Spence, who rewarded the manager’s faith in giving her the start over star player Ji So-Yun or the experienced Karen Carney.
Spence was again involved a few minutes later, winning the ball in midfield and setting off on the counter. The ball eventually made it to Kirby, who was left in a heap after another strong Bayern challenge, but the referee swallowed her whistle. Still, the Blues were bossing the game through Spence, Maren Mjelde, and Katie Chapman and another Spence-sprung counter only fizzled out due to an overhit final pass by Thorisdottir.
Bayern served notice of their intent after the opening quarter of an hour, as Chapman cleared from a scramble in the box. The visitors kept the pressure on however and won a corner moments later. Bayern would finish with about a dozen corners, but Chelsea’s marking on them was consistently impressive throughout (something the men’s team could learn). Chelsea did get a bit lucky from a second ball as Bayern hit the post and Lindahl had to make several saves, though none too uncomfortable.
The Blues were committed to staying on the front foot, and a powerful forward run by Millie Bright won them a free kick. This time Bachmann’s delivery to the back post met by Bright, who nearly put it into the opposite corner but the header just looped wide. Chelsea were playing the high press well, winning the ball often and looking dangerous. Thorisdottir at left wing-back seemed to be the lone the exception, as she couldn’t measure her pass a few times. At the other end, the visitors seized on a weakly headed back pass from Bright, who was stretching for it, but Lindahl cleaned up, before Chelsea had to clear a couple more corners. Spence then made a rare mistake, trying to force the through ball to Kirby on the break and not seeing Bachmann on her left, and the Blues were almost punished when an Azpilicueta-like cross and an acrobatic shot forced a difficult save from Lindahl.
Back and forth the two sides went, each team looking poised to score. Kirby had a go from a suitable position, but a defender got in the way of her shot that was bound for the top corner. “Get Maria on the ball,” shouted Hayes in the 38th minute, but given how Thorisdottir had been the cause of multiple good moves breaking down on the left flank, one wondered what the Chelsea manager was seeing. In fact, the majority of Chelsea’s promising moves were through Blundell and Spence on the right wing. Perhaps Hayes foresaw a need to increase width.
Bayern were showing their quality, passing the ball around the Blues smartly, but Chelsea were always able to shut the door before the danger became too great, and able to threaten at the other end. Bachmann’s pace and dribbling ability were having a growing effect on the game. Crashing through the middle of the defense, she won a free kick and the foul yielded the game’s first yellow card right on half time for Laudehr.
The Blues would’ve had a (relatively) calm half time talk from Hayes with the one goal margin, but after an initial push through Blundell to start the second half, it was all hands on deck in defense for the home team. Two great saves out of Lindahl kept Bayern at bay, but Chelsea were struggling to get out of their own half. The team was defending well enough, but were entirely disjointed in possession.
Bizarrely, Lindahl was cautioned for time-wasting on 54 minutes, and just about everyone but the ref seemed a bit confused by that. What wasn’t confusing was Bayern’s growing dominance, as they created and spurned several guilt-edged opportunities. Chelsea were riding their luck, and a goal looked inevitable.
Drew Spence made way for Gemma Davison just past the hour mark, a move intended to inject pace into the forward line to give Bayern something to think about. For a moment, the game’s pattern changed, and the Blues, who had been forced to stay in their own half, looked like they might have finally opened it back up. The relief was short-lived, and another near-miss from the Munich team inspired the introduction of Crystal Dunn for Bachmann. This meant Kirby could move centrally, and Chelsea’s attacking three were all in their natural positions for them for the first time in the game. The 74th minute nearly saw this shift pay dividends, as Kirby went flying through the right channel and only an excellent intervention from Bayern’s sweeper keeper prevented the one-v-one situation.
That was to be Kirby’s last significant action of the evening, as Hayes brought in Eni Aluko with the final substitution five minutes later. The three attacking substitutions did the trick to change the flow of the game though Dunn and Aluko were often far too isolated from the rest of the team to truly create any dangerous opportunities. A Bright header from a corner won by Aluko came closest to the Blues stealing a second goal, but Chelsea looked happy to settled for the clean sheet and the one-goal margin of victory.
That said, the overall performance left a bit to be desired, and a similar showing is unlikely to survive a trip to Munich. Advantage Chelsea, for now, but the job is far from done. The second leg and a spot in the Round of 16 awaits next Wednesday in Munich.