Emma Hayes, having watched Wolfsburg knock Chelsea out of the Champions League in three consecutive seasons from 2016-18, would be forgiven for ruing a draw that has paired them together in the competition again. 反而, Hayes is “looking forward” to seeing how her side fare in the quarter-final against their old foes.
“I think everybody would say the same,” the manager said before Wednesday’s first leg in Budapest. “I’m looking forward to watching [my side] cope with playing against a team that has won, 每次, in the biggest games against us, and I’m extremely curious to see how far we’ve progressed in the last three years.”
That is the measure of Hayes: each defeat in Europe’s premier competition has provided a new lesson, the latest stretch of code that should help Chelsea break into an exclusive club of Champions League winners that has welcomed an English team only once – Arsenal in 2007.
这次, 也, Chelsea have a not-so-secret weapon in Pernille Harder, who swapped Wolfsburg for London in the summer.
On the German club’s part it was a reluctant relinquishing of their star, as the sporting director, Ralf Kellermann, explained at the time. “Taking into account the fact that we are dealing with a record transfer fee for the women’s game – without going into the precise nature of the sum involved – and that Pernille was only going to be with us for another 10 months and had just played in the UWCL finals tournament for us, we decided that this was a fair solution for all involved,“ 他说.
Hayes was keen to downplay the role the current European player of the year could have in helping Chelsea finally overcome the two-times winners Wolfsburg and seven-times champions Lyon.
“We all know that Pernille is a world-class player, but she’s also playing in a world-class team and we have attacking talents that go beyond just Pernille,“ 她说. “We have players in a really good place, in top form. The reality is that the result is not dependent on any one player, it’s dependent on the whole and Pernille is a part of that whole.”
She is right, but Harder’s transfer represented more than just a strengthening of Chelsea and a weakening of the German champions. It reflected a bigger power shift taking place in European football: that the best of England are slowly overtaking the best of Germany. Beat Wolfsburg and the transition will be complete, with the overall strength of the Women’s Super League finally producing European competitors.
The Wolfsburg manager, Stephan Lerch, took time to praise the latest development in England, the record-breaking broadcast rights deal for the WSL. “This is a good thing for women’s football and sends a strong message,“ 他说. “I can only congratulate the English league for this. This is what you call visibility. England takes big steps with this while we in Germany only make little ones. In this case they are definitely ahead of us.”
Hayes thinks there are finally serious challengers to clubs from France and Germany.
“This is the first real year, even if there have been much closer steps in the last few years. I’ve said before, I think six teams could win this, easily. I don’t think there’s one favourite over another. It’s all about, at this stage, how you manage things.”
Wolfsburg have to manage Harder, the player they had built their team around and, in that sense, they could have an advantage. “We know her really well and worked with her for a long time,” Lerch said. “We know her strengths but also what she doesn’t like. We have to watch out for her and make sure she doesn’t get to unfold her qualities on the pitch. We need to be careful and not give her a lot of space. She can work really well with tiny spaces as well, but even better with bigger spaces.”
They know Harder, but Harder knows Wolfsburg, and so does her partner and teammate, the Chelsea captain, Madga Eriksson. “I also actually know a lot since I followed them very closely when she played there, so I feel like I also have a good view of them,” the Sweden international said. “Small details, you can ask P, but then our analysis team has done a great job as well.”
Focusing too much on Harder, when Chelsea boast players such as Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr, could be fatal for Wolfsburg. “We won’t make that mistake,” Lerch said.
“I would rank them right behind Olympique Lyon considering the roster they have. Chelsea’s quality has improved a lot since we last faced them, not only because of the Pernille deal. 为我, Pernille is still the most complete player there is and a player like her makes every team stronger and better. But we also have to mention players like Sam Kerr and Melanie Leupolz. It’s a duel on eye level now and it’s our goal to keep our winning streak against them, but we have to be wide awake right away.”