A Maren Mjelde penalty and low strike from Fran Kirby helped a resilient Chelsea take control of their last-16 Champions League tie with Atlético Madrid after the home side were reduced to 10 players early on.
Goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger was the hero as her two penalty saves, the first following the sending off of Wales international Sophie Ingle and the second after she came hurtling out erratically to claim a through ball, gave the Blues time to regroup after the early shock and then keep a clean sheet at Kingsmeadow.
Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea were undoubtedly favourites heading into the tie, with Atlético sitting fourth in La Liga.
However, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes had warned prior to the game of the irrelevance of Atlético’s league standing. “Listen, they’re a great Cup team,” Hayes said. “The fact they won against Barcelona a couple of weeks ago [in the Supercopa semi final], last year against Manchester City [in the UWCL].
“Cups are different. I’ve learned that these are the teams you must absolutely pay the most attention to.”
Plans were ripped up within 12 minutes though as a long ball from defender Kylie Strom over the top caught Ingle off guard and played in Rasheedat Ajibade. Attempting to recover, Ingle brought down the Nigerian winger and the referee pointed to the spot. Ingle had been filling in at centre-back for injured club captain Magda Eriksson, who picked up an injury in training.
Up stepped Venezuelan Deyna Castellanos but her low soft shot was palmed away by Berger.
With the damaged limited by the German keeper, Hayes shuffled. Off came forward Beth England and Mjelde shifted into the middle alongside Bright with Niamh Charles coming on to slot in at right-back.
Looking rattled, Chelsea were uncharacteristically chasing possession, with left-back Jonna Andersson tested time and time again by bursts of speed from the blue-haired Ajibade who stayed out on the wing.
Growing in confidence as the Atlético pressure failed to break through the rejigged set up, the home side began to carve out chances, primarily through the twisting runs of playmaker Ji So Yun and incisive passing of European player of the year Pernille Harder in the middle.
Hayes prides herself on having built a squad of players that can manage the unexpected mid-game and in the second half they were rewarded for their resilience after having lost Ingle. Sam Kerr made a driving run into the box from the left but had three striped shirts around her and nowhere to go, however an ill-timed challenge from Aissatou Tounkara felled her and it was Chelsea’s turn to try from the spot with Mjelde side-footing cleanly into the corner.
Then, within minutes of hitting the post, Kirby struck, sending a low effort into the bottom corner past former teammate Hedvig Lindahl to give the 10-woman team a two-goal cushion.
A wild attempt to claim a through ball resulted in another spot-kick but Berger saved again, from defender Merel van Dongen, and took a knee to the face as she smothered the rebound.