The UEFA womens Champions League. The Round of 16. Quite early in the competition because Chelseas UEFA ranking had not been very high. They have been new to the competition so they have not been seeded. VfL Wolfsburg have been Champions in 2013 and 2014, semi finalist in 2015. Only Paris Saint Germain managed to beat them in the last three years. But – their Bundesliga campaign so far this year is not what they expected after bringing in a bunch of other star players during the summer break like Ramons Bachmann, Lara Dickenmann, Elise Boussaglia, Tessa Wullaert, Ewa Pajor … to name a few.
After last year Graham Hansen, Yuki Ogimi, Julia Simic, Babett Peter … for example.
Chelsea London were finally crowned english champions in 2015. And also with a bunch of new signings over the last two years. And their latest – Fran Kirby – after the World Cup one of the most influential and like rumors say the most expensive change in english womens football.
Headline : Closer than expected?
That is the question. You had expected that Chelsea London are a good side. But really that they are that close? If Wolfsburg would have seen any player from Chelsea good enough for their side they probably would have tried to buy her.
But Chelsea as expected was probably the better team in terms of forming some proper unit out of their eleven individual players. Again – as you could expect from what you saw in the bundesliga – there was nearly nothing created by the Wolfsburg top players interacting. You saw how good they are as individuals. Mostly the better players all over the pitch when it came to 1on1 situations. Then the Chelsea players often had to find some solution. Mostly play the ball before a Wolfsburg player came too close. Exceptions Ji, Davison, Rafferty, (Aluko). But you saw that VfL Wolfsburg are not very successful in connecting their players when in possession of the ball. Should you say "of course" they did only score by an own goal and an individual skill of Hansen? "Of course" they have been again unable to threaten the goal by any passing combination? They did not even come close. They are good at exactly these moments when exactly happened what Chelsea had to prevent as mentioned in the preview. They have to make sure they have bodies back there to help each other out because the danger always is they were passed in a 1on1 situation.
In the opening minutes we saw Chelsea London certainly shocked by the goal and the players had to overcome thoughts that just exactly that happened what would reduce their chances significantly. Wolfsburg on the other side were prepared and experienced in what was to come. They started on the front foot from the first minute. Trying to add an additional five percent effort in every single duel on the pitch.
But both these effects slowly faded down the longer the game went on. Chelsea slowly but constantly grew into the game. Not being able to put too much pressure on Wolfsburg. But they gained a possession rate at about 50:50 from the middle of the first half on and could quite comfortably manage to prevent Wolfsburg from coming close to goalscoring areas. And so corner kicks and set pieces had been the main source for at least situations where the ball came close to the goal with a lot of bodies in there and thus the hope for a chance existed.
Very few long range shots like that from Davison was the closest both sides came from open play during that period.
And after the break the game continued exactly like that. Again it was a set piece that provided a strange own goal. A mirror of what happened on the pitch. But this time you got more the feeling of a lack of skills rather than bad luck. Too long was the ball flying through the air with clear sight so that you should be able to recognise as a defender you must not make a touch like this.
And so the game got the result it deserved. One own goal each. It had developed into a quite evenly contested match. Still you saw the majority of the Wolfsburg players individually dominant in athletic as well as technical skills – but no team that dominated proceedings on the pitch.
Too many errors though on both sides seemed to leave them a fair distance away from being able to produce the required accuracy especially in the final third to threaten the opposite goal regularly. But every now and then individual skills produced some chances as after Davisons fine run on the wing where Fischer could just prevent Ji from scoring or when Borges just was able to prevent Popp from scoring at the other end after a fine cross
Chelsea might have had better luck than other sides regarding injuries during their 2015 campaign and so they could pitch a starting line up that remained pretty much the same during all the second part of the season. Borges was brought in and Bright since the CL started. That meant a back line of Borges – Flaherty – Fahey – Rafferty. Bright and Chapman as holding midfielders. Aluko and Davison on the flanks with Ji in the middle. And Kirby up front the only player without too much defensive duties. Wolfsburg also like expected in the back line with Blässe – Peter – Fischer – Maritz. But Bernauer and Boussaglia as holding midfielders and Dickenmann, Goessling, Popp and Bachmann what we normally called the Wolfsburg shake up front because they seemed to try to switch positions more than anything else. But absolutely not so this time. Not the first sudden change of mind this season (after the switch to a back line of 3 – and back to 4 again). But probably to the better. For the inconsistancy it brings for the own team that is. But the positioning of the players in this constellation also didnt produce a very threatening attacking play.
Interesting was the sense of right tactical behaviour of Ji who often dropped in deep nearly in a holding midfielder position to not wait for the balls up front but support her midfield in build up play. She was the outstanding Chelsea player in regards to keeping possession even in tight situations and when under attack by several Wolfsburg players. Very valuable in preventing Wolfsburg from getting too much dominance in the center at times.
Because both worked well defensively. And defensively with a high work rate to prevent their opponents from having time and space in midfield and even more in front of the own goal.
Faults in having back enough players were few and the only source of danger. When Davison had a 1on1 run at Maritz who missed support. When Kirby had her chance. The only time a gap opened in the center defense of Wolfsburg in 90 minutes. To win without the help of own goals you have to take those few chances. Hansen did after Chelsea was careless. In midfield too slow to react on a throw in near the center line. Soon the ball was with Hansen who suddenly had only one defender in front of her. And here we go. A few dummies to create herself another few meters to enter the box (well knowing the defender without support had to step back) and a clinical strike as soon as the goal was in striking distance. That kind of situation was described in the preview and that will be the main danger in the second leg as well.
Resume and Prospect
There is nothing decided already. However it will be the big question now for the both managers to draw the right conclusions from this first match. How can they adapt? Certainly Chelsea have an even bigger task at their hands starting from 1:2 down (than at 0:0). But certainly they will not go to Wolfsburg having a nice friendly only but try. And as we often see a 2:1 lead can also be a illusionary feeling of safety.
And VfL Wolfsburg at the level they have shown in the Bundesliga so far are not uninvincible for Chelsea London. But sooner or later they probably will find a way to improve. A little bit like try and error. And even if they need many errors. As they for example accidentally found out that Blässe is better as defender. She was preferred last year as wing forward to Hansen at times. Simply a horrible idea that should show how long it sometimes need in Wolfsburg at the moment. So that would be a big surprise if they would draw the right conclusions just now. Chelsea London should be better there. But they have no Hansen additionally available on the bench. So what can they do? An interesting aspect for the second match. Certainly they want to stay compact and avoid situations like the 1:2. May be they want to wait until Wolfsburg is tired. Maybe they want to disappoint them by staying deep and let them do the running by trying with their toothless offense first. Maybe if they have three very good wing backs but lack in the center they think about Rafferty as "6" or "8" at the end or even as left wing because they might need more than 5 threatening players and you could see Rafferty the next best available. Maybe they want to cover the center and Fischer and let Blässe very free to get her to play as much balls in build up from deep as possible. She is brimming with confidence at the moment because even choosen for the national team. Did they even realise that about 7 out of 10 openings from her resulted in direct easy losses of the ball. Normally someone should have been quick to advise her to play safe balls to Frohms or Fischer instead of producing more faults in 90 minutes than a good wing back in half a season. Not to forget the nice scene a few minutes before half time. She made a huge swing back with her leg to clear the ball away but it was so awefully mistimed and she wasnt even able to correct it so that when she finally tried to kick where the ball was some seconds ago Aluko had not only stolen the ball but was already running away with it. That was entertaining.
Another aspect is the long time since the season ended in England. Some players are faster – some need some time to get "match fit" again after that. Maybe Kirby would have buried her chance 6 weeks ago? So that was more an advantage for VfL Wolfsburg in the first leg. In the second it becomes a disadvantage. Chelsea now could clean off the rust and had a game at least. That helps. But they can relax now and prepare for a whole week. Wolfsburg has yet another crucial match on sunday against the same opponent they just won 2:1 in the 86th minute in the Cup. No chance to relax.
Player of the match: Fischer
Not an overwhelming performance. And again more a case of who else? Hansen comes into mind. Who had more impact on the game in a short time than all the other top forwards in 90 minutes. But even if she showed also in other scenes that her qualities might be a little bit above the others it still would be very random and she also needed a bunch of good luck for that goal to happen. Apart from that only a defender could be it. And there Fischer was the outstanding in Wolfsburgs defense even also a little bit because the others certainly were not.
Solid. A few losses when opening play in the first half
Did her job well. Not much to see from Popp
A little bit rusty when on the move forward
If only the goal would not have happened
Fighter who has to improve technically
Solid in midfield
Looked often the better against Maritz.
As always a lot of running and threatening
Would she have converted that sitter 6 weeks ago?.
Used her great skills as the one in midfield to safe possession even in difficult situations
Nearly nothing to do.
much technical improvement possible
Very solid chief in her defense
Solid but the goal was worse than the other
Couldnt stop Davison in 1on1
Solid without any sparkle.
Strong start constantly fading away
Not much effect
Very busy. good workrate. but not more
Looked strong on the ball but no effect
Every comment is very much appreciated !