Ladies report: Chelsea 1 Wolfsburg 3

Chelsea Ladies’ first ever Champions League semi-final could not have started any better, Ji So-Yun on target with the game barely underway, but the German champions were ahead by half-time and extended their lead midway through the second half to set a stiff challenge for the second leg in a week’s time.

In front of another new Chelsea Ladies best crowd at Kingsmeadow, the Blues were on top for spells of the game and were clearly more closely matched with a side with an outstanding pedigree in this competition than in the previous two seasons, but we conceded a headed equaliser midway through the first half before the misfortune of an own-goal just before half-time.

It was a sharp finish from Lara Dickenmann which gave Wolfsburg their third away goal during the second period and their defence held firm after that to maintain their healthy advantage.  For Chelsea, there is a clear week to prepare for the challenge of turning that around.

For today’s tea-time game, Emma Hayes was able to call upon the services of Ji again following the completion of South Korea’s Asia Cup campaign, but she was without suspended Ramona Bachmann. The Swiss striker will be available to face her former club in the second leg.

With Maria Thorisdottir remaining out injured and Jonna Andersson cup-tied, Chelsea lined up with a back-four today and there was also a welcome return on the bench for Deanna Cooper following the defender’s cruciate injury.

It was the retuning Ji who had Kingsmeadow on its feet and leaping with less than two minutes on the clock. Our German opponents dealt poorly with a long kick upfield by Hedvig Lindahl and Fran Kirby did not give up on a chase towards the corner flag. The England international gave Noelle Maritz the slip brilliantly and found Ji who still had a lot to do. A couple of touches and one cracking low shot later and Chelsea were 1-0 up, the ball nestling in the far corner. It was her 10th of the campaign.

It was a lead we held for just over quarter of an hour. Neither side had especially threatened in the interim but then Pemille Harder escaped down the left and was able to take her time over the cross. The delivery found Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir who reached it ahead of Magda Eriksson and whose powerful header from close range gave Lindahl no chance.

 The Blues had conceded an away goal and were not far away from going 2-1 down when Ewa Pajor raced through but shot wide.

Chelsea concentrated on possession and steadying the ship for a period around the half-hour mark. There was always the possibility of the long ball to Kirby should we chose that attacking option in hope of catching Wolfsburg napping, but they did not lack for height at the back.

It was our short-passing game that did threaten the goal next, allowing Drew Spence to square from the left. The ball was half cleared to Ji whose shot was deflected wide. From the corner, Millie Bright rose above the defence but headed over. Eriksson delivered another dangerous set-piece, a free-kick, moments later which drew a diving punch clear from the German goalie.

It was looking like a strong close to the half for Hayes’ side but then a free-kick was conceded by Spence and when it was played into the crowded box, it appeared to bounce off the head of the unfortunate Mjelde before dropping into the net. 2-1 to Wolfsburg was the half-time score.

Chelsea attempted to take the game to the opposition at the start of the second half, with Ji pulling the strings and Erin Cuthbert becoming more and more involved, but there was relief at the other end when an opposition free-kick cleared Lindahl but went out for a goal-kick.

We did conceded the third however with 65 minutes on the clock, and it came with Wolfsburg in the ascendency again. The goal was scored acrobatically by Dickenmann, who hooked the ball into the far corner beyond the dive of Lindahl, after a cross by Caroline Graham Hansen had been deflected into her colleague’s path.

We could be thankful that Pajor shot straight at Lindahl late in the game rather than stretching the lead further. It is, of course, only the midway point in the tie and Chelsea have been strong on the road in this competition this season, but we will need to be at our very best in seven days’ time if we are to make even more history.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Lindahl; Blundell, Bright, Mjelde, Eriksson; Flaherty (Rafferty 75); Spence (Aluko 68), Chapman (c), Ji, Cuthbert (Davison 83); Kirby.
Unused subs: Telford, Cooper.
Scorer Ji 2
Booked Spence 42, Flaherty 45, Bright 77, Lindahl 88

Wolfburg (4-1-4-1): Schult; Blasse (Kerschowski 62), Fischer (c), Goessling, Maritz; Gunnarsdottir; Dickenmann, Harder, Popp, Hansen (Jakabfi 77), Pajor (Wullaert 88).
Unused subs Frohms, Baunach, Stolze, Wedemeyer.
Scorers Gunnarsdottir 18, Mjelde 43 o.g, Dickenmann 66
Booked Fischer 38,

Referee Antonia Kokotou (Greece)
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