Pernille Harder’s second-half strike helped Chelsea past a spirited Juventus side to record our first victory in this season’s Champions League group stage.
The Blues had opened our Group A campaign with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Wolfsburg at Kingsmeadow last Wednesday and while this game couldn’t quite match it for goals, there was plenty of drama at the venue that will host the final of the competition in May.
Erin Cuthbert put us in front after half an hour and it was a goal of the highest order by our No22, as she controlled a cross-field pass and cut in from the right, before slotting home a left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Juventus had barely threatened at this point, but they drew level five minutes later with another top-quality finish. Barbara Bonansea was the scorer, ghosting in at the back post to meet a cross on the volley.
The second half was more evenly contested, as the home side enjoyed a few sustained spells of pressure, but the better chances were coming at the other end of the pitch. Two of them fell to Harder, who uncharacteristically failed to test the keeper with either of them, but it was a case of third time lucky for our Danish forward.
The ball broke kindly to her inside the box after Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby had looked to make something happen and this time she made no mistake, burying a finish into the bottom corner to put us back in front.
Kerr almost doubled our advantage, only to see her wonderful effort from the edge of the box tipped onto the post, but it mattered little in the end, as we comfortably saw out a 2-1 victory to get us up and running in the group stage.
We’re now level with Wolfsburg at the top of the standings, who we trail only on goal difference, and our players head off for an international break before returning to action at the end of the month with an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
Emma Hayes made just one change to the team that started our opener in Group A last week, as she brought in Kirby – who went into the game with six goals from her last eight starts in the competition – for Bethany England.
Ann-Katrin Berger lined up behind a back three of Millie Bright, Jess Carter and Magdalena Eriksson. In midfield, Cuthbert and Guro Reiten flanked Ji So-Yun and Melanie Leupolz, while Kirby joined Harder and Kerr in attack.
While there might not have been too many familiar faces among the opposition, there was at least one in the dugout. Juventus boss Joe Montemurro came up against the Blues 12 times during his time in charge of Arsenal, losing nine matches and recording only one victory.
The home fans were making plenty of noise inside the Allianz Stadium after a pre-match light show set the stage for this huge clash between the reigning champions of Italy and England, but it was Chelsea who made the brighter opening to the contest.
Juventus might be on a 30-game winning run in Serie A, which is a competition record, but they were clearly content to sit deep and play on the counter against the Blues’ formidable front line. Harder, in particular, looked lively early on as we pinned the Bianconere back, but the closest we came to testing Peyraud-Magnin in the opening 20 minutes was an attempted cross from Kerr that was almost deflected past the keeper by one of her own defenders.
We were dominating possession, but there was still the odd moment of concern on the rare occasions Juve ventured into the attacking third, as they looked to take advantage of our wing-backs being high up the pitch by attacking us down the flanks. With little space to work in and around the box, Bright decided to try and take matters into her own hands with a booming drive from 25 yards that flew high and wide of the target.
Then, out of nowhere, the Blues were in front. Harder played a big switch from left to right, which Cuthbert brought under control and surged at the Juventus back line, who gave her an open invitation to drive at goal that she wasn’t about to pass up. She may have been on her weaker left foot, but the Scot had time and space to pick her spot and slot a low finish into the bottom corner. It was the first shot on target in the game.
The home side looked to hit back immediately, and the Allianz Stadium erupted as Bonansea nipped in ahead of Reiten to get on the end of a cross that she expertly steered past Berger, who was left with no chance. The old saying about being at your most vulnerable just after you’ve scored proved to be correct on this occasion, much to Hayes’ frustration on the touchline.
With the half-time interval looming we were almost back in front with what would have been a bizarre goal, as Peyraud-Magnin took her time over a simple clearance, which allowed Kerr to get in a block that went just the wrong side of the post. What a bonus that would have been – as it was, the two sides went in level at the break.
There was a much more open feel to the game in the early part of the second half, as Juventus came out of their shell – perhaps buoyed by their equaliser – and applied some serious pressure to the Blues defence. Now it was Chelsea playing on the counter, and one such foray with limited numbers forward ended with Harder pulling a shot wide of the near post.
A few minutes later, the Dane found half a yard of space in the box, but once again her finish was narrowly off target. As we approached the hour mark it was clear that the three points were there for the taking for either side – but who would be bold enough to take the initiative?
Hayes made her first substitution of the evening when she brought on Jessie Fleming in place of Cuthbert, and with it came a change of system to a back four, as Carter went out to right-back and Reiten dropped in on the left-hand side.
It didn’t take long for the change to take effect, as the Blues took the lead for the second time. Kirby and Kerr were involved in the build-up and after the latter’s shot was blocked, the ball dropped kindly for Harder. This time she made no mistake, burying her finish and silencing the home crowd in the process.
The game would have been done and dusted had it not been for a magnificent intervention from Peyraud-Magnin, as she desperately palmed a fabulous effort from Kerr onto the post when it looked destined for the top corner. With the lead remaining at one, Hayes opted to tighten things up by replacing Ji and Kirby with Sophie Ingle and Jonna Andersson.
Although Juventus forced Berger into action twice in stoppage time, we saw out the game with relative ease to record our first-ever victory in the group stage of the Champions League.
Wolfsburg were victorious in the other game in Group A tonight, beating Servette 5-0. We’ll meet the Swiss side in our next two fixtures in the competition, the first of which is early next month amid a run of four straight games on the road. Before then, the bulk of the squad will link up with their respective national teams during the international break, with our next game taking place on the last weekend in October when we take on Manchester City for a place in the FA Cup final.
Juventus (4-3-3) Peyraud-Magnin; Lundorf, Gama (c), Salvai (Lenzini 73), Boattin; Rosucci (Caruso 81), Pedersen (Zamanian 88), Cernoia; Bonansea (Bonfantini 73), Girelli (Staskova 81), Hurtig
Unused subs Aprile, Hyyrynen, Nilden, Giai, Beccari, Pfattner
Scorer Bonansea 37
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert (Fleming 66), Ji (Ingle 75), Leupolz, Reiten; Harder; Kirby (Andersson 84), Kerr
Unused subs Musovic, Telford, Nouwen, England, Mjelde, Charles, Spence, Fox
Scorers Cuthbert 31, Harder 69
Referee Ivana Martincic (Croatia)