The Blues still have work to do to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League after a frustrating night at Kingsmeadow against a dogged Juventus side.
A few days on from our emphatic victory over Arsenal in the Women’s FA Cup final, which completed a clean sweep of domestic honours in 2021, Emma Hayes said ahead of kick-off that she expected to come up against a team that would be difficult to break down.
So it proved, as the Bianconere sat deep with plenty of players behind the ball, looking to leave as little space as possible for our free-scoring attack to work in.
Even so, we still managed to create a number of chances, particularly during a first half in which play almost exclusively took place in the visitors’ half.
Juve goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin was fortunate to palm an early shot from Erin Cuthbert onto the crossbar instead of into her own net, but the France international made up for that with a couple of fine saves to deny Guro Reiten and Millie Bright. Sam Kerr also went close when she rounded the keeper but ran out of space to squeeze the ball home.
The Australian had the ball in the back of the net early in the second half, only to be denied the opener by the assistant referee’s raised flag for offside, and there were further chances late on for Bethany England and Bright that went begging. It simply wasn’t our night.
With Wolfsburg winning against Servette in the other game in Group A tonight, they are now level with Juventus in second place on eight points. The Blues are three points better off, but with a trip to Germany to come on matchday six.
There remains the possibility that three sides could finish level on 11 points, which is when the permutations become a little complicated – but a Chelsea win or draw takes that out of the equation to send us through as group winners.
Before then, we’ve got a WSL match at Reading on Saturday morning, as we look to overhaul Arsenal at the top of the standings.
Ann-Katrin Berger was in goal once again, having sat out our most recent Champions League game, and Bright, Jess Carter and Magdalena Eriksson provided ample protection in front of her. Cuthbert patrolled the length of the right-hand side of the pitch, alongside Ji, Sophie Ingle and Reiten wide on the left, while the attacking trio of Harder, Fran Kirby and Kerr interchanged at will.
A busy first half for Cuthbert began with a clear sight at goal inside the first minute when a low cross from Eriksson was deflected into her path, and she hit a first-time shot that Peyraud-Magnin was relieved to see hit the crossbar, rather than the back of the net, when she palmed it up into the air.
Just as they had done in Turin when the sides met in October, Juventus were happy to sit back and look to strike on the counter while Chelsea dominated possession, but such opportunities were few and far between.
The action was almost exclusively taking place in the visitors’ half, although the black-and-white wall in front of Peyraud-Magnin was keeping clear-cut chances to a premium. Ingle tried her luck from distance in the 13th minute, striking a first-time effort cleanly but lacking the requisite precision to trouble the keeper, and there was also a cross from Kerr which was taken by the wind and bounced off the top of the bar.
To our credit, we remained patient in our build-up play and the rewards started to come. Reiten was on the end of one slick move to smash a left-footed effort that was palmed over, before Kerr managed to get in behind and around the goalkeeper, only to be left with a tight angle to try and squeeze her shot home. The ball agonisingly rolled across the line and out of reach for the onrushing Harder.
The in-form Australian went close again, this time heading just over after Kirby had sent over a teasing cross after leaving her marker for dead with a delicious turn, and Peyraud-Magnin had to be at her very best to tip over a blockbuster strike from Bright, who was all of 35 yards out when she put her right foot through the ball.
When the referee blew from half-time, the stats showed Chelsea had attempted 14 shots and recorded 64 per cent possession, but the only numbers that mattered were the zeros next to each side’s name on the scoreboard.
It was one-way traffic once again at the start of the second half, with the Blues looking to move the ball quicker in a bid to find gaps in the Juventus rearguard. We finally had the ball in the back of the net 10 minutes after the restart, but the Kirby and Kerr double-act were denied yet another goal as the latter was offside when she turned in a teasing cross from the former.
The visitors tested Berger for the first time with 64 minutes on the clock, although it was a tame effort by Hurtig that the Blues keeper comfortably gathered, but it was a reminder that the game very much remained in the balance despite our obvious superiority.
Hayes made her first change with 20 minutes remaining, sending on England in place of Harder. The Blues No9 almost made the breakthrough soon after when she bulldozed through the Juventus rearguard but Peyraud-Magnin stuck out her right leg to turn the shot aside.
The best chance of the lot was still to come in the last minute of the game, but from a Chelsea perspective it probably fell to the wrong player. A speculative cross was spilled at the feet of Bright and she hooked the ball high over the crossbar.
There’s a quick turnaround to our next game, as we travel to the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Saturday morning to face Reading at 11.30am. Those of you not making the trip can watch it live on Sky Sports.
Chelsea (3-4-3) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Ji (Leupolz 80), Ingle, Reiten; Harder (England 70), Kerr, Kirby
Unused subs Musovic, Telford, Nouwen, Fleming, Charles, Spence, Andersson, Fox
Booked Kerr 88
Juventus (4-3-3) Peyraud-Magnin; Lundorf, Lenzini, Salvai (c), Boattin; Rosucci, Pedersen, Zamanian (Caruso 63); Bonansea (Nilden 90+3), Girelli (Staskova 73), Hurtig (Bonfantini 74)
Unused subs Aprile, Hyyrynen, Gama, Giai, Arcangeli, Beccari, Pfattner
Booked Peyraud-Magnin 87, Bonansea 90+1
Referee Sara Persson (Sweden)