Chelsea: Fitting that Ann-Katrin Berger plays hero role on magical European night against Lyon
Emma Hayes could hardly have written a better script even if she tried. Just 24 hours after Arsenal booked a place in the semi-finals of the Women’s Champions League, Chelsea joined them in the most dramatic fashion.
Hayes has enjoyed some memorable matches in her 11 years at Chelsea, but few can rival this rollercoaster ride against Lyon. With 30 seconds left of injury time in extra-time, the Blues were on course to be dumped out by the holders and record winners.
After losing the first leg 1-0 last week, Lyon roared back to level the tie in normal time through Vanessa Gilles and then take the lead in the 110th minute thanks to Sara Dabritz. Chelsea looked dead and buried, but with one last roll of the dice they got a lifeline. Vicki Becho caught Lauren James in the box and — after a lengthy VAR check — Maren Mjelde finally fired home a penalty in the 128th minute.
It felt like there would be only one winner after that. The momentum had swung dramatically in Chelsea’s favour and they carried it into the shootout, with goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger making two huge saves to secure a 4-3 win on penalties.
“We are made for this, made for these moments,” said Mjelde. “I love to see Ann shine on the biggest stage. She deserves that.”
Hayes admitted she was emotionally exhausted after this game and you can hardly blame her. She did, however, have the energy to dance with her players on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, hugging everyone in sight and getting hold of a Chelsea scarf to wrap round her neck.
The Blues boss said in the build-up to this tie she was dreaming of a “magical European night” and this was exactly that. The fact Berger was the hero was fitting. She has twice battled back from thyroid cancer to keep playing, having first been diagnosed in 2017.
The cancer returned last August and it forced her to miss the opening game of this season. Since then, just like she did when she was at Birmingham in 2017, Berger has played through the treatment and not missed a match.
“I felt like this was her moment for everything she has been through,” said Hayes. “She is someone who really thrives in big moments. She has done that her entire career.”
The image of Berger running off celebrating after saving the decisive penalty from Lyon midfielder Lindsey Horan will live long in the memory.
Berger has twice battled back from thyroid cancer to keep playing, having first been diagnosed in 2017
Berger danced a little jiggle - not quite at the levels of Emi Martinez for Argentina during the World Cup - before knee sliding in front of the Chelsea fans. She said: “It was a brilliant night. I was not nervous at all. I love penalties. That’s why I have more respect for the penalty taker than for me, because I know I have no pressure. No one thinks I have to save them, it’s more they have to score.”
If Hayes could have made one alteration to the script, it would have been that her already depleted squad was not hit with more injuries. Chelsea were without Fran Kirby, Millie Bright and Pernille Harder, and Hayes had to make four substitutions — all because of fitness issues.
Hayes will hope everyone recovers quickly, especially as next month they have a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona to look forward to. Win that, and a showdown with Arsenal in the final could be on the cards.