Chelsea Women 2 Atlético Madrid Femenino 0
Turns out it takes more than a sending off and giving away two penalties for Chelsea to be beaten. Emma Hayes's side did not just survive for 75 minutes with 10 players on the pitch, but thrived, as they overcame Atletico Madrid in a dramatic night of Champions League football.
They had a mountain to climb after Sophie Ingle's ejection just 13 minutes in, but goalkeeper Ann Katrin Berger's heroics with two penalty saves and second half goals from Maren Mjelde and Fran Kirby see Chelsea head into the second leg of this last-16 match-up well in control.
"You go to work every day to prepare for games and you also have to prepare your team for unexpected moments," a delighted Hayes said post-match. "Three things: discipline, structure, game management [is what] this team is built around. I have a group of leaders that cope with difficult moments. Of course that’s made easier by [Atletico] not scoring that penalty... but you really have to credit my team for the performance, that’s not easy to do for 80 mins and still win the game."
Her team showed major composure in the face of multiple disruptions to come through this first leg, starting before they even stepped on the pitch. They were without their anchor in defence, skipper Magda Eriksson, who was a surprise omission from the line up through injury. It meant defensive midfielder Ingle dropped back to replace her at centre back, but before long she had conceded the penalty and earned herself a red card, and was storming back to the dressing room.
Ingle was undone by a searching long ball from Atletico left-back Kylie Strom, who found Rasheedat Ajabide up front. Ingle caught the Atletico player's heels as she chased and - as she was the last defender and not contesting the ball - referee Tess Olofsson had no choice but to eject her.
Moments later though, Berger's first brilliant stop denied Deyana Castellanos from the spot, and kept Chelsea on equal-footing on the scoreboard. They still had the small task of 75 minutes to play with 10 players however, so Mjelde shifted to centre-back, while striker Beth England was sacrificed for Niamh Charles, who slotted in at right-back to deal with Atletico and England winger Toni Duggan.
But neither Duggan or Atletico took advantage, and the Spanish side looked disjointed in the final third throughout, rushing the ball forward with the panicked look of a team trailing. On paper they were the most difficult unseeded team for Chelsea to draw, but they have struggled for consistent form this season, trailing Spanish rivals Barcelona by 13 points in the league.
It showed. Ji So yun ran circles around them in midfield, and Chelsea trio Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby sensed their weakness charging forward. Kerr's superior pace down the left flank exposed Atletico ahead of the hour mark, and she invited a foul in the box to earn Chelsea their own penalty. Mjelde showed Atletico how it was done, with a clinical finish from the spot, past former Chelsea keeper Hedvig Lindahl. Minutes later Kirby got her third Champions League goal in as many games this campaign for Chelsea's second.
Atletico's counter-attacking started to wear on Chelsea though, and Berger fouled Ludmila in the area. With 10 minutes to spare, Atletico had a second chance to at least salvage an away goal, but Merel van Dongen's penalty was saved by the Chelsea goalkeeper - who took a knee to the head to clear the rebound, requiring medical attention.
Afterwards, Hayes singled out Berger's "outstanding" performance, which keeps Chelsea on track to reach the quarter-finals - and their ultimate goal of winning the European title for the first time - as they head to Monza, Italy for the second leg on March 10.
Chelsea Women (4-3-3): Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Ingle, Andersson; Harder, Leupolz, Ji (Cuthbert, 69); Kirby (Reiten, 78), England (Charles, 19), Kerr.
Substitutes not used: Music, Orman, Blundell, Carter, Fleming, Spence, Fox.
Booked: Ji, Kerr.
Sent off: Ingle.
Goals: Mjelde (58, pen), Kirby (64).
Atlético Madrid Femenino (4-4-2): Lindahl; Aleixandri, Tounkara, van Dongen, Strom; Ajibade (Knaak, 75), Silvia Meseguer, Santos, Duggan (Laurent, 75); Ludmila, Castellanos (Sampedro, 88).
Substitutes not used: Peyraud-Magnin, Kazadi, Bernabe, Garcia, Nkout, Iglesias De La Cruz.
Referee: Tess Olofsson (Sweden).