Emma Hayes has told her players they need to be “awake and ready” despite Chelsea having a two-goal cushion going into their Champions League last-16 second leg with Atlético Madrid on Wednesdayin Monza, Italy.
Chelsea recovered from the early loss of Sophie Ingle, who was sent off at 0-0 for bringing down Rasheedat Ajibade in the penalty area, to beat Atlético 2-0 at Kingsmeadow last week. But for the heroics of Ann-Katrin Berger, who saved the resulting spot-kick and would save another late on, things could have been very different.
“We know we’re only halfway there and our levels of concentration and focus have to be even higher than in the first leg. The job isn’t done,” said Hayes.
Losing Ingle in the 12th minute forced the Blues to withdraw the forward Beth England, shift Maren Mjelde from right-back into Ingle’s centre-back berth and put on Niamh Charles in her place. Importantly, though, the turmoil provided Hayes with an opportunity to learn more about her team. “If you don’t have that setback, you don’t get to learn from it,” she said.
“If it is all going comfortably, often you won’t see where your weaknesses are or you won’t see what your plans B and C are so I got everything I wanted out of that, and we’re still in the tie.
“We haven’t won anything, we are still in the tie, but we’ve learned more perhaps than we would have if there were 11 players on the pitch.”
Asked about the lessons from the game, Hayes said: “I learned that Ann-Katrin Berger is really good at penalties, I learned that the team can adapt to really difficult situations, I learned that we can defend in a low block really well, I learned that Niamh Charles can play at this level at right-back. I learned that the versatility among them means we can do even more tactically.”
Mjelde, who plays at centre-back for Norway but is used most often by Hayes at right-back, said: “Of course, it helped that Ann saved that penalty, the first penalty. You can say that we lost the player, but when she saved it we got an extra player again. That’s how it felt.
“The team spirit is always there. We did really well and I’m really proud of how we handled the situation and how good we played the game.
“Everyone was at their best. We were defending from the front and a midfield and they made it easier for us to defend at the back. We really showed a good team character.”