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Emma Hayes said Pernille Harder had taken Chelsea to “an even higher level” after the Danish forward earned the Blues all three points in a narrow victory over Juventus in Turin.
Harder scored her 27th goal in 30 UWCL games to give last season’s runners-up a valuable win after Barbara Bonansea had cancelled out Erin Cuthbert’s opener.
“She had an outstanding performance,” said Hayes of Harder, who joined Chelsea in the summer of 2020. “She came to this football club, England is a difficult country to come to, it’s already an amazing team, and she’s taken us to an even higher level because her standards day in and day out are what every young person should look up to. She takes responsibility, she’s accountable, she’s there when it really matters, she’s there for this team and I’m so delighted she’s part of this squad.”
Living up to its group of death moniker, Group A currently has Wolfsburg top, after their 5-0 defeat of Swiss side Servette FCCF, Chelsea second, level with the Germans on four points, Juventus third on three points and Servette bottom and pointless. Chelsea, though, have back-to-back games against Servette while Wolfsburg and Juventus will trade body blows.
“We’re in a strong position, four points. It’s not about away goals anymore, it’s about points on the board and our intention and our objectives are clear and we’re one step close to that,” said Hayes.
It took half an hour before the Blues took the lead at the noisy Juventus stadium, where 17,000 tickets had been distributed of the 20,000 available prior to kick-off. Cuthbert made a blistering and dogged run before cutting inside and firing low into the bottom corner.
Eight minutes after Cuthbert’s opener Juventus punished the profligacy that had gifted Wolfsburg three goals in the preceding round. A sharp cross from the left to the far post was met by Bonansea and the Italian did well to hold off Guro Reiten and weaved in front of her marker to smash the ball home. It was too easy – once again Chelsea’s back three was found wanting.
Juventus currently sit top of Serie A with six wins from six and although Chelsea had played the Italian champions only once, in a pre-season friendly in 2018, the team has come a long way since then and the manager in the dugout was far more familiar.
After leaving Arsenal at the end of last season, Joe Montemurro joined Juventus in the summer. In 12 meetings between Hayes and Montemurro while he was in north London, the Blues won nine times and Arsenal once.
In the second half Montemurro was denied the chance to take the lead over his old foe when Cristiana Girelli fell in the box after a nudge in the back from Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson, but with no VAR until the knockout stages the appeals of the Italian side were waved away.
Wolfsburg thumped Servette 5-0 to take over top spot in Women's Champions League Group A. Tabea Wasmuth, who scored two goals in the 3-3 draw at Chelsea in the previous round of fixtures, grabbed another double to lead the rout.
Jordyn Huitema scored the first Women's Champions League hat-trick of the season as PSG ran out 5-0 winners over Zhytlobud-1. The 20-year-old Canadian fired her goals across 17 first-half minutes to set her side on course for a crushing win against the Ukrainian team.
Real Madrid made it a trio of 5-0 wins for the big clubs when they put Breidablik to the sword. Caroline Møller Hansen repeated Huitema's feat of a first-half treble on a difficult night for the Icelandic side.
Instead Hayes’s team restored their lead after an hour. Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby linked up and attempted to weave into the box but were crowded out by black and white shirts and the stray ball fell kindly for the ever-alert Harder, who powered in.
“I feel good, I feel like I’m in a flow,” said Harder. “I had a good pre-season, worked hard and feel like I have adapted into the team. So I just keep building and keep developing, me and the team, and I love that.”
Almost instantly Juventus went in search of a reply but Hurtig’s effort rippled the side netting. Chelsea went close to extending their lead but a drilled Kerr shot was tipped acrobatically on to the post by former Arsenal goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin before being cleared.
Eight substitutions in 23 minutes killed the momentum of both teams. In a scrappy end to the game Chelsea clung on to take all three points that has kept them well in the mix.