Berger’s double penalty saves and strikes by Mjelde and Kirby put Blues in Champions League box seat
By Paul Lagan at Kingsmeadow Stadium
Chelsea 2 v Atletico Madrid 0
Ann-Katrin Berger sensationally saved two penalties as Chelsea took a major step to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, beating Atletico Madrid 2-0 at Kingsmeadow Stadium tonight in the first leg - and that with 10 players for 70 minutes after Sophie Ingle’s 13th minute red card.
Second half goals from Maren Mjelde - who showed the opposition how to take a spot kick and a opportunistic strike from live-wire Fran Kirby were enough to put the Londoners into pole position when the sides reconvene in Monza, Italy in a couple of weeks time.
German Berger produced wonder saves to her right and then left to thwart the Spanish side who must have felt that they would take advantage of the numerical supremacy.
The Blues were without injured skipper and centre back Magda Eriksson and that looked to be decisive as Ingle, normally a midfielder took her place alongside Millie Bright in the centre of defence.
The Blues should have scored on three minutes when a long defence-splitting ball by Bright fell invitingly to in-running Ji.
The South Korean midfielder raced into the penalty area with only Hedvig Lindahl to beat, but she screwed her right-footer well wide of goal.
Lindahl then prevented the home side from scoring on 11 minutes, when Pernille Harder pivoted and let fly a blistering right-footer. The Sweden stopper tipped the goal-bound blaster over her crossbar.
Disaster struck two minutes later when stand-in centre-back Ingle hauled down Rasheedat Ajibade to earn the Spanish side a penalty kick.
Ingle was instantly red-carded by referee Tess Oloffson.
Up stepped Deyna Castellanos to smash the ball to Ann-Katrin Berger’s right. But the German stopper was equal to the task and snaffled the ball to safety.
Head coach Emma Hayes sacrificed striker Beth England and on came midfielder Niamh Charles to restore a defensive balance to the side.
Despite being on the back foot for the reminder of the half, the Blues had the occasional foray into the opposition half, and Harder was unlucky that a half-chance didn’t go in. Again Lindahl was on hand to thwart the Blues.
There were no changes by either side at half time.
Seconds after the restart and a loose pass out by the Spanish defence allowEd Fran Kirby to latch onto the ball. She fed the perfect ball to Sam Kerr, who fluffed her chance to be a heroine by ramming her right-footer into the side netting.
A quick break by the west Londoners on 49 minutes involving Kirby, Kerr and Harder saw Ji let fly with a half-volley from the edge of the box. But it failed to trouble Lindahl.
She followed that up with a long-range left-footer which sailed well wide of goal.
Incredibly the Blues got a spot kick of their own on 58 minutes when Kerr was bundled over in the box by Aissatou Tounkara. Up stepped Maren Mjelde to send Lindahl the wrong was to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
Kirby almost produced a sensational second goal on 63 minutes when a long run saw her left footer bounce off the upright, but 60 seconds later and she struck in customary predatory fashion with a low right-footer that seemed to take ages to creep into the net to double the lead.
With Ji yellow-carded for a needless foul, Hayes opted to replace her with Erin Cuthbert.
Kirby’s night ended with 12 minutes left on the clock - Guro Reiten replaced her.
Seconds later and Atleti got a another penalty this time, Berger upended Ludmila.
Merel Van Dongen stepped up and drove a left footer to Berger’s right. And once again Berger blocked the effort.
But the ball went loose and when she and Jonna Andersson clashed, the goalkeeper crashed to the ground with a head injury.
That resulted with six minutes of added time, which the Blues successfully negotiated.
They return to WSL action on Sunday with an away trip to West Ham.
Berger, Bright, Ingle, Leupolz, England, Ji, Kirby, Mjelde, Kerr, Harder, Andersson.
Subs, Musovic, Orman, Blundell, Carter, Reiten, Fleming, Charles, Cuthbert, Spence, Fox
Atletico Madrid, Lindahl, Alexandria, Dongen, Castellanos, Ludmila, Strom, Meseguer, Ajibade, Duggan, Tounkara, Santos
Subs: Peyraund-Magnin, Kazadi, Knaak, Sampedro, Laurent, Bernabe, Garcia, Nkout, Iglesias De La Cruz
Referee: Tess Oloffson (Sweden)