Soccer

Chelsea look to Sam Kerr to deliver safe passage into Women’s Champions League semi-finals

Sam Kerr has been in the form of her life, according to her manager

Sam Kerr only needed one moment. Receiving a pass from Fran Kirby in the box, the striker came alive, rounding the Wolfsburg goalkeeper and squeezing a powerful finish into the net to give Chelsea the breakthrough in their Champions League quarter-final.

This was the stage Kerr sought when the global star moved to Europe for the first time, and this was the type of magic moment Chelsea envisioned her producing when they fought off competition from the continent’s biggest clubs to capture the Australian’s signature in November 2019.

Kerr is in the “form of her life”, according to her manager Emma Hayes, as Chelsea prepare to finish the job this afternoon in the hope of, finally, progressing past Wolfsburg to reach the Champions League semi-finals.

For a striker who has scored for fun throughout her career, and made a habit of scooping up Golden Boot awards during her time in the NWSL in the USA and the W-League in her home country, that is extremely high praise. But after the 27-year-old notched her 13th and 14th WSL goals of the season in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday, it is worth taking Hayes’ assessment at face value.

It is partly thanks to Kerr’s form that Chelsea enter Wednesday’s second leg in such high spirits. Last week’s 2-1 win over Wolfsburg was the first time Chelsea had beaten their Champions League nemesis in seven meetings, with the Germans putting an end to their European ambitions in three of the previous four seasons.

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Even before that meeting in Budapest, there was a sense that things would be different this time around, however. Not only did Chelsea have the form of Kerr, as well as her partnership with Kirby, to rely on, but also the commanding presence of Pernille Harder, the forward who joined the club from Wolfsburg last summer in a monumental switch that had the potential to swing the equilibrium of power in European football.

But while the scoreline from Budapest may have reflected that changing of the guard, the balance of play certainly did not. Wolfsburg battered Chelsea, twice hitting the post and having an effort scrambled off the line, but somehow fell 2-0 behind after Harder added to Kerr’s strike. The Germans pulled one back, but Chelsea are prepared for more retribution.

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“Our concentration and focus has to be extremely high because I expect even more relentless pressure from Wolfsburg,” Hayes warned this week.

“They are multiple-time Champions League finalists [in recent seasons]. We are winning at the halfway point but they have the experience of being in this position so I expect the game and the challenges that they throw at us will be even bigger than they were in the first leg.”

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If Chelsea were to emerge from the tie with their hopes intact, there is an understanding from within the squad that they would be seen as one of the favourites for the competition. Already top of the WSL, there is an expectation for Chelsea to lead the way for England’s top clubs in Europe, too.

“Other teams in other countries are seeing what is happening in England and what is happening at Chelsea and we’re being considered as one of the frontrunners for the title,” captain and defender Magdalena Eriksson said. “But the internal pressure is always there, we are used to it.”

It will be down to Erkisson, Chelsea’s back-line, and who Hayes last week called the “best goalkeeper in the world” in Ann-Katrin Berger, to stem the onslaught of Wolfsburg attacks that are surely to come – with the English manager expecting to “suffer” early on.

But with Kerr in this type of form, there is no better forward in world football to capitalise on the half-chance or loose ball in the box that could seal Chelsea’s progression to the last four. With a job still to do in Budapest, Chelsea will look to their Australian to get it done.

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