In-form Pernille Harder hits winner as Chelsea secure priceless win and silence a rocking Turin
Juventus 1 Chelsea 2
Pernille Harder continued her outstanding form in front of goal to earn Chelsea a priceless away victory over Juventus and enhance Emma Hayes’ side’s chances of reaching the Women’s Champions League knockouts stages.
The Denmark forward’s third goal in as many games – and her sixth in eight matches in all competitions for Chelsea so far this season – gave last season’s runners-up in Europe a 2-1 win in Turin which lifts the English league champions above their Italian counterparts in Group A.
With what was a closely-fought game delicately balanced at 1-1 in the 69th minute, Harder was in the right place at the right time to fire home from the rebound after Sam Kerr’s initial shot was blocked following a flowing Chelsea move. It was no more than Chelsea deserved after an improved second-half showing, against the Italian league champions.
Juventus’ women usually play their home league games at the club’s training ground complex, but they staged this game at the home of their male side and offered free tickets which 16,781 fans took up to create a crackling atmosphere, after a pre-match lights show that was befitting of the high tension that was to follow.
Group A could well be the most competitive of the four groups, and Chelsea arrived in Turin in need of a positive result to boost their chances of going through to the knockout rounds, after starting their campaign with an error-strewn and hard-fought 3-3 draw at home to Wolfsburg in the opening set of fixtures.
With the group’s relative minnows, Swiss side Servette, having already been well beaten by Juventus (3-0) and Wolfsburg (5-0) in their opening two games, the high-calibre trio of Chelsea, Juventus and two-time European champions Wolfsburg look set for a fascinating three-team battle for the two spots at the top of the group to reach the quarter-finals.
And there are few tougher places to come than to the home of the Italian champions, who had won four Serie A titles in a row prior to well-respected former Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro’s arrival this summer. The hosts had won 11 successive games in all competitions prior to tonight’s clash and they are blessed with a wide array of talent, including many of the stars of the Italy side that reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Yet they fell behind as Chelsea frustrated them in a first half where the visitors controlled most of the ball and Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert collected Harder’s ball and drove past three defenders, bursting into the area from the right at pace, and placed a low shot into the bottom corner.
Juventus’ defending was questionable, especially Martina Rosucci’s total failure to challenge the Scot, but Cuthbert’s finish was clinical and briefly silenced the home crowd, not long after Chelsea defender Millie Bright had blasted a powerful strike just over from outside the area.
Six minutes after falling behind, the ‘Old Lady’ sprung to life as Barbara Bonansea volleyed Lisa Boattin’s floating ball into the bottom corner, with Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger helpless. It was a well-taken finish that typified the Italy forward’s class.
After half-time, a more purposeful-looking Chelsea carved open the better chances as Harder side-footed narrowly wide, not long after swerving another effort into the side netting.
Valentina Cernoia curled a free-kick wide for the hosts, before Harder – who produced Chelsea’s stoppage-time equaliser against Wolfsburg seven days previously – was the heroine again as she popped up to win the contest.
Chelsea were inches away from a third goal as Kerr’s hanging effort from the edge of the area was magnificently clawed onto the woodwork by Juventus’ former Arsenal goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, but they defended strongly themselves at the other end in the final stages.