The stage is set for Chelsea to take on Atletico Madrid in their second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 fixtures. The reverse clash was an explosive affair that saw the Blues secure a 2-0 aggregate advantage. Ann-Katrin Berger put in a magnificent display as she denied the Spaniards two chances to find the back of the net, with two saves from the penalty spot.
Now on home soil, Atletico will be throwing everything at this match in the hope of clawing something back and finding a way into the quarter-finals.
Ex-Chelsea defender Claire Rafferty spoke with GiveMeSport Women about her former side’s chances of going all the way in the Champions League this season.
“It’s quite a bold statement but I really do think so,” Rafferty admitted. “This squad has such incredible depth, immense strength and we’ve seen cracks in the likes of Bayern and Barcelona, so if not now then I don’t know when.”
Chelsea have lured in some of the biggest talents in women’s football. Their recruitment as of late has made them one of the most lethal teams in the world, especially in terms of their attacking options. Rafferty touched on the Blues’ heavily-stacked front line, but feels as though an underdog performer could be key in this second leg fixture.
“I think it’s going to be someone that you won’t expect,” she said when asked who might stand out this afternoon. “We obviously talk about the likes of Pernille Harder, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby, but I think it’ll be the quiet one that you don’t really suspect. For example, Maren Mjelde or Niamh Charles.
“In future games, these players are the ones that are going to be really pushing forward and I think they’re going to be the ones that really stand out.”
Rafferty went on to praise Charles, who signed for the Blues from a relegated Liverpool side just last summer.
“It’s about taking your opportunity,” the former Lioness said of Charles’ substitute appearance last time out. “To be the first sub coming on and playing at right-back – a position that she hasn’t played in too often – Emma Hayes will trust her even more so, and credit to her. She [Charles] wasn’t fazed at all.”
The 21-year-old is just one talented fringe option Hayes has to select from. Chelsea also boasts former Bayern Munich star Melanie Leupolz and Canadian international Jessie Fleming who help make up a very threatening bench.
Emma Hayes team talks
Spearheading a successful Chelsea side is their equally successful manager. Hayes has been with the West London outfit since 2012 and has led her side to Women’s Super League, Continental Cup and FA Cup glory. The Blues most recently lifted the Community Shield after beating Manchester City at Wembley last summer.
The only trophy Hayes hasn’t won is the Champions League. She will undoubtedly be hungry to go all the way this season and add another rung to her ever-growing Chelsea ladder.
Rafferty reflected on Hayes’ managerial style and how she readied her team before any big occasion during her days at Chelsea.
“Before any big final, Emma is quite sentimental,” the former Lioness said. “Before most FA Cup finals, she would hand out poems and flowers during the dinner before. One particular occasion, we all sat down and had a poem in front of us and it was written by Emma. There’s a lot of emotion and sentiment that goes into motivating her team.
“You have to be human. Behind the scenes she makes sure that every player is as happy as they can be – not just on the pitch but in normal life as well.”
Chelsea’s meeting with Atletico Madrid at the Brianteo Stadium is their next hurdle in the mission to become European royalty. Rafferty believes that this current Blues side has what it takes to fight off this season’s competition and take the crown from seven-time champions Olympique Lyonnais.
“Domestically they’re already feared, but on the European stage it’s now or never. It’s about time someone knocked Lyon off their top spot!”
BT Sport has live coverage of Chelsea Women v Atlético Madrid Women in their Round of 16 second leg fixture in the UEFA Women’s Champions League from 12.15pm on Wednesday 10th March on BT Sport 2.