Chelsea’s exhilarating never-say-die attitude in the game that put them into their first Champions League final was perhaps best characterised by Magda Eriksson’s heart-stopping added-time goalline clearance to help heave them across the line, when a Bayern Munich goal would have put them ahead on away goals.
The influential captain has been missing for too much of this competition but, in that moment, the Sweden international, who will lift the trophy on home soil in Gothenburg should Chelsea triumph against Barcelona, was exactly who the Blues needed.
“You can’t underestimate what it’s like to lose your captain,” said their manager Emma Hayes. “Yeah, we’ve got strength in depth but she’s the captain for a reason and she deserves to lead the team out in Sweden, her home nation. That will make her so proud. I just can’t believe we’ve done it,” she said, on the verge of tears.
If Hayes’s heart had taken a beating last week in the first leg it was pushed to the limit at Kingsmeadow, not least in that moment.
Kirby had opened the scoring but a stunning strike from Sarah Zadrazil had kept Bayern’s advantage. A free-kick from Ji So-yun made the tie level and it took a header from Pernille Harder in the 84th minute to put Chelsea ahead. A second goal from Kirby, deep into injury time, sealed the 4-1 win but the scoreline flattered the victors.
In the first leg, the left-back Jonna Andersson had struggled against Hanna Glas and Hayes did not take the risk in London. Jess Carter and Niamh Charles, who have both shone while sharing right-back duties, were trusted either side of Eriksson and her fellow centre-back Millie Bright. Hayes would be rewarded for her faith in the fringe pairing, with both outstanding and Carter, critically, getting in the way of an on-target Lineth Beerensteyn strike and hitting the free-kick that Harder would power home to put Chelsea in front in the tie for a second time.
On arrival at Chelsea in 2018, Carter had looked somewhat off the pace. “Jess has been through a journey with us where she has had to put a huge shift in, getting her mentality right, getting her nutrition right, getting training habits right, and I think this side of Christmas all that has been right,” said Hayes. “My job was to prepare her for days like today. She’s got the character, the will, the determination, the spirit and she’s in the position she’s in because she’s earned it. No surprise to me.”
Bayern had shifted things around too, somewhat surprisingly given the effectiveness of their setup in the first leg. The back three with a bank of five in front was swapped for a more traditional 4-4-2 and Kirby and Sam Kerr would find the space between the lines that had so effectively shut them out in Germany.
It took 11 minutes for the home team to take the advantage in the tie, with Kirby and Kerr combining in deadly fashion.
Where Glas’s solo effort had swung the advantage Bayern’s way in the first leg, it would need another moment of individual brilliance to put them back in front overall and quell Chelsea’s growing momentum. Just before the half-hour an innocuous clearance fell to Zadrazil and the midfielder took one touch before lashing her curling strike into a corner from 25 yards out.
Set pieces would prove to be the difference for Chelsea. First, Ji’s free-kick looped back to her off the wall and she slipped it low inside the far post, just before half-time. Then, with the tie level and Bayern on the hunt for a second away goal, Carter swung in another which was headed powerfully in by Harder to send the Chelsea bench wild.
Deep into added time, after Eriksson’s clearance and with Bayern’s goalkeeper up for a corner, Kirby latched on to a long clearance and raced downfield before rolling the ball into the empty net.