Women's Football

More moments of Pernille Harder quality could be the difference in tight WSL title race

Ali Rampling
Feb 11, 2021, 6:45 PM GMT
Harder was the match winner against Arsenal
Harder was the match winner against Arsenal | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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Less than a fortnight ago, it felt as though English football was still waiting to see the very best of Pernille Harder.

There'd been a worldie goal against Everton here, flashes of top class link up play there, but the world's most expensive player was yet to stand out in Chelsea's admittedly world class squad.

Harder had been yet to show the WSL her world class best
Harder had been yet to show the WSL her world class best | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

But in the space of ten days, she has burst into life.

Harder hit her maiden Blues hat-trick against West Ham in the Continental Cup semi finals, netting two fabulously taken finishes either side of one courtesy of a Mackenzie Arnold error.

It was her most complete performance yet in a Chelsea shirt, demonstrating her ability to get in behind backlines and ruthlessness in the area, in addition to her knack of dropping slightly deeper and occupying the space in between the opposition midfield and defence.

The Danish international then dropped to the bench as Chelsea suffered one of the biggest upsets in the WSL's history, seeing their long unbeaten run crumble at the hands of a Brighton side who had been hit for seven by Manchester City a fortnight earlier and just a week previously had been the first team to lose a WSL match to Bristol City in over 11 months.

Chelsea welcomed rivals Arsenal to Kingsmeadow on Wednesday evening, with a London derby either the best or worst place to attempt to bounce back from the weekend's shock defeat.

The Gunners are not the side they once were; wounded by injuries and talisman Vivianne Miedema often starved of service when her side take on one of the WSL's 'big three'. But they had held Chelsea to a draw during the pair's last league meeting, with only a freak last gasp own goal denying Arsenal all three points.

A tight, intense first half finished goalless, with Arsenal looking more than capable of taking a point off Chelsea and dealing their rivals a blow in the title race. But in the space of 13 second half minutes, Harder's ruthless efficiency in front of goal had seen Chelsea race into a 2-0 lead. Emma Hayes' side do not tend to surrender two goal advantages. Fran Kirby sealed a 3-0 victory in stoppage time.

Crucially, just as she had been against West Ham, Harder was deployed in the number ten role - as opposed to being shunted out wide as she has been at times this season to allow Kirby to operate more centrally.

But Kirby can be just as effective out wide or up top as part of a front two, while Harder really thrives as a number ten. She did so to devastating effect against Arsenal.

Her first goal saw her drop slightly deeper to earn herself a yard of space, before firing low into the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the box, while her second saw her latch onto Kirby's clever cut back and unleash an absolute rocket into the roof of the net.

It was a game of the finest of margins where Arsenal had done little wrong, yet two moments of magic from Harder means the scoreline reads as a comfortable victory. In this season's tightest of title races, more of the same from the Uefa Player of the Year could make all the difference.

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