CHelsea’s 10 dropped points across the season could prove costly, but while Pernille Harder is frustrated by the loss she has forgotten them for the time being at least. “I don’t think about those dropped points any more,” says Harder. “Of course, we want to win the league, that’s motivation enough to get everything in these games so we will win it.”
With a single point separating the Women’s Super League leaders and Arsenal going into the final day of the season, the title is on the line. Chelsea welcome Manchester United to Kingsmeadow on Sunday and need to match or better the result of Arsenal, who travel to West Ham.
“We lost some games that I don’t think we should lose,” says the Chelsea forward. “We wouldn’t have been standing here now, we would probably have been able to win the league earlier. So it’s actually all on us.” Dwelling on those missed opportunities is for after the season. “The points lost is something we have to look back on before next season, so we don’t do it again,” she adds.
There is a coolness to the Denmark superstar, an almost steely composure. Harder has been here before. In her first season in London she won a domestic treble and reached the Champions League final, which Chelsea lost to Barcelona. She joined from Wolfsburg before the 2020-21 season having won four back-to-back league and cup titles in Germany.
Do something once, twice, three times or more and it starts to become normal, expected even, and the pressure becomes standard too. So when Harder placed the ball on the penalty spot last Sunday, in the 71st minute with the goalless score at Birmingham, she was able to focus on the patterns that she has practiced time and time again.
“I put all my thoughts about how important the penalty is away from my head,” she says. “I’m not training penalties every day. I do spend time on it. I focus on the process instead of thinking about the pressure there is around a penalty. I think that’s important. The way I’m shooting is different from time to time, but my steps back from the ball don’t change, small things like that I always do to make the situation comfortable.”
That converted spot kick ensured Chelsea maintained their slim advantage going into the final day of the season. It also epitomized their grit. This term, the Blues have not cruised through the campaign. Instead, the season has been pockmarked with injuries to key players: Harder has been out twice, the team had to get through January without Sam Kerr and Ji So-yun who were competing at the Asia Cup, and they have had to navigate the off -field turmoil in the club at large.
The 1-0 win at Birmingham followed back-to-back defeats of Tottenham, the first after trailing to Spurs and having the goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger sit off. Having lost to Arsenal on the opening day of the campaign in September, there has been little room for mistakes with Chelsea chasing in a second for much of the season.
“All season it’s been like that,” says Harder. “But we want to win every single game, that’s the standards we have and that’s also why we’re not satisfied. We put that pressure on ourselves.
Every season we want to win all the games. It’s not any different being behind Arsenal or ahead because we want to win all the games anyway.”
Harder has been in electric form, incisive when Chelsea has needed it most. She is “feeling good” after her manager, Emma Hayes, has eased her back into the squad following a knee injury. “I’ve felt really good when I’ve been on the pitch,” she says
The high rotation around the squad has helped them gel as a group. “It’s important that you have connections with all the players and not only one or two,” says Harder. “That’s something we’ve built on this season.”
Now it’s crunch time, and the Chelsea players won’t be paying attention to the game going on to the east. “It’s very exciting, and it’s also exciting for the people who follow the WSL generally,” says Harder. “We just have focus on what we want to do in the game to win it. It’s important that we don’t change too much just because it’s an important game. We have played in a lot of games like this in our careers, important and decisive games, so we know how to handle it. These are the fun games to play, ones you can’t hold back in.”