Catalan Masterclass Leaves Chelsea Feeling Blue

Chelsea 0–4 FC Barcelona

By Ben Gilby

Above: A triumphant FC Barcelona lift the UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy after a stunning 4-0 win over Chelsea. Photo: @UWCL

Barcelona produced one of the greatest performances of any women’s club team in totally dismantling Chelsea to win their first Champions League title.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes showed recognition of the threat posed by her team’s Catalan opponents by swapping Jess Carter and Niamh Charles’ backline positions around in a bid to counter the threat of Barcelona’s threat down the wings from Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen.

Whilst Spain might not quite have broken through to the top level in international women’s football as yet, it seems to be merely a matter of time. Of Barcelona’s squad of 25 players, 20 are Spanish and nine came through their own club academy. The bulk of these players know each other inside out playing together for both club and country; something which is a big part of the club’s success and Spain’s emerging status in Europe.

This is a squad of players who average 60% of possession across their domestic league games and scored 128 goals in a 26 game campaign. Only five club sides in Spain scored a single goal against them all year – Granadilla, Levante, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Deportivo la Coruna. In doing so, Barca won the league by 16 points from nearest challengers Levante who they humiliated 7-1 in a league clash.

The threat facing Chelsea up front was not just Spain’s all-time leading scorer Jenni Hermoso, but eight other players scored more than seven goals with Alexia Putellas notably adding 16 with the other hot shots including Asisat Oshoala (15), Lieke Martens (11), Aitana Bonmati (nine), Caroline Graham Hansen (eight), Bruna Vilamala (eight), Mariona Caldentey (eight) and Marta Torrejon (seven).

Also of pre-match interest was the Chelsea star Pernille Harder facing off against former VfL Wolfsburg team-mate, the Norwegian superstar Caroline Graham Hansen creating a further 12 goals to the eight she’s scored all season. Additionally there was the battle for the competition’s Golden Boot with Chelsea’s Fran Kirby tying with Jenni Hermoso with six goals.

The threat that Barcelona pose on the wings was emphasised from the kick off with Martens dancing down the left and firing in a shot which crashed off of the bar and came back immediately to Hansen on the right. Her first time ball in wasn’t quite dealt with in the air by Magda Eriksson and a shot deflected off of Melanie Leupolz and into the net

Above: Alexia Putellas celebrates after dispatching a penalty to put Barcelona 2-0 up. Photo: Getty Images

Going into the game a common thread of thinking was that Barcelona would not be able to cope with the quality of Chelsea’s attack because they would have not faced such quality since their 4-1 defeat to Olympique Lyonnais in the 2019 Champions League Final.

What had been missed or glossed over pre-match was the fact that such has been Chelsea’s dominance in England this season – even against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal – they were not used to facing a side with the relentless pace and threat of this Barcelona team who possess so many world class attackers not just centrally but out wide too. The FAWSL top sides in attack are far more ponderous than this incredible Catalan side. 

What these two schools of thoughts did guarantee now that they seemed to be colliding in front of our very eyes were the fact that an attacking classic could be consequence. That attacking classic turned out to be more one sided that anyone expected. In fact, it was a first half masterclass par excellence.

Whilst Barcelona kept both Ji and Kirby quiet all night long, Kerr and Harder were in evidence with the Dane having two excellent chances – first from a Carter ball across the box which she got a toe to just outside the six yard box and then on 9 minutes when Leupolz found Kerr. The Australian played a glorious back heel to Harder who was denied by a superb tackle from Marta Torrejon.

Despite Carter moving sides at the back in a bid to combat Graham Hansen, it clearly wasn’t working. With 12 minutes played, the Norwegian star escaped her with ease and rolled a ball across towards Hermoso who went down under a tackle from Leupolz. The penalty was given somewhat harshly and Putellas dispatched it comfortably.

The dazzling footwork of Barcelona saw Chelsea floundering at the back with 21 minutes gone. The pressure and split runs from the Catalans’ offensive five left the Blues struggling to pick out who to close down and how to do it. Carter was caught badly again in the centre with Hermoso running through which allowed Aitana Bonmati to dispatch with ease.

With ten minutes of the half left, the wide players took Chelsea apart again. A long ball out to Martens on the left saw her get past Charles as if she wasn’t there and play a low pass through Millie Bright’s legs which Hansen was able to touch home comfortably for four.

Above: Caroline Graham Hansen and Lieke Martens celebrate the Norwegian’s goal which made it 4-0. Photo: Getty Images.

The set-up of the Barcelona midfield and attack simply enabled them to pick out their passes and keep the ball moving rapidly. Mentally, Chelsea never recovered from going behind so early. It was perhaps the downside of their domestic dominance in England.

Last week I wrote that Chelsea don’t have the strength in depth defensively that they can boast in offensive positions. This final emphasised that.

Chelsea’s first choice back four is good enough in the FAWSL. With them, Chelsea win against the top teams and dominate them. Winning is a habit, but when you come up against top quality who are totally ruthless, switch the play in ways you haven’t faced before and move with such pace, then it’s a shock and you get exposed.

Chelsea aren’t used to coping with a team attacking them so relentlessly. And it showed.

Above: Chelsea’s Pernille Harder, who had several chances to score, suffered Champions League Final heartbreak for the third time. Photo: PA Media.

Barcelona suffered a four goal humiliation in their first Champions League Final. The aim now for Chelsea is to come back from a similar thumping to claim European club football’s greatest prize in the future.

Teams: CHELSEA: Berger, Carter, Bright, Eriksson, Charles, Leupolz, Ingle, Ji, Kirby, Harder, Kerr. Substitutes: Musovic (GK), Blundell, England, Reiten, Fleming, Cuthbert, Spence, Andersson, Telford, Fox, Beever-Jones.

FC BARCELONA: Panos, Torrejon, Guijarro, Leon, Ouahabi, Bonmati, Hamraoui, Putellas, Martens, Hermoso, Hansen. Substitutes: Codina, Serrano, Losada, Caldentey, Coll, Crnogorcevic, Oshoala, Fernandez, Vilamala, Font.

Scorers: Leupolz OG 1, Putellas (pen) 12, Bonmati 22, Hansen 36.

Referee: Riem Hussein (GER)

Route to the Final:

CHELSEA:

1st Rd – Benfica (POR) (5-0/3-0), 2nd Rd – Atletico Madrid (ESP) (2-0/1-1), QF – VfL Wolfsburg (GER) (2-1, 3-0), SF – Bayern Munich (GER) (1-2, 4-1).

FC BARCELONA:

1st Rd – Pomurje (SLOVENIA) (4-0/4-2), 2nd Rd Fortuna Hjørring (DEN) (4-0/5-0), QF Manchester City (ENG) (3-0, 1-2), SF Paris St. Germain (FRA) (1-1, 2-1).

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