• Barcelona masterclass proves how far Chelsea women have yet to climb
    The Telegraph

    Barcelona masterclass proves how far Chelsea women have yet to climb

    The stars were meant to have aligned for Emma Hayes and Chelsea on Sunday night. This week, the manager described going to see a clairvoyant 13 years ago, the tarot card reader predicting she would find "massive success" at Chelsea. The psychic was not wrong, she has — but she may well have been scratching her head as Chelsea's dreams of a European title were all but over within 20 minutes in Gothenburg. In reality, fate was in fact spookily on the side of a Barcelona team that overcame the ghosts of their first Champions League final two years ago. Then, against a dominant Lyon side, they were 4-0 down within 30 minutes. Thirty-six minutes in last night, it was the exact reverse, as Barcelona ran rings around stricken Chelsea players to propel themselves to a four-goal lead. The Catalans' memory of their capitulation in Budapest in 2019 may well have been the perfect motivation. Luck seemed well on their side immediately, as an own goal and a generous penalty decision went their way for the first two early goals. But the rest was a masterclass in meeting the occasion, an occasion that once left them as flat-footed and flustered as Chelsea were throughout. Back in 2019, Sam Kerr — who was at the time playing in the USA — reacted to Barcelona's thrashing by scoffing, "And this is competitive..." in a tweet that has aged phenomenally badly. Barcelona fans descended on Kerr's unfortunate jinxing of her own fortunes to deliver her some humble pie, while Barcelona continued to do the same job on the pitch. This was a result few would have predicted, considering Chelsea's dominance in England has been almost on a par with Barcelona's in the Spanish top division. But as wingers Caroline Graham Hansen and Lieke Martens sped past Chelsea full-backs Jess Carter and Niamh Charles time and again, the gulf between the two teams became more and more apparent. Neither defender is usually first-choice, injured Maren Mjelde and benched Jonna Andersson absent from the starting XI, and it showed. But in all areas of the pitch Chelsea was outmatched. Millie Bright flailed, while Sophie Ingle's desperate forward passes rarely found their targets. Even Pernille Harder — the most expensive player in the world — squandered the best of Chelsea's chances at goal. As for the striking combination of Fran Kirby and Kerr, the same pair that scored a combined 52 goals in all competitions this term for their club, they were nowhere to be found. Chelsea suffered through a match they will want to forget as soon as they get on the return flight to London. But the lessons, when they do reflect, will be found in their opponents. Barcelona were a club obliterated by Lyon 24 months ago, and their journey to the top of the European game is not unlike Chelsea's. In 2012 they won their first Primera Division title, and three years later went professional — ahead of the curve in Spanish women's football — and 16 of the squad today were recruited in the time since then as the club built towards this final. It has culminated this season in a second consecutive domestic title in which they scored 128 goals and conceded just five, and a single competitive loss in all competitions this season. Perhaps the signs were there all along than Barcelona would just be too strong. But it was difficult to deny Hayes and Chelsea's own transformational couple of years. She too has been building her side since she joined Chelsea in 2012, when the team was still part-time. The storylines behind her squad all pointed to them being unstoppable: Kirby's awe-inspiring return from illness, Kerr's golden boot and Ann-Katrin Berger's heroics in goal included. This final was a momentous step up, after two semi-final losses in 2018 and 2019 - surely, you thought, it must be their time. But it proved one step too far. Barcelona delivered a horrible lesson in how far they still have to go. Player ratings by Jason Mellor CHELSEA (4-3-3) Ann-Katrin Berger — 4 No chance with any of Barcelona's three goals in that devastating 20-minute opening spell which decided the contest. Jess Carter — 3 The full-back received little cover from her midfielders, and endured a miserable evening against some world-class wing play. Millie Bright — 3 A tentative, nervy, error-strewn display the hapless England defender will want to forget in a hurry. Magdalena Eriksson — 4 Second best in too many individual battles, but in mitigation so were most of her team-mates. Niamh Charles — 3 The 21-year-old England international was bullied, harried and on too many occasions simply out-classed. Melanie Leupolz — 3 The German international was in the wrong place at the wrong time to deflect in a disastrous own goal inside a minute. Sophie Ingle — 3 A struggle from start to finish for the Wales skipper who barely had a look-in all game. Ji So-yun — 3 Anonymous for long spells and won't reflect on this insipid personal display with any satisfaction whatsoever. Fran Kirby — 4 Starved of service and never looked likely to add to her six Champions League goals this season. Pernille Harder — 3 A crucial early miss from the former Wolfsburg forward proved costly for the not so great Dane. Sam Kerr — 4 A night to forget for the Australian, who rarely looked capable of adding to her tally of 27 goals this season. BARCELONA (4-3-3) Sandra Panos — 7 The 28-year-old produced a fine early save to deny Pernille Harder and maintain her side's lead. Marta Torrejon — 8 Had the cigars out early and spent most of the game posing Chelsea problems with some probing runs down the flank. Patricia Guijarro — 8 The Spanish international midfielder was rarely troubled despite operating out of position at centre-back. Maria Leon — 7 Strong in the challenge and always in the right place to snuff out any sign of a Chelsea threat. Leila Ouahabi — 7 The 28-year-old kept Barcelona ticking over and Chelsea chasing shadows with some neat distribution and intelligent positional play. Aitana Bonmati — 8 Joined in the early fun to put her side three goals up at the end of another slick move. Kheira Hamraoui — 7 Always seemed to have so much time on the ball, and barely mis-placed a pass all night. Alexia Putellas — 8 The Barca skipper kept cool to slot home her side's second from the spot in the Catalans' stunning start to the game. Caroline Graham Hansen — 9 Tapped in the fourth. With this kind of attacking talent, it's easy to see why Barcelona have scored in 67 straight games. Jennifer Hermoso — 8 Went down very easily to win the penalty for Barcelona's second goal which left Chelsea with a mountain to climb. Lieke Martens — 9 A constant threat down the flank as the Blues struggled to deal with the Dutch star's pace and trickery.

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    The Guardian

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    Barcelona stun Chelsea with early blitz to win Women’s Champions League final Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen celebrates after scoring her side’s fourth goal. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP