Barcelona masterclass proves how far Chelsea women have yet to climb

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Barcelona masterclass proves how far Chelsea women have yet to climb - PA
Barcelona masterclass proves how far Chelsea women have yet to climb - PA

The stars were meant to align for Emma Hayes and Chelsea. This week, the manager described going to see a clairvoyant 13 years ago, who predicted she would find "massive success" at Chelsea. The psychic was not entirely wrong, Hayes has done that. But her prediction seemed quite a way off as Chelsea's dreams of a European title were all-but over at half-time last night in Gothenburg.

In reality, fate was 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 victory.

The Catalans' memory of their 2019 capitulation in Budapest may well have been the perfect motivation. Luck seemed well on Barcelona's side immediately, as an own goal and penalty decision went their way, but the rest was a pure masterclass in meeting the occasion — an occasion that once left them as flat-footed and flustered as Chelsea were throughout.

This was a result few would have predicted though, considering Chelsea's dominance in England has been on 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.

In all areas of the pitch, Chelsea were outplayed. Millie Bright flailed, while Sophie Ingle's desperate forward passes rarely found their targets. Even Pernille Harder — the most expensive player in the world when she signed last summer — squandered the best of Chelsea's chances at goal.

As for the striking combination of Fran Kirby and Kerr, who scored a combined 52 goals in all competitions this term — they were nowhere to be found. Former Chelsea player Karen Carney saw the defeat as so devastating, that she threw doubt on Hayes's future at the club: “Can Emma Hayes go again?" she said in BT Sport's post-match coverage. "It’s not so much the team, but the leader. Does she have the energy and the drive?”

Chelsea will want to forget this match 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 was a club obliterated by Lyon 24 months ago, and this was their redemption story. Hayes's post-match message to her players showed the symmetry was not lost on her.

"I said to the players, ‘Look at the scoreboard' — that’s got to be a motivating factor when they come back into pre-season," she said. "This will stay with them over the summer. I thought some of the inexperience cost us, but they will grow from that. The gap is probably a little bit closer than the scoreline suggests, but I don’t think we performed at our best levels tonight."

Barcelona's journey to champions of Europe is not unlike Chelsea's own. In 2012 they won their first Primera Division title, and three years later went professional — two years after Chelsea. Sixteen of the squad in the final were recruited in the time since then, and most played in the 2019 defeat.

It has culminated in winning the Champions League for the first time in their history, after scoring 128 goals and conceding just five in the league, and losing one competitive match in all competitions this season. Perhaps the signs were there all along that Barcelona would just be too strong.

But it was difficult to deny Hayes and Chelsea's own transformational few years — building her side since she joined in 2012, to becoming almost unstoppable this season. This European final was a momentous step up, after two semi-final losses in 2018 and 2019. But it proved one step too far. Barcelona served them a generous helping of humble pie, and a horrible lesson in how far they still have to go.

Hayes summed it up: “It just wasn’t meant to be this time."

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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