UWCL: Chelsea v Barcelona
Chelsea face defeat to Barcelona in the first of their semi-final legs in front of record crowd at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea FC Women
22 April 2023
Caroline Graham Hansen netted beauty of a goal within the opening five minutes to put the visitors ahead. Drifting in from the right the Norway international carried the ball cross-pitch before shifting over to her left leg and ripping her shot straight past Ann-Katrin Berger.
Whilst the early lead did not appear to rattle Chelsea all that much, it didn’t really ignite anything either and the Blues only managed to offer any type of attacking threat towards the middle of the first half.
Guro Reiten did manage to hit the back of the net after controlling Sam Kerr’s headed flick on 25 minutes in, but her effort was flagged for a tight offside and Barcelona retained their lead.
This spell between the middle and end parts of the first half was Chelsea’s best. The had Blues dropped little deeper than they usually would and organically switched between a back three to a five in order to absorb Barcelona’s threat as necessary. To balance this, Chelsea played more so on the counter. They found a fair bit of joy with the long-lobbed balls in transition which allowed Kerr and Reiten opportunity to take on defenders in equal numbers.
Chelsea remained goalless at half-time and Emma Hayes took this as the opportune moment to bring on Lauren James in place of Jelena Cankovic, The idea behind the half time addition of James was likely that of introducing a physical running threat. A player who will cause panic when blistering along the length of the pitch whilst also offering off-the-ball distraction to support the movement of Kerr and Reiten.
However, this change did not have the desired effect. Barcelona’s midfield trio had a measured grasp over the flows of the game and neutralised James for large parts of the second half. The English maverick was only afforded one clear-cut opening to unleash one of her dizzying runs that ended with nothing more than a booking to Barcelona’s Keira Walsh.
Arguably James was brought on too soon. In the first half Cankovic had closely marked and made things awkward for Walsh meaning there was more weight on fellow midfielder Patri to exert control over the midfield. Yet Hayes’ choice to bring on James somewhat lessened these constraints and gave Barcelona a firmer dictation of play.
Further to this, and indeed more worryingly, the Blues seemed to fall utterly flat in the second forty-five minutes. Gone were the inspired off-the-shoulder runs from Reiten, gone were the dogged challenges of Cuthbert, and Kerr seemed to disappear entirely.
However, it wasn’t all bad for the Blues. Bar affording Graham Hansen - who was simply outstanding - far too much time and space on a several occasions, Chelsea dealt with Barcelona’s attacking play fairly well. Jess Carter and Magda Eriksson held firm and did well to manage Geyse, but it was Champions League talisman Maren Mjelde who really knuckled down and stamped out every looming threat that came her way.
Chelsea won’t be wholly disappointed with their performance, after all a 1-0 first leg defeat means that on paper they are very much still in this tie. In reality however, facing a stacked and charged-up Barcelona side at Camp Nou is a fantastically tall order. Hard enough will it be to keep the Spanish Champions at bay in front of their home supporters without having to find the net themselves.
This is the Champions League, so naturally, anything can happen and this tie is far from over yet. But a tough night does await Chelsea, a night in which even the magic of Maren Mjelde might not be enough to save them.
Chelsea: Berger (GK), Carter, Eriksson (C), Mjelde, Perisset (83’), Charles, Cuthbert (66’), Leupolz (81’), Cankovic (45’), Reiten (81’), Kerr
Subs: Musovic (GK), Orman (GK), Ingle (66’), James (45’), Fleming (83’), Kaneryd (83’), Harder (81’), Abdullina
Booked: Kerr, James
Barcelona: Panos (GK) (C), Parades, Bronze (65’), Leon, Rolfo, Walsh (81’), Patri, Bonmati Graham Hansen (81’), Paralluelo (81’), Geyse (58’)
Subs: Cata, Codina, Pina, Crnogorcevic (83’), Marta (65’), Mariona (58’), Bruna, Osholala (83’), Nuria, Engen (83’), Lopez
Goals: Graham Hansen 4’
Booked: Mapi Leon, Walsh, Panos
Attendance: 27, 697