The Barcelona squad that took on Chelsea Women today at Stamford Bridge for the first leg of the Women’s Champions League semifinal between the two clubs is a little bit different from the one that beat the Blues in 2021 at the final in Gutemberg. Their changes, including Lieke Martens’ exit to Paris Saint-Germain last summer, might have made them even better on paper and on the pitch.
We saw that in the first minutes of the match as they did not let Chelsea leave their own half. High lines, counter-press, quick passing, smart runs — they had it all, and the Blues simply did not know how to handle it especially with a defence depleted by injuries to Millie Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan.
Interestingly enough their first goal did not come from the quick passes near the area they were attempting, in a way to stretch and thus create space in the box to infiltrate it. It came instead from a long-range shot by Caroline Graham Hansen, in a shot that Ann-Katrin Berger had no chance to parry away.
Chelsea tried to answer immediately. But the lack of power in midfield, one of the things the Blues really need to address next summer, made it not be sustainable. On the opposite side Barça were always finding the passes and spaces to inflict us as much pain as possible.
Football however is a tricky sport, and that is one reason why we love it. While Barça looked the part and also as the sure winners of this match almost from kick-off, Chelsea’s advances looked ever more dangerous thanks to quick transitions from defence to attack. Guro Reiten nearly scored that way twice, with the first attempt going in but being deemed offside.
The game looked more even after Guro’s shots, but with Barça still above us in all meaningful stats. In the second half, Lauren James was introduced in place of Jelena Cankovic. The attacker almost made an instant impact with a shot at Barça’s goal saved by Sandra Paños.
Still Barcelona continued their dominance. While they did take their foot off the gas in the second half, it felt as if they did not need to do it since protecting the slim lead heading into a second leg that will be played at their turf was a much more important task.
- Only change from the Aston Villa starting lineup is Niamh Charles starting in place of Lauren James.
- Subs are Lauren James for Jelena Cankovic, Sophie Ingle for Erin Cuthbert, Jessie Fleming for Melanie Leupolz, Pernille Harder (!!!) for Guro Reiten, and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd for Ève Périsset.
- Welcome back, Pernille!
- Barcelona are unbeaten in 25 league matches, and it shows in their play.
- Getting Ève Périsset might have looked smart back when she arrived, but she unfortunately does not play at a level to lock in the right side of our defence. Hopefully this is more about necessity due to lack of depth that should be resolved next summer, rather than manager Emma Hayes’ own choice.
- On the opposite side, Jess Carter had a really good game.
- While quick transitions from defence to attack are a good stopgap for the lack of midfield brawn, this is yet another thing we really need to focus in any market moves we make moving forward.
- Next up: Barcelona again at Camp Nou for the Women’s Champions League semifinal.