Barça seal their place in UWCL final

Having succumbed to defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea travelled to the Spotify Camp Nou for the second leg of their UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinal. They’d face the same resilient Barcelona side – though this time, a crowd in excess of 65,000 was expected to flood through the gates in Catalunya. That figure looked sure to rise, as queues at the stadium’s ticket office began to form hours before kickoff.

The stats certainly weren’t in Chelsea’s favour ahead of kickoff – as if they wished to progress to the final in Eindhoven, they’d have to bring an end to Barcelona’s fine form at home. Astonishingly, the Blaugrana haven’t lost a home game since February 2019 – that’s a staggering 79 consecutive wins in their sunny corner of Catalunya!

The hosts have been bolstered by the return of Alexia Putellas, with the Spaniard back in the matchday squad after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. It’s certainly not all rosy for Jonatan Giráldez’s side though – as they’re without Lucy Bronze, due to the England star undergoing keyhole surgery on her knee.

BAR: Paños; Rolfö, Mapi León, Paredes, Torrejón; Guijarro, Walsh, Bonmatí; Caldentey, Oshoala, Hansen

CHE: Berger; Carter, Eriksson, Mjelde, Périsset; Cuthbert, Leupolz, Reiten; Kerr, Fleming; Charles

It was Emma Hayes’ side that took kickoff, and they looked to bag an early goal as Caroline Graham Hansen had done in the first leg. Asisat Oshoala had the first real chance for the hosts within the opening five minutes though, driving into the penalty area before her ball across the box rolled out wide for a throw.

Oshoala was involved once again less than a minute later, squandering a huge chance to put the Blaugrana ahead on the night as her ball to Caroline Graham Hansen was dreadfully misplaced. Graham Hansen looked to create an opportunity too, though her cross was cleared by Jess Carter who had moved into a more central position.

Caroline Graham Hansen seems to have a thing for early goals, and she had the ball in the back of the net after just eight minutes – firing home from Fridolina Rolfö’s cross. The strike was quickly disallowed though, as the Norwegian had controlled the ball with her arm before unleashing the effort. That certainly ignited the already raucous atmosphere within the Camp Nou!

Yet more squandered chances followed soon after for Barcelona, as Caroline Graham Hansen’s initial effort was blocked by Magdalena Eriksson – and Asisat Oshoala blazed the rebound over the crossbar. Eriksson was forced to deny Graham Hansen yet again a minute later, and it was clear early on that Barcelona’s right flank would cause endless problems for the visitors.

There was a stoppage in play to allow Rolfö and Eriksson medical attention following a clash of heads, though both players were able to continue. The disruption didn’t affect Barcelona’s attacking output though, as Aitana Bonmatí flashed a ball across the face of goal – it sailed out wide unchallenged.

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Barcelona were forced to defend as Chelsea surged forwards, though ultimately the hosts found themselves awarded a free-kick as Guro Reiten forced Irene Paredes to the ground with a challenge ge from behind – the Norwegian received the first yellow card of the fixture for the offence.

The best chance of the game fell to Mariona Caldentey in the 27th minute, as Caroline Graham Hansen’s cutback cross was left by Aitana Bonmatí. Caldentey really should have tucked it home, but instead she blazed it over the horizontal under very little pressure.

Some phenomenal exchange play between Bonmatí and Graham Hansen on the right flank threatened to create a goalscoring opportunity – and that looked even more likely as Bonmatí jinked past Erin Cuthbert like she was merely a statue. Thankfully for Emma Hayes’ side though, the clearance was made and the danger was averted once again.

Panic ensued on the touchline as Ann-Katrin Berger went down and required quite extensive knee manipulation by Chelsea’s physio team – thankfully the ‘keeper was fine to continue, and that’s what some managers would call a ‘tactical timeout’…

Bonmatí seemed to represent the cogs making the engine turn under this fine April evening at the Camp Nou, and she looked to take the Blaugrana up a gear as she found Rolfö on the left. Unfortunately, the full-back couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity – yet another chance wasted!

Irene Paredes had a great chance to fire home the opener as the ball fell to her on the edge of the area – but she couldn’t place her shot well enough. Asisat Oshoala was lucky to stay out of the referee’s book in the dying minutes of the first half, after she was caught pulling her opponent’s shorts during a tackle.

Chelsea certainly seemed to be growing into the game before the interval, and should have brought themselves level on aggregate in all honesty. Jessie Fleming failed to test Sandra Paños though, and it’ll be another rued missed opportunity for the Blues.

There was to be one final chance for the hosts to send the Camp Nou into raptures before half-time, as Mapi León’s delivery from a free-kick was sliced wide by Irene Paredes at the far post. Despite the first half lacking goals, it certainly hadn’t lacked action – and the Blaugrana will have been more than aware of their one-goal aggregate lead.

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Fridalina Rolfö’s long-range thunder strike at the start of the second half was directed just wide of the upright, much to Ann-Katrin Berger’s relief. Asisat Oshoala was sent through on goal less than a minute later, after Jess Carter completely missed the ball following what should have been a routine pass – though thankfully her defensive partners were in place to deny the forward.

The Blaugrana looked destined to bag the first goal of the evening though as Caroline Graham Hansen worked her way inside from the right, but after weaving through the box, her shot was placed over the horizontal without threatening Berger’s clean sheet.

Tensions were clearly boiling over on the pitch though, as Jess Carter found herself engulfed in a tussle that was more reminiscent of something you’d see in WWE. Couple that with Périsset’s rather lengthy corner routine a few minutes earlier, and there was no wonder the home fans – and players – were starting to get riled up.

Caroline Graham Hansen bagged the first goal of the evening in the 63rd minute, and the Camp Nou burst into life. Aitana Bonmatí released the forward with a sublime pass out towards the right, and her first-time strike was turned into the back of the net by Jess Carter. Coming back from two goals down with half an hour to play is never an easy feat – but doing so in front of an energetic Camp Nou audience is even harder.

Guro Reiten rose to the challenge though, and four minutes later she tucked away a tidy rebounded effort after Sam Kerr’s initial strike was blocked by Paños. There were calls for a foul in the buildup, though the referee waved play on and Chelsea took full advantage. With just over twenty minutes to play, they’d given themself hope.

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Aitana Bonmatí looked to drive a shot towards goal from the edge of the box and restore Barcelona’s lead on the night – but a superb sliding challenge from Maren Mjelde was timed to perfection, and the Spaniard’s effort was halted before it ever really took off.

A golden opportunity fell to Sam Kerr to bring Chelsea level on aggregate, and the Australia has scored from similar positions so many times before – but this time her shot failed to find the back of the net. Chelsea had improved massively, and with the introduction of Lauren James in the 75th minute, there would be an entirely new element added to their game.

Sam Kerr was placed through on goal and looked like she should have brought Chelsea level, but the Australian forward didn’t seem to expect the pass and couldn’t get it under control. She played it out to Lauren James, who sent a wildly mis-hit effort well over the crossbar.

Four minutes of added time gave Emma Hayes’ side one last chance to clinch an equaliser and reward the Camp Nou crowd with another thirty minutes of scintillating football – but there was no such leveller. In fact, Geyse came close to adding to Barcelona’s lead! The Blaugrana progress to the final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, knowing they’ll face either Arsenal or VfL Wolfsburg in Eindhoven on the 3rd June.

Despite signs of promise for Chelsea across both legs, they simply didn’t have enough in the tank to find a way past such an impressive Barcelona side. The Blues have been incredibly unlucky with injuries this season – but there’s absolutely no shame in bowing out to a team of Barça’s quality.

Attendance: 72,262