FC Barcelona Femení 1-1 (2-1) Chelsea: summary, match report, analysis | Women’s Champions League semi-final second leg
Barcelona drew with Chelsea at Camp Nou to make to it the Women’s Champions League final.
The buildup to the UEFA Champions League semi-final saw Fútbol Club Barcelona announce a pre-match show which included various acts performing in a pop-up gazebo round the corner of the ticket office at Camp Nou. Fortunately or otherwise, it is an experience which is becoming all the more popular in modern football; it seems a rapper with a tattooed face is needed to hype the crowd, even an almost-90,000 strong one in Europe’s biggest stadium.
Perhaps Barcelona’s football match organising committee (one person alone couldn’t have come up with such a complex charade) thought a Champions League first leg lead wasn’t enough to get the fans going; maybe they thought that the potential return of the world’s best player after almost 300 days wasn’t enough; that a European semi-final on a bank holiday weekend was a minor affair. Well, as soon as the team bus arrived, it would have rapidly dawned on them. Thousands of fans waited outside with flares, flags and signs: one in particular that stood out being a For Sale sign, normally seen stuck on the outside of properties: For Sale, my heart to Mapi León.
A degree from the Royal College of Science was not needed to see what Hayes’ plan from the off: a predictable yet well-organised effort to swing high passes over the top of the defence and force pressure on Marta Torrejón, the Lucy Bronze substitute at right-back. Sandra Paños cut the first gasp from the crowd short when she dived on top of a loose ball in the box after Barcelona’s defenders quizzed each other on what to do. Chelsea’s 0-1 loss at home in the previous leg meant that nerves were the order of the day.
The early flurry of targeted long balls from the away side was quickly smothered out as the oil rolled from one to cog to the other and Barça got into their Camp Nou groove, zipping the ball between the blaugrana shirts, forming different 3D constellations across the pitch before making quick switches to release Caroline Graham Hansen and Asisat Oshoala. The first chance for the home side came on four minutes, with the Nigerian striker missing from close range. With that, the meteor shower had begun: three minutes later, Barça had sliced three dangerous balls across the box.
Calling Hansen a handful would be not only an understatement but a borderline insult: she was a terrifying monster, outpacing and outmuscling every challenge from her opponents. Her persistence saw her poke the ball in the net before the clock said ten minutes, but the replays showed she used her hand to control a Rolfö cross. The pre-match talk was consumed by thoughts of the return of Barça’s number 11, Alexia, but it was the number 10 who ran the show in the first period, with the squeals from the Chelsea defence only inaudible due to the Barcelona fan drum that continued to ripple through the ground every five seconds. Caroline Graham Hansen was the outlet for the home side, and every run, every dribble and every glance of her eyes caused the Chelsea defenders to go into a state of inescapable doubt.
Mariona skied a shot from close range over the bar after Aitana’s dummy from a Hansen cross from the right. Chelsea found the occasional chance to break, but it only got as far as the edge of the box before the heebie-jeebies kicked in.
As the half wore on, Aitana drifted, slowly enough as to not arouse suspicion, over to the right to join in on the fun Hansen was having. Patri did what she does, nipping inside a phone box before changing from the best defensive midfielder in the world to the best attacking midfielder in the world, linking up delightfully with Oshoala in the box after twinkling footwork sent her teleporting through three simultaneous challenges. Barça were still there, still with the line in the water, even if the initial wave of relentless pressure had died down.
Half time came after a few chances for Chelsea reminded the home side that two teams were playing, and no goals and no Alexia kept the crowd teetering between nervous and excited.
The second half started in a flash of blonde hair as Rolfö decided to try her luck from distance, skimming the post. The crowd’s nerves that were growling towards the end of the first half showed their teeth in the second, as the referee decided to pause play for minor infractions, slowing the game down to a speed at which Chelsea could battle back.
But Aitana broke with Salma to one side and Hansen on the other, the midfielder motioned left before sliding the ball right to the Norwegian, who threaded a shot underneath the goalkeeper to double the scoreline and set the Barça fans off into party mode. No DJ needed.
However, Chelsea cut the deficit almost immediately, with Reiten getting on the end of Paños clearance; The Blues broke down Barça’s right after a series of 50/50 challenges went the way of the away side. Harder and James came on as Emma Hayes moved her pieces, having kept her two aces on the bench. Chelsea crept closer with a few half-chances as the sun dropped behind the stadium walls. Seventy-thousand shoulders shuddered: part cold, part nerves.
With ten minutes to go, Aitana went to ground, an earlier challenge had taken its toll and Giráldez decided to move: Geyse came on for the Catalan. They shook off the fear by shouting for their queen: Alexia, Alexia, came the voices, this time a mixture of both hope and necessity.
And with that move, we were left waiting for the grand return of Alexia. Sometimes just having the whole family there for the party is better than getting the present you wanted. The final minutes were a mixture of the ball being kicked out for a throw-in and Giráldez kneading some imaginary dough on the sideline, presumably in an attempt to get his side to bunch together more, the Camp Nou pitch as it is, an ever-expanding region of spacetime that pulls outwards in all directions.
Four minutes of added time came and went, with the noise levels rising and rising, both in tension and excitement. The referee blew the whistle; Barcelona made it to the final, and Alexia emerged from the bench.