Chelsea had chances but were unable to convert them, and their situation worsened as the half progressed
This season, FC Barcelona Femen has made winning the league look like child’s play. They have clinched the league title after only 26 games, having not dropped a single point all season. Not only have they been racking up wins with ease, but for at least a year, Barcelona has been one of the most (if not the most) visually appealing teams to watch. Despite this, too many people considered them as underdogs against England’s league champions heading into Sunday’s final.
Alexia Putellas shone, Mara LeÃ³n remained unflappable, while Lieke Martens ran rings around Chelsea’s defense. Everything Barcelona had worked hard for in the build-up to this game paid off, and Chelsea were powerless to stop the onslaught.
Anyone who has followed this Barcelona team closely would not have predicted such a strong first 45 minutes, but they would have understood they had the ability to challenge Chelsea’s defense if they were not overawed by the occasion. Barcelona’s previous incarnations had fallen in front of the greatest lights, but this time, their drive and skill showed through, ensuring Emma Hayes and Chelsea’s downfall on the day.
Instead of trying to walk the ball into Chelsea’s net with their possession style of play, Barcelona changed their tactics and decided to play nice little triangles to lure Chelsea’s press in before launching the counter. They had the capacity and confidence in themselves to avoid the press, which they did repeatedly. They attempted to expose Chelsea’s young fullbacks (who were forced into those positions due to injuries to more experienced defenders) on the break, and both Niamh Charles and Jess Carter’s naivety was exploited at nearly every opportunity. There will be better days for Charles and Carter. I’m sure they tried, but Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen were unbeatable. They weren’t Chelsea’s only flaws on the day; Barcelona made sure Ji So-yun had to travel deep to get the ball, and even then, they did everything they could to cut off passing paths for the South Korean. This meant that Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, and Fran Kirby, the three-headed attack, were cut off from any serious supply and so unable to demonstrate their lethalness in front of goal.
Not only did Barcelona’s wingers cause Chelsea problems, but their midfielders and Jenni Hermoso also demonstrated to the English side how to not only hold up play but also split defenses apart with only one slide rule ball. Putellas, the flawless Kheira Hamraoui, and Aitana Bonmat were outstanding in the attacking third and in sheltering their defenders from Chelsea’s forwards. Even if Chelsea was able to get through the Barcelona midfield, all four of Barcelona’s defenders (LeÃ³n, Patricia Guijarro, Marta TorrejÃ³n, and Leila Ouahabi) held their own against any of Chelsea’s forwards in one-on-one situations.
Even after going up four-nil before half-time, every Barcelona player was on their game and stayed on it for the duration of the contest.
It’s difficult to say which Barcelona player was the greatest because they were all magnificent to watch, but the midfield triad of Putellas, Hamraoui, and Bonmat provided the Catalans with the platform to perform as they did. Based on yesterday’s performance, each one of them could walk into any team in the world, and they all demonstrated to any young player watching what a midfielder should do for their team on both sides of the ball.
Martens got things started in Gothenberg by cutting inside and hitting the crossbar, which led to Barcelona’s opening goal after Kirby attempted to clear the ball by passing it off Melanie Leupolz. After 35 seconds, the clearing looped off the German and over Ann-Katrin Berger, putting Barcelona in ahead. Graham Hansen then caused chaos on the other side of the pitch, winning the ball from Jess Carter and passing it to Hermoso, who was clipped by Leupolz in the area, resulting in a Barcelona penalty. Alexia Putellas, who was match fit just in time for the final, waited calmly through the VAR review before sending Berger the wrong way in the 14th minute to put Barcelona 2-0 up.
Chelsea had chances but were unable to convert them, and their situation
worsened as the half progressed. In the 20th minute, Martens got away
from Charles once more and found Hermoso. The Barcelona forward
controlled the ball for a few seconds before finding Putellas, who
delivered an inch-perfect pass that took out four or five Chelsea
players in one go. Bonmat was her target, and it was smack dab in the
middle of her path. The 23-year-old took a touch before calmly finishing
past Berger for Barcelona’s third goal. From the first whistle, it felt
like an attack, and Chelsea had little time to recover their composure
after each score. After Martens made both Charles and Graham Hansen,
Hansen basically ended the game with a simple tap in.
It would be easy to claim that Chelsea’s defense was their main problem, but that would undervalue Barcelona’s performance. They not only exploited the openings created by Chelsea’s ostensibly frail backline, but they also refused to give Chelsea any hope of regaining control of the game. With Chelsea trying for a consolation goal in the second half, Barcelona remained strong, and players like Martens, who had been outstanding up front, suddenly looked to put in a massive defensive shift to help retain the clean sheet.
Chelsea fought back as much as they could, bringing on attacker after attacker, but Barcelona were adamant about making this day all about them, and they were not going to give up no matter what Chelsea threw at them. Sandra Paos didn’t have to make any major saves throughout the game, which indicates how alert those in front of her were (and also shows just how poor going forward Chelsea were last night).