'It was over before it had begun' - brilliant Barca rout Chelsea in Champions League final

Superb Barcelona side win first Champions League crown
'It was over before it had begun' - brilliant Barca rout Chelsea in Champions League final

Barcelona players celebrate after victory in the UEFA Women's Champions League final, at Gamla Ullevi, Gothenburg. Picture date: Sunday May 16, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Chelsea Women. Photo credit should read: Adam Ihse/PA Wire. 

Women's Champions League Final: Barcelona 4 Chelsea 0

In their only other Champions League final, in 2019, Barcelona were 4-0 down to Lyon after half an hour.

Their captain Vicky Losada spoke before this Gothenburg final of the mark that embarrassment had left on the Catalans, vowing an early setback wouldn’t have the same disastrous impact again.

She needn’t have worried — instead the dominoes falling were all in blue.

This was Chelsea’s first final and their star-studded, experienced line-up played like novices at this exalted level. Tardily, Barca took fully 35 minutes to go four up, dashing Chelsea’s quadruple hopes.

"Today was difficult because the game was over before it began," reflected Blues boss Emma Hayes afterwards. 

The Londoners’ surprise naivety shouldn’t detract from Barca’s brilliance.

Their vaunted wide players Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen tore Chelsea asunder in the first half, with false nine Jenni Hermoso characteristically elusive.

They were ahead after 33 seconds, Martens sowing seeds of mayhem in the Chelsea box by flashing a shot against the bar.

In the panic, newly crowned FWA player of the year Fran Kirby lashed her clearance off Melanie Leupolz and it looped beyond the helpless grope of Ann-Katrin Berger.

How rattled were the best defence in the WSL. Berger, outstanding in this competition this season, almost gifted another to Alexia Putellas with a loose clearance, but managed to push over the shot.

Chelsea had shown resilience to get there, surviving an early red card against Atletico Madrid, overcoming first-leg defeat by Bayern in the semis.

Hayes made urgent adjustments on the touchline and her team went longer to their star trident of Kirby, Kerr and Harder, attempting to bypass the diligent Barcelona press.

“Just until we get a little bit of confidence…,” Hayes could be heard saying to an assistant, on the BT Sport coverage.

That state of mind never arrived.

"I did my best. I tried to coach the players. Change a few things just to give us a little bit of momentum, but it wasn't to be."

After 12 minutes, Graham Hansen got behind Jessica Carter too easily down Chelsea’s left, cut back to Hermoso who was upended by Leupolz’s trailing leg as she attempted to block the finish. For the second day in a row, VAR did nothing for Chelsea and Putellas tucked away the penalty.

The elegant Putellas probed constantly as Lluís Cortés’ side rotated around her. And it was her perfect pass, following more good work by Martens and Hermoso, that put in Aitana Bonmati to score the third on 21 minutes.

There was some respite for a quarter hour before Dutch flier Martens toyed with Niamh Charles before squaring for Graham Hansen to tap in the fourth.

The world’s most expensive player, Pernille Harder, who has twice tasted final defeat with Wolfsburg, had several first-half chances to give Chelsea hope, but couldn’t beat Sandro Panos.

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmati, left, celebrates with Barcelona's Lieke Martens after scoring her side's third goal during the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Barcelona's Aitana Bonmati, left, celebrates with Barcelona's Lieke Martens after scoring her side's third goal during the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Hayes holds a Masters degree in Intelligence and International Affairs, and once wanted to be a spy, but this was already a mission impossible. She swapped Guro Reiten for the unfortunate Leupolz at half-time and Chelsea did have most of the second-half territory, as Barca looked content with the fruits of their first-half excellence.

As the men’s side of their operation stuttered and spluttered, Barca’s women have enjoyed a perfect, invincible campaign. They clinched the league title last Sunday with five games to spare: Played 26, won 26. In the quarter-final first leg, they dismantled Manchester City, Chelsea’s main rivals for the WSL title they wrapped up last weekend. Now they become the first Spanish side to win women’s club football’s biggest prize.

It was impossible to become too misty-eyed over this showpiece when you considered both these clubs were among the rebels determined to cut French and German powerhouses of the women’s game out of the biggest European nights. Even if Super League plans only stretched to promising a parallel women’s competition “as soon as is practicable”.

Still, both have shown admirable commitment to the women’s game, though there will be no dream Champions League double for Roman Abramovic’s expensive project.

For Losada, who came on for Putellas in the second half, there was double cause for celebration. She had promised to win this for the fans of both Barcelona and Arsenal, where she spent two seasons. The Gunners remain the only English side to win this competition, 14 years ago. There were three Irish players in that squad. Different times.

"I'm just gutted we didn't get to make a game of it," Hayes told BT. "The damage was done. I'm proud of the second-half performance. The players gave it everything. Congratulations to Barcelona, they are worthy winners. I think it's something we will learn from. This is the next step up and I think we showed some naivety at times. 

"We're the second-best team in Europe. I'll take that as a step in the right direction."

"We didn't have to start to the game we wanted," understated Chelsea's English centre-half Millie Bright.

"In these types of games, you can't concede sloppy goals. it's a massive learning curve. We're so proud of our journey and what we've achieved. Congrats to Barca, incredible team and they deserve it. We'll be back better and stronger for the next time."

Barca have drawn them that map to final redemption.

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