Barcelona wreck Chelsea’s Champions League dream to leave Emma Hayes with one regret

Chelsea 0-2 Barcelona (Barcelona win 2-1 on agg.): The reigning champions advance to the final in Bilbao after goals from Aitana Bonmati and Fridolina Rolfo

Jamie Braidwood
at Stamford Bridge
Saturday 27 April 2024 21:07 BST
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Chelsea were beaten in Emma Hayes’s final match at Stamford Bridge as Barcelona reached the Champions League final
Chelsea were beaten in Emma Hayes’s final match at Stamford Bridge as Barcelona reached the Champions League final (Reuters)

Emma Hayes stared into the distance and puffed out her cheeks as the full-time whistle went and the dream came crashing down. There will be no Women’s Champions League title in Hayes’s final season, no Bilbao final to provide the ultimate send-off after 12 years in charge. For the third time in four years, it is Barcelona who are responsible, but perhaps it is this defeat that will hurt the most. Chelsea were thrashed in the 2021 final, they weren’t competitive in last season’s semi-final. But here, as Barcelona continue their Champions League defence and now go for back-to-back European crowns, Chelsea will know they have never been so close to their first.

In front of a record 40,000 at Stamford Bridge, the big moments went against Chelsea and turned a historic occasion Barcelona’s way. Chelsea will regret missed chances when the tie was in the balance and will be left to fume over the decisions that went against them. The sending-off of Kadeisha Buchanan for the softest of second yellow cards reduced Chelsea to 10 players and left Hayes’s side with over half an hour to hang on. Fridolina Rolfo’s penalty 20 minutes from time gave Barcelona the lead for the first time and Chelsea with it all to do. The presence of VAR did not save Chelsea, or intervene when Aitana Bonmati went down under the slightest push in the box from Jess Carter.

Rolfo tucked her penalty into the corner and sent Hannah Hampton the wrong way, as Barcelona finally took charge of a contest that had arguably slipped from their grasp. The European champions and holders had been stifled and slowed down in last week’s first leg but arrived at Stamford Bridge with a point to prove. The response in the opening stages was led by Bonmati, the world’s best, a step ahead of everyone else and playing with a clear picture of everything around her. But even Barcelona’s opener was cruel on Chelsea and Bonmati’s shot required a huge deflection to beat Hampton for the first time in this semi-final.

Bonmati’s opener deflected in off Buchanan
Bonmati’s opener deflected in off Buchanan (Getty Images)

Yet Chelsea could hardly have asked for better chances to restore their advantage. Melanie Leupolz spurned the best of them when she turned a pull-back from Lauren James onto the crossbar, from 10 yards out and the goal wide open. Throughout the night, Chelsea’s decision-making cost them: Sjoeke Nusken elected to square to James when Irene Parades’s back-pass handed the hosts a gift. After half-time, Nusken was the width of the post from steering Chelsea into the lead, just minutes before Buchanan was dismissed. The momentum of the night turned in Barcelona’s direction.

It was harsh on Chelsea, so many moments were. Stamford Bridge was close to full; a fine, consistent drizzle adding zip to a surface and pace to Barcelona’s passing. The opener was fortunate, its scorer unsurprising. Bonmati’s shot took a deflection off Buchanan but the genius came in the run, signalling Patri Guijarro where to pass, the stepover to create the extra yard on the edge of the Chelsea box, the position of body to turn away from pressure. As Bonmati’s strike skimmed off the pitch and landed inside Hampton’s near post, she turned towards her goal and ran towards the pocket of Barcelona fans in the opposite corner. It sent a message. Barcelona were back.

Barcelona will attempt to win their third Champions League in four years in Bilbao
Barcelona will attempt to win their third Champions League in four years in Bilbao (PA)

But Barcelona never found their usual authority. Chelsea’s players gathered in their half and their response was excellent.

There was space to be found behind Barcelona’s back-line and James was a constant target with her pace in behind. James was offside before reaching the byline but pulled the ball back for the first of Chesea’s golden opportunities as Leupolz hit the bar. Chelsea could not have asked for a better chance and yet there would be more, as Barcelona lost their control. Catarina Macario’s dipping volley was tipped wide by goalkeeper Cata Coll, then Parades’s backpass played in Nusken. Barcelona recovered and the moment went.

From there, the tie turned in a matter of minutes. Chelsea were inches from taking the lead when Nusken hit the post but then found themselves behind and a player down, Buchanan sent off for two yellows in the space of 15 minutes.

The Canadian had wiped out Salma Paralluelo to pick up her first but the second stunned Hayes on the touchline. The defender won her challenge with Patri but caught the midfielder as she followed through, though hardly sufficient contact to merit a dismissal. Chelsea altered: Macario was sacrificed, the versatile Nusken, who had offered so much in an attacking sense, was brought into the back three.

Buchanan was controversially sent off midway through the second half
Buchanan was controversially sent off midway through the second half (PA)

It was all Barcelona after that, mostly, as the visitors were happy to wait for their moment. Bonmati provided it with her burst into the penalty area, squeezing between Carter and Lawrence. But when Bonmati crashed to the ground only then were Barcelona given the clearest sight of goal they had managed all night. Rolfo kept her cool and Stamford Bridge was finally silenced.

The record crowd attempted to produce a final rally. Millie Bright was hauled on as a makeshift forward, Chelsea set for one last assault. Yet the odds were stacked against them, the final minutes slipped away, and now the dream of the fairytale farewell is over too.

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