Can Chelsea finally land elusive Women’s Champions League title?

Share

The Uefa Women’s Champions League quarter-final ties continue with the second legs across Wednesday and Thursday nights – with many eyes on two clubs who are currently on track to meet in the semis, the draw for the latter round having already taken place. Chelsea and Barcelona both picked up first-leg victories and will go head-to-head in the final four if they do eventually progress – though the Spanish side in particular still have a bit of work to do.


By Karl Matchett


That’s as a result of a spirited first-leg showing by Brann; Barcelona were typically dominant in possession and created plenty of openings, but Aurora Mikalsen made nine saves in goal and centre-back Marthine Ostenstadt tallied a massive 21 defensive actions to keep the best of Barca at bay and Brann still in the tie.

The Norwegian outfit have surpassed expectations by getting to this point, and another good showing against the best team in the competition will only amplify their potential to improve.

Last year’s winners and the favourites to retain their trophy, Barcelona are formidable at home and certainly have the individual talent, the cohesion in their team and the expectancy on their shoulders to see off Brann and then go the distance.

But if they are to do that, they’ll need to beat Chelsea too – the side they dismantled in the 2021 final, the same team they knocked out in last year’s semis and the club who are desperate to add a European trophy to Emma Hayes’ honours list before she departs in the summer for the USA women’s national team job.

The Blues themselves are almost there. A 3-0 first-leg victory at Ajax was both well-deserved and yet probably not Chelsea at their peak; two or three absences in attack and a profligate night in front of goal – four big chances created, 13 shots in total and another goal ruled out – meant the young Dutch outfit arguably got away with the scoreline slightly.

Hayes was once again able to reshuffle her pack and find key performers from different positions, none more so than Sjoeke Nüsken, with the German playing just off roving centre-forward Lauren James and able to frequently be in position to lead the line herself. She scored twice and could have had a hat-trick, six touches in the Ajax box highlighting the constant threat she was and yet still Nüsken was able to contribute to a dominant centre of the park for Chelsea.

With Norwegian winger Guro Reiten a non-stop threat down the channels and James showing her usual mix of invention and clinical edge, Chelsea had a massive goal threat even without Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, Catarina Macário or Mayra Ramírez involved.

The chances are that some of them will get the chance in the second leg, fitness permitting, given Chelsea have a League Cup final at the weekend. But even with that trophy and the WSL title to fight for, thoughts will already be turning to a potential meeting with Barcelona and where, this time, the London side could claim the edge.

As for every opponent, though, the problem is the sheer volume and depth of quality that Barca have. Their squad contains the players with the most goals in the Women’s Champions League this season, the most assists, the most chances – and big chances – created, second-most goals per 90 minutes and the first, second and third most accurate passes per 90 minutes. They even have the goalkeeper with the third-highest save percentage in the tournament, and she’s not even their established No.1.

Barca’s starting XI is a who’s who of the elite end of the women’s game: Lucy Bronze, current Ballon d’Or Aitana Bonmatí, Keira Walsh, Salma Paralluelo, Caroline Graham Hansen. former Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas can’t even get a game at present, such is their consistency and ability.

But Chelsea need not despair.

Nobody has won possession more times in the final third than Lauren James (3.2 per 90) in this season’s Champions League and nobody gets close to Sam Kerr’s strike rate (1.37 goals per 90). The Aussie is a long-term absentee, but it shows the chance creation rate the team had around her and still has now. Others must step up to hit the goal trail and James is doing her part – 5.9 shots per 90 in the competition is more than any Barcelona player manages, though her conversion rate is lower than that of Hansen or Paralluelo.

Getting James – also top three for successful dribbles this term – involved wherever and whenever possible in dangerous areas is so obviously Chelsea’s route to success that Hayes’ biggest dilemma will be which role to give her: free from centre-forward or with a focal point ahead of her? The first semi against Ajax and the big WSL win over Arsenal suggested the former could be the answer. The second leg, and weekend final against the same domestic opponent, could tell us more.


(Cover image from IMAGO)


You can follow every game in the UWCL – with deep stats, and players ratings on FotMob. Download the free app here.

Can Chelsea finally land elusive Women’s Champions League title?

The Uefa Women’s Champions League quarter-final ties continue with the second legs across Wednesday and Thursday nights – with many eyes on two clubs who are currently on track to meet in the semis, the draw for the latter round having already taken place. Chelsea and Barcelona both picked up first-leg victories and will go head-to-head in the final four if they do eventually progress – though the Spanish side in particular still have a bit of work to do.


By Karl Matchett


That’s as a result of a spirited first-leg showing by Brann; Barcelona were typically dominant in possession and created plenty of openings, but Aurora Mikalsen made nine saves in goal and centre-back Marthine Ostenstadt tallied a massive 21 defensive actions to keep the best of Barca at bay and Brann still in the tie.

The Norwegian outfit have surpassed expectations by getting to this point, and another good showing against the best team in the competition will only amplify their potential to improve.

Last year’s winners and the favourites to retain their trophy, Barcelona are formidable at home and certainly have the individual talent, the cohesion in their team and the expectancy on their shoulders to see off Brann and then go the distance.

But if they are to do that, they’ll need to beat Chelsea too – the side they dismantled in the 2021 final, the same team they knocked out in last year’s semis and the club who are desperate to add a European trophy to Emma Hayes’ honours list before she departs in the summer for the USA women’s national team job.

The Blues themselves are almost there. A 3-0 first-leg victory at Ajax was both well-deserved and yet probably not Chelsea at their peak; two or three absences in attack and a profligate night in front of goal – four big chances created, 13 shots in total and another goal ruled out – meant the young Dutch outfit arguably got away with the scoreline slightly.

Hayes was once again able to reshuffle her pack and find key performers from different positions, none more so than Sjoeke Nüsken, with the German playing just off roving centre-forward Lauren James and able to frequently be in position to lead the line herself. She scored twice and could have had a hat-trick, six touches in the Ajax box highlighting the constant threat she was and yet still Nüsken was able to contribute to a dominant centre of the park for Chelsea.

With Norwegian winger Guro Reiten a non-stop threat down the channels and James showing her usual mix of invention and clinical edge, Chelsea had a massive goal threat even without Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, Catarina Macário or Mayra Ramírez involved.

The chances are that some of them will get the chance in the second leg, fitness permitting, given Chelsea have a League Cup final at the weekend. But even with that trophy and the WSL title to fight for, thoughts will already be turning to a potential meeting with Barcelona and where, this time, the London side could claim the edge.

As for every opponent, though, the problem is the sheer volume and depth of quality that Barca have. Their squad contains the players with the most goals in the Women’s Champions League this season, the most assists, the most chances – and big chances – created, second-most goals per 90 minutes and the first, second and third most accurate passes per 90 minutes. They even have the goalkeeper with the third-highest save percentage in the tournament, and she’s not even their established No.1.

Barca’s starting XI is a who’s who of the elite end of the women’s game: Lucy Bronze, current Ballon d’Or Aitana Bonmatí, Keira Walsh, Salma Paralluelo, Caroline Graham Hansen. former Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas can’t even get a game at present, such is their consistency and ability.

But Chelsea need not despair.

Nobody has won possession more times in the final third than Lauren James (3.2 per 90) in this season’s Champions League and nobody gets close to Sam Kerr’s strike rate (1.37 goals per 90). The Aussie is a long-term absentee, but it shows the chance creation rate the team had around her and still has now. Others must step up to hit the goal trail and James is doing her part – 5.9 shots per 90 in the competition is more than any Barcelona player manages, though her conversion rate is lower than that of Hansen or Paralluelo.

Getting James – also top three for successful dribbles this term – involved wherever and whenever possible in dangerous areas is so obviously Chelsea’s route to success that Hayes’ biggest dilemma will be which role to give her: free from centre-forward or with a focal point ahead of her? The first semi against Ajax and the big WSL win over Arsenal suggested the former could be the answer. The second leg, and weekend final against the same domestic opponent, could tell us more.


(Cover image from IMAGO)


You can follow every game in the UWCL – with deep stats, and players ratings on FotMob. Download the free app here.