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UEFA Women's Champions League Performance Insight: How Barcelona established a lead at Chelsea

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse how Barcelona managed to take full advantage of a stunning Caroline Graham Hansen goal to win their semi-final first leg.

Women's Champions League Performance Insight: Chelsea vs Barcelona

Barcelona scored within 33 seconds when these sides met in the 2021 UEFA Women's Champions League final, going on to win 4-0. The result was less emphatic in this season's semi-final opener, but an early goal was crucial.

In this tactical analysis, the UEFA Technical Observer Panel takes a look at the key features of Barcelona's 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in front of a UK-record Women's Champions League crowd of 27,697.

Chelsea 0-1 Barcelona


1-0: Caroline Graham Hansen (4)

Highlights: Chelsea 0-1 Barcelona

Barcelona pushed from the off, and the No10 took advantage of a bit of indecision in the Chelsea defence, cutting in from the right wing before delivering a thunderous shot from distance which flew past Ann-Katrin Berger in the Chelsea goal.

Player of the Match: Caroline Graham Hansen

Scoring the stunning early goal was not the whole of Graham Hansen's contribution, her ability to keep defenders busy ensuring Chelsea never had much time and space to build attacks. The Technical Observer cited "a number of good performances" on the day, giving the striker the Player of the Match for the "world-class goal [that] separates the two teams."

Chelsea's Guro Reiten, who plays up front with Graham Hansen for Norway, added: “She's phenomenal one-vs-one; don’t let her in, or down the line either. I don’t think anyone does it better than her right now.”

Team formations


How Chelsea lined up
How Chelsea lined up

In the first half, Emma Hayes – without usual centre-back partnership Millie Bright and Kadeisha Buchanan – showed her tactical flexibility, with a 3-4-1-2 formation. Lauren James was sacrificed for the first half with the hard-working Jelena Čanković given a rare European start to support Sam Kerr and Guro Reiten up front, with Eve Périsset and Niahm Charles as wing-backs. At half-time James came on for Čanković in her usual position on the right of a front three as Chelsea switched shape.


How Barcelona lined up
How Barcelona lined up

Barcelona were in a typical 4-3-3, the mobile Geyse starting as the central forward with Asisat Oshoala not fully fit. Caroline Graham Hansen and Salma Paralluelo looked to keep Chelsea's wing-backs occupied with Lucy Bronze and Fridolina Rolfö roaming forward in support.


Graham Hansen: 'We deserved to win'

Chelsea's direct approach

Chelsea's priority in the first leg was to give nothing away. Playing with five at the back to ensure defensive solidity, their in-possession play frequently focused on bypassing Barcelona's potent midfield by playing directly to Sam Kerr (20) and Guro Reiten (11), exploiting the former's aerial power and ability to make runs behind the opponent's back line, and the latter's talent for latching on to flick-ons. Even from goal kicks, the tendency was to play long, pre-empting Barcelona's pressing strength.

The first clip shows Chelsea delivering a long inswinging pass from the right in response to synchronised forward runs by the attacking duo. The following clip is the second phase in the same passage of play when, after a central regain, the ball is again lofted by Erin Cuthbert (22) towards similar runs by Kerr and Reiten, leading to a goal attempt. The next clip shows a similar lofted delivery by Maren Mjelde (18) from a right-back position for Kerr to nod into the space where Reiten appears after a sharp run between centre-back and right-back. After she rounded the goalkeeper, Chelsea's best chance of the game was thwarted by Lucy Bronze's clearance off the line.

Chelsea's high press

Chelsea frequently exerted the high press to disturb Barcelona's build-up play, especially in the first half, using a 1-3-4-1-2 structure with the front two rapidly pressurising goalkeeper and centre-backs. The first clip shows how a misguided pass, easily gathered by the goalkeeper, triggered aggressive pressing with three players closing in on centre-backs and the holding midfielder and two more pushing up on Barça’s wide defenders. The keeper opts to play long and possession is regained by a Chelsea centre-back.

The second clip focuses on another forward pass collected by the keeper, which is the cue for pressure on the keeper herself with three other Chelsea players barring the short-pass options and other potential recipients closely marked. When Sandra Paños plays to the right flank, the receiver is immediately crowded out by three opponents.

The final clip again shows the keeper under pressure while five Chelsea players obstruct passing lanes. The ball is played to the left, with the pressure leading to a rapid interception.

Mjelde: 'Everything can happen'

Barcelona's defending masterclass

Barcelona dominated with 69.4% of possession but needed disciplined, well-organised defending to neutralise Chelsea's attacking potential and restrict the home team to six goal attempts and an xG of 0.35 – their lowest figure for expected goals thus far in the competition.

In the first clip, goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger hits a long ball to Sam Kerr. Barça's defence reacts quickly and an aerial duel ends with three defenders facing the ball and three team-mates back-tracking at speed to create a 6vs2 situation in the visitors' favour.

The other two clips illustrate how, after rebounds had opened pathways for a diagonal forward pass. Barcelona players were alert to the danger, acting rapidly and skilfully to cut out the through pass.

The Barça style

Barcelona dominated the game with 583 passes and more than double the number of on-target goal attempts. But the Technical Observer also highlighted "the quality of their decision-making – choosing the moments when, rather than look for the counterattack, it was more appropriate to keep possession and dictate the tempo of the game".

The clips show, firstly, Barcelona opting to retain possession rather than play forward into a 3v5 scenario. Keira Walsh (21), constantly on the move, adjusts her position to make herself available and, with four players fixing the Chelsea back line, Aitana Bonmatí (14) makes a lateral run across midfield to ask questions of her marker. Lucy Bronze (15) then appears in a central position and relays the ball to the opposite wing in a move that ended with a shot at goal from a central area.

The second clip showcases Barça's short-passing game and the neat diagonal runs – forwards and backwards – that underpin their triangular combination moves. Substitute Mariona Caldentey (9), in just 30 minutes, registered 44 touches of the ball and, as the Technical Observer reported "made an impact, first in the centre-forward position with excellent interchanging with Bonmatí and then as a False 9 to create central overloads and, towards the end of the game, moving out to wide left, creating central spaces for team-mates and, in this case, delivering the ball into them."

Barcelona coach Jonatan Giráldez enjoying t-shirt weather in London
Barcelona coach Jonatan Giráldez enjoying t-shirt weather in LondonUEFA via Getty Images

Coaches' assessments

Emma Hayes, Chelsea manager: "A poor start. A poor time to concede a goal because you can’t give gifts to this time, their quality, they have so many outstanding footballers. We expected them to dominate the ball, this was no surprise. But good response, after the first ten to 15 minutes from the team. [Barcelona] are the best footballing team in the world and I cannot ask for any more from the players today."

Jonatan Giráldez, Barcelona coach: "I think we did an amazing job. Of course we knew that it was a difficult game. We know they play long, the second ball, the transition. We stopped them many times in the game. We avoided these transitions, the second ball. We had patience with the ball ,had a lot of chances – maybe we could have scored more goals but in the end we got a victory and everything is open for the second leg."

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