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UEFA Women's Champions League Performance Insight: How Barcelona edged past Chelsea

UEFA's Technical Observer Panel analyse how Barcelona booked their final place courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

Barcelona's Mariona Caldentey strides forwards against Chelsea
Barcelona's Mariona Caldentey strides forwards against Chelsea UEFA via Getty Images

For Barcelona, the route to a third successive UEFA Women's Champions League final contained no bigger challenge than that faced against Chelsea in the semi-finals.

Their 1-1 second-leg home draw with the London side was an absorbing contest played out in front of over 70,000 spectators and here the UEFA Technical Observer Panel consider some of the key tactical aspects, including the contrasting roles of Barcelona wide attackers Mariona Caldentey and Caroline Graham Hansen.

Barcelona 1-1 Chelsea

Goals

Highlights: Barcelona 1-1 Chelsea

1-0: Caroline Graham Hansen (63)
The Norwegian had not scored in this season's Women’s Champions League before the semi-finals but struck in both legs against Chelsea. This second strike was the product of a terrific move with a lovely touch from Caldentey to Aitana Bonmatí, who duly carried the ball from halfway to the edge of the penalty box before laying it off diagonally to Graham Hansen, whose first-time shot crossed the goalline despite Jess Carter's attempted block.

1-1: Guro Reiten (67)
Chelsea drew level on a turnover following Erin Cuthbert's fine challenge to dispossess Caldentey. Two passes later, Melanie Leupolz lifted a ball over the hosts' narrow backline towards Sam Kerr, breaking on the left. She got in a shot that Sandra Paños saved but Reiten buried the rebound.

Player of the Match: Aitana Bonmatí (Barcelona)

With the ball she provided constant support for the Barcelona front three, operating between the defensive block and midfield; without it, she was consistent in her pressing and positioning, working selflessly to regain it. Her efforts drew praise from the UEFA match observer who said: "She protects the ball and allows others into the game and makes things happen proactively as seen through her assist."

That assist was her sixth of this campaign – more than any other player in the competition – and she has also played more passes in the final third (300) than any other. Her role in the goal showcased her ability to carry the ball and with her fine dribbling skills she ended the match successful in six of her seven attempted take-ons.

Team formations

Barcelona

This graphic shows Barcelona’s attacking formation. Generally they built up through the centre-backs into midfield where Caldentey (9) would drop inside to create an overload, working between the defensive and midfield spaces with Bonmatí (14).

On the left side, full-back Fridolina Rolfö (16) – typically a regular source of crosses – stayed high and wide to help create space in wide areas as well as in between the defensive and midfield lines. On the right side of the attack, Graham Hansen (10) stuck to her flank and provided a direct outlet.

Chelsea

This graphic shows Chelsea's 3-4-1-2 attacking formation in the second half. In the first half there were times when balls were played into Kerr (20) and she had no support. In the second period, however, Reiten (11) moved closer to Kerr and Jess Fleming (17) moved higher upfield too, taking the visiting team up the pitch.

As will be elaborated in the first part of the Features section below, Fleming's positioning between the lines helped provide a link to the front and better opportunities to construct. It also meant that Keira Walsh, the Barcelona pivot, stayed low and made it harder for the home centre-backs to push forward and assist the build-up.

Out of possession, Chelsea lined up in a 4-4-2 when pressing at opposition goal-kicks. When Barcelona progressed the ball up the pitch, they changed to a back five to deal with the switch of play and width of the home side.

Features

Barcelona vs Chelsea tactical analysis: Fleming's positioning

To start with Chelsea, the UEFA match observer identified the role played by Fleming in a second period when Emma Hayes's side asked increasing questions of Barcelona. In clips 1 and 2 of the first video sequence, we see her work out of possession in the first half as she steps up and – with Kerr and Reiten putting pressure on the centre-backs – helps to shut down the central passing options, forcing Barcelona to look for spaces on the outside. In both of these clips, Chelsea then follow it up by applying pressure in the wide areas and winning the ball back.

The third clip offers an example of Fleming's influence in possession as her clever movement creates space for herself in between Barcelona's lines and she seeks out her team-mates with a ball in behind the back line – sparking an attacking situation which brings a shooting opportunity.

Barcelona vs Chelsea tactical analysis: Kerr's dangerous movement

This second sequence focuses on Kerr, Chelsea's five-goal leading scorer in this season's competition. Drifting to the left, she was a threat with her movement and acceleration whenever Chelsea won the ball in the middle third. In the first clip we see her on the move as soon as Leupolz gets the ball and looks forward. Though it is then played short, Kerr readjusts and springs forward again as Leupolz does seek her out, but the ball is intercepted.

In the two clips that follow we see Kerr attacking the same space, on the right side of the Barcelona defence, and both times the Australian gets in a shot – the second of which leads to Reiten scoring on the follow-up.

Barcelona vs Chelsea tactical analysis: Influence of Hansen

In this third video, the focus is Graham Hansen, a player who kept a position high on the right, outside of Chelsea's defensive shape, providing a threat both when running with the ball or with combinations in and around the box.

In the first clip her we see her pull Magdalena Erikssen out wide which, as a consequence, opens up space for centre-forward Asisat Oshoala to attack. The second and third clips display her directness, meanwhile, as she receives the ball wide and displays her threat in 1v1 situations.

Barcelona vs Chelsea tactical analysis: Movement of Caldentey

Finally to the role of Caldentey, a player who had made an impact coming off the bench in the first leg, linking well with Bonmatí and helping her team create overloads centrally. As these two clips highlight, it was same throughout the second leg at Camp Nou where she was constantly looking to drop from the front line and find spaces, creating overloads in the midfield area of the pitch.

Her movement and positioning allowed the Spanish champions to reach the final third more frequently and, according to the match observer, this was significant in the second period when Chelsea made it harder for Barcelona to build up and so they looked for deeper vertical passes to both her and Bonmatí.

The data underlines her endeavour as she and Graham Hansen played the most passes in the attacking third of any player across the two semi-final second legs – 23 each (with a 87% completion rate in Caldentey's case).

Coaches' assessments

Bonmatí: 'We had to suffer'

Jonatan Giráldez, Barcelona coach: "We had to manage things well when they scored. When we went 1-0 up, I had a good feeling about the match. It felt like we had control but only four or five minutes later, Chelsea had their chance and scored. That's a bad moment but we found the courage and the management.

Bonmatí has a lot of energy. On the ball, she can beat opponents. But when we are defending, she has the effort, she'll press, drop back and help."

Emma Hayes, Chelsea coach: "We lost the tie because of the home leg. We were brave, we executed the game plan, everyone delivered a performance and I've never seen a Barça team so panicked. Especially second half, we were the better team."