Chelsea’s wait for a first Women’s Champions League trophy goes on following defeat by Barcelona, but manager Emma Hayes believes the “gap is closing” on Europe’s elite.
Her side came from behind to draw 1-1 with Barcelona in the second leg of their semi-final at the Nou Camp on Thursday, ending the Spanish giants’ run of 19 successive home wins in the competition.
But a 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in the first leg proved costly as Barcelona went through 2-1 on aggregate to book their place in the final for a third year in a row.
Barcelona’s formidable home record meant it was always going to be a big ask for Hayes’ side to achieve something in front of 72,262 passionate fans, but she came away with no regrets.
“We’re disappointed. I don’t know too many teams that come here and be as brave as we were,” said Hayes.
“There’s no denying you have to survive in the first part of the game. It was an incredibly intimidating environment.
“My players executed the gameplan. I’m just really proud of them and disappointed with the result. I’m not frustrated. We’re not going through because of the home tie.
“If there was a little bit longer in the game I think we would have gone on and won it. They were panicking, you could hear it on the touchline.”
‘I’m certain the gap is closing’
Chelsea’s 4-0 thrashing by Barcelona in the final two years ago was fresh in the mind going into this tie, so their defensive performance in Spain – albeit ultimately fruitless – showed clear development.
Barcelona had moments of quality but did not have a shot on target in the first half as Chelsea frustrated them and carried out their gameplan to perfection.
Last season’s runners-up have been formidable at the Nou Camp this season, scoring an average of 4.6 goals in the Champions League, beating Rosengard 6-0, Roma 5-1 and Bayern Munich 3-0.
Barca have also scored 105 goals and conceded just five in all games in the league so Chelsea’s draw was reward for a brilliant defensive display across two legs – their efforts undone only by a sublime Caroline Graham Hansen winner at Stamford Bridge.
“When you lose the final like we did two years ago you can understand the first leg being a challenge,” said Hayes.
“We’ve closed that [gap]. The performance was indicative of the team saying ‘we’re better than this and capable of more’.
“I’m certain the gap is closing and this performance was evidence of that. I don’t know many teams who have come here and performed like that.
“Look at the previous results here. You have to stay in football matches. We’re going out in the competition because of the home leg.”
‘Chelsea have blueprint of how to get closer’
Hayes has enjoyed huge success during a decade at Chelsea, winning 12 major trophies, including a third Women’s Super League title in a row last season.
But the Champions League trophy is the one she remains without and the one she craves most.
They were dealt a tough hand with the draw, needing to progress from a group that included Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid, before beating eight-time champions Lyon in the quarter-finals.
Overcoming Barcelona proved a challenge too far but former Chelsea and England defender Laura Bassett believes they have found a blueprint for how to compete.
“They have done everything Hayes has asked them to do. The courage, the bravery, the execution has been second to none,” Bassett told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The mentality she speaks about – these players have it. They have set a new level and maybe a blueprint of how to get closer. I’m not saying beat Barcelona, but certainly how to prevent them [from dominating].
“It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen Barcelona have minimal shots on target, so defensively Chelsea have been superb, it’s just finding the balance.”
References : https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/65419904