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Chelsea Women 0-2 Barcelona Femeni: Important lessons the men’s team can learn

Barça Universal were present at the Stamford Bridge as Barcelona Femeni won 0-2 against Chelsea in the UWCL semi-finals to qualify for their fourth final in a row.

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Barcelona Femeni had an uphill battle on their hands as they took on Chelsea Women in the Champions League semi-finals second-leg. Trailing 1-0 from the first-leg in the Catalan capital, the blaugranes were facing a sold-out crowd at the Stamford Bridge yesterday.

And this is when stepped up Aitana Bonmati, more than anyone else.

The Ballon d’Or holder and the protagonist of this Barcelona side, she ran the show against Chelsea as the visitors scraped a 0-2 win (1-2 on agg.) and qualified for the Champions League final, with the first goal from Bonmati herself, and the second from Fridolina Roflo.

She started as the right central midfielder in Jonatan Giraldez’s 4-3-3, playing alongside Keira Walsh and Patricia Guijarro. Lucy Bronze and Ona Batlle flanked the defensive quartet as full-backs, while Ingrid Engen and Irene Paredes screened Catalina Coll as centre-backs.

Despite playing as a left-winger for most of the season, 20-year-old Salma Paralluelo started as the striker, with Carolina Graham Hansen to her right, and Fridolina Rolfo to the left.

Barça starting XI vs Chelsea.

Midfield wins games…and trophies

With no sight of the deadlock being broken by the 25th-minute mark, Bonmati took matters into her own hands.

As the Barcelona attack tried to conjure up something with crosses into the box, Bonmati received the second ball, and immediately tried to control the midfield by asking them not to play directly.

She then split two of the Chelsea centre-backs, and ran into the box off-the-ball, and he run was spotted by captain Patricia Guijarro.

The Spaniard then dodged Niamh Charles, cut on to her right, drove in, and took a shot at goal, that took a slight deflection and found its way into the bottom corner.

All three Barcelona midfielders combined for this goal, and played a vital role in seeing the game out, as well, especially after going 2-0 up.

As Chelsea tried to press and get one back, the Barça midfield were calm under pressure and passed the ball around brilliantly, constantly moving with and without the ball to sustain possession.

The defence also did their best to not go over the midfield and trust them in possession, with the likes of Bronze, Batlle, Hansen and later on, Mariona Caldentey pushing numbers around the midfield.

Numbers around Bonmati all the time.

This should be a lesson for the men’s team in recent times. Not only in terms of midfield recruitment – which has been a concern over the last several years, but also in terms of the tactics they deploy in important games.

As recently as against PSG, for example, the midfield could have been of utmost importance for Barcelona after Ronald Araujo’s red card, but instead, Barcelona continued to play direct and over Ilkay Gundogan, Pedri, and Frenkie de Jong.

Controlling the game under pressure, and passing the ball around well, and especially overloading the midfield would have helped Barcelona despite being one man down.

Adapt to the opponent

Following the 0-1 loss in the first-leg, Bonmati did not hold back talking about Chelsea’s style and some of the ‘dark art’ tactics, especially while wasting time while leading.

“We knew that they played like that, which for me is dirty. We had warned the referee, but it is not up to us. If the referee allows them to get on the ground and waste time…we must learn to play like that too,” she said.

Unlike the men’s team, Barcelona Femeni understood that it was going to be important to be a bit performative at times if they wanted to reach the final once again.

After going 2-0 up, Barça did not waste any moment of time they could waste, especially through Colla, who took her sweet time on the ball on every goal kick and possession.

Bonmati, Guijarro and Rolfo also made sure to use up all their time, and then some after each tackle and foul from Chelsea.

In fact, it can be argued that some of these ‘dirty’ tactics won Barcelona the game, especially with the foul drawn by Guijarro that saw Kadeisha Buchanan receive her second yellow card.

Bonmati also requested a substitution in the dying moments of the game due to an apparent ‘injury’. She took her time going off the field, with Alexia Putellas coming on.

An important substitution in the grand scheme.

This is another problem the men’s team face a lot of the times. Almost forced by the self-fulfilling prophecy about their DNA and an almost snobbish outlook of ‘pure football’, Barcelona do not try to adapt to the opposition.

The time-wasting tactics are an obvious one, but apart from that, defending in a deep block or riling up the opposition into fouls and rash decisions is another thing the other side of Barcelona do not want to adapt to, despite it being constantly used against them.

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