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Why Chelsea can be the inspiration of Arsenal in the semifinals of the Champions League

The last time Chelsea played Barcelona, ​​the game was over before it started. The historic occasion of the club’s first Women’s Champions League final ended in a humiliating 4-0 defeat, which, with Barcelona scoring all four goals in 36 minutes, left it feeling the Blues avoided what would have been a much more embarrassing night. However, it underlined the gulf between the best team in England and the best team in Europe. Now, almost two years after that night in Gothenburg, Chelsea are not the only English club given the chance to show that the gap has been closed.

For the first time in the tournament’s history, England have two teams in the semi-finals. Chelsea’s rematch with Barcelona comes as Arsenal take on Wolfsburg, with the Gunners similarly fueled by motivation from a recent defeat and last season’s quarter-final knockout by the German team. In the end, England could have a first club in a Champions League final since Chelsea’s night of terror two years ago. There could even be two, guaranteeing an English club win the Women’s Champions League for the first time since Arsenal’s lone title in 2007.

Before then, the records will fall in the two semi-final ties, first when Chelsea host Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. If that sets the mark for the highest attendance ever for a Women’s Champions League game in England, then it’s set to be crushed when Arsenal host Wolfsburg in the second leg at the Emirates. It is heading towards a sellout, which is another indicator of the rapid progress that has been unfolding this season. When Arsenal hosted Wolfsburg last year, the match was played in front of just over 5,000 spectators at the Emirates. The last time Chelsea hosted a European semi-final was at Kingsmeadow, not Stamford Bridge.

On the face of it, there are many reasons for further optimism, from rising attendances to the feeling that these big occasions are leading to the point where women’s teams like Chelsea and Arsenal could one day call on stadiums like Stamford Bridge and the Emirates. his permanent home. That feeling would be further enhanced if the home crowd did their part to reach a final, just as they did during the two nights of incredible drama that unfolded in the quarterfinals last month.

He will have to do it again, as both Chelsea and Arsenal have the look of teams going into the final stages of the season on sagging legs and dwindling numbers, just as the demands are getting tougher. Arsenal are particularly short, with the worrying injury of Leah Williamson in the loss to Manchester United adding to the loss of captain Kim Little, injured in the win against Bayern Munich, and adding Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema. , whom Arsenal have been doing so well to cope with. without. Williamson’s injury and loss to United in the four-way Women’s Super League title race was deflating, and Jonas Eidevall’s side must find a way to bounce back once again.

Arsenal can look to Chelsea, who under Emma Hayes have become specialists in getting past them, no matter the odds. The second leg against Lyon was an example of that, Chelsea were down and out against the champions but produced a miraculous escape in the depths of extra time, leading to some heroics from Ann-Katrin Berger in the penalty shootout. . They have progressed to another FA Cup final, but last weekend’s win against Aston Villa felt like another steal, once again settled by the decisive brilliance of Sam Kerr. Fran Kirby remains out, but the biggest concern is the absences in defense, with Millie Bright still unavailable and Kadeisha Buchanan now also an injury doubt.

Even at their full strength, Chelsea often have the feeling of being a master at winning without playing well. Hayes abandoned his plans to play from behind against Lyon, but an “ugly” performance against the eight-time Champions League winners represented welcome progress from the collapse against Barcelona. Hayes called that performance “naive” two years ago, but Chelsea have shown enough determination and flexibility in several of their performances in important cup final games to suggest they will know what to expect from Barcelona this time around.

But pragmatism becomes much more difficult to achieve the further you go. Barcelona, ​​in their 2021 heyday, proved that, and there will be the same host of stars who could tear Chelsea apart again, even if Alexia Putellas is yet to return. Caroline Graham-Hansen, in particular, has terrorized Champions League defenses this season, while Aitana Bonmati remains a midfield wonder. But, added to that: the English Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze, as well as the exciting irruption of the Spanish winger Salma Paralluelo, 19 years old. This is a team that can take the ball, keep it, and then cut you down from a multitude of angles.

Bonmati was man of the match as Barcelona thrashed Chelsea 4-0

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Arsenal’s task has also become more difficult after losing Williamson. In their prime under Eidevall, the Gunners are like a finely tuned engine who have been able to continue to press and play despite key absences. But the blanket that used to cover them is now struggling to hide the gaps: Williamson had come into midfield against Bayern after Little’s injury, now the England captain must be replaced as well. The crucial advantage they have is the first leg at the Emirates on May 1. Arsenal were excellent against Bayern, who lead Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga title race, and the Gunners can rely on that. There is no question which London team has the toughest road to the Eindhoven final.

Chelsea, on the other hand, will head to the Camp Nou next Thursday, with Barcelona winning all five games they have played there so far. Last season, 91,553 turned out for their quarter-final win against Real Madrid, then another 91,648 turned out for their semi-final win against Wolfsburg, both world audience records for a women’s soccer match. That’s what Chelsea are up against. The 2021 final lasted just 20 minutes as a contest. Lyon’s equalizer showed why you write off Chelsea at your peril, but the challenge of beating Barcelona now comes in a much more daunting 180 minutes. Chelsea must find another way to get past him, and perhaps Arsenal can take inspiration from that approach as well.



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