Champions League

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19 min: James drops deep to receive the ball. The Chelsea forward line has been starved of service.

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16 min: Big chance for Paralluelo, but Jess Carter closes down the danger after Bonmati had set up the striker to shoot on goal.

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15 min: Gordon in Aberdeen gets in touch: “I expect Chelsea to play a back five, as they did in the game at the Camp Nou last year, with Nusken as the third centre back.

“Not surprised that Bronze is benched by Barca, when they can play Battle and Rolfo as FBs. Surprised, though, that Putellas is only on the bench, I suggest that she is surprised too, Barcelona’s X post shows her rather subdued as she came into the stadium.:

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14 min: Corner forced by the dangerous Paralluelo but Barca take that short, deciding their quick passing is the best foot forward. Chelsea eventually clear but with some difficulty.

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12 min: Some scary seconds for Chelsea as Buchanan clears after Bonmati and Graham Hansen both make incursions.

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10 min: Chelsea continue to look solid if not too capable of attacking. Kaneryd sets off on a sojourn into the heart of the Barca defence but the ball is eventually cleared.

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9 min: Ramirez is penalised for pressing hard on Batlle.

Champions League
Soccer Football – Women’s Champions League – Semi Final – First Leg – FC Barcelona v Chelsea – Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, Barcelona, Spain – April 20, 2024 Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert celebrates scoring their first goal with Johanna Rytting Kaneryd REUTERS/Albert Gea
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7 min: Jess Carter has to knock behind when Graham Hansen sets up an attack, and the Norwegian will take the corner. The ball ends up in the hands of Hannah Hampton but there were some nerves there.

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6 min: Chelsea on the attack, where Carter decides to keep the ball and it finds itself to Niamh Charles. Good patient play before Lauren James sets off on a run. The ball is lost but this is far better from Chelsea.

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4 min: Decent couple of minutes for Chelsea in being able to break up the flow of Barcelona’s passing tempo.

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2 min: Reminder: Chelsea have never beaten Barcelona. It already looks as if they will have to suffer, do plenty of defending.

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And away we go!

1 min: It’s sunny in Barcelona, where they are playing at the Johan Cruyff Stadium. Bonmati, soon enough, gets a touch, as does Keira Walsh at the base of midfield. Graham Hansen has a sniff of a chance but slips over.

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The teams are in the tunnel, and the Barcelona anthems are ringing out.

The match officials lead the teams out. Photograph: Álex Caparrós/UEFA/Getty Images
Players from both teams line up before kick-off. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters
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Barbara Charone is the legendary music biz PR behind Madonna, Keith Richards, Depeche Mode and many more. An American, she’s nevertheless Proper Chels.

Chelsea board member Barbara Charone is here in Barcelona. Will be only the third time she’s missed a men’s Chelsea game at Wembley in 40 years, but she made the decision to come and watch the women’s Champions League semi-final instead.

— Kathryn Batte (@KathrynBatte) April 20, 2024

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Those teams: For Chelsea: Lauren James is back from injury, while Millie Bright is in the matchday squad for the first time since November after recovering from a knee injury. Guro Reiten is also on the bench. Melanie Leupolz, Erin Cuthbert, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Mayra Ramirez all come in, five changes since the midweek defeat of Aston Villa.

For Barca: Lucy Bronze is on the bench but Keira Walsh will play in midfield alongside Aitana Bonmati, the best player in the game.

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At the start of March there was talk of a historic quadruple, Hayes having been part of the Arsenal setup that achieved the feat in 2007 as assistant manager to Vic Akers. Now, whisper it, a departure from club football after a trophyless season, with Barcelona firm favourites to reach a fifth final in six years and Manchester City level on points with the reigning Women’s Super League champions, is far from unlikely.

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The teams

Barcelona: Coll, Batlle, Paredes, Engen, Rolfo, Bonmati, Walsh, Guijarro, Hansen, Paralluelo, Caldentey. Subs: Panos, Jana Fernandez, Pina, Torrejon, Putellas, Bronze, Vilamala, Brugts, Dragoni, Lopez, Arias, Martina Fernandez.

Chelsea: Hampton, Lawrence, Carter, Buchanan, Charles, Kaneryd, Cuthbert, Nusken, Leupolz, Ramirez, James. Subs: Musovic, Bright, Ingle, Macario, Reiten, Kirby, Perisset, Beever-Jones, Cox.

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Preamble

Emma Hayes’ victory lap will not end in a quadruple but the double is still on. That’s if her Chelsea team can beat the best club side in women’s football. A glance at Barcelona’s team sheet is a who’s who of world stars – and World Cup winners. There are memories, too, of the 2021 Women’s Champions League final when Barcelona won 4-0, and were 3-0 up in 20 minutes. Beating Barca now would one of the great coups of Hayes’ glittering career. The Champions League is the one she and Chelsea are missing. If not now, then when?

Join me for a 12.30 kick-off.

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