Football Features

“The Lieke Martens final” – Five things learned as Barcelona crush Chelsea to win first-ever Women’s Champions League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:18, 16 May 2021

In a dominant night of football, Barcelona clattered Chelsea 4-0 to win the 2020/21 UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Barcelona scored 33 seconds into the game and never looked back after that. Walloping their rivals with a huge first-half display them comfortably seeing things out after the break. What did we learn?

1. The Lieke Martens final

Every great final has a protagonist, one player who takes the headlines. Often this is a goalscorer, but truly dominant players can impact the game without scoring. Lieke Martens is one such player, and this game belonged to her.

Almost literally from the kick-off it was plainly obvious that Niamh Charles could not live with Martens. The Dutch dynamo tore away from her markers just 20 seconds into the game, drove at goal and rattled a shot off the crossbar. Caroline Graham Hansen sent the ball back into the box and in the ensuring melee, Chelsea scored an own goal.

The second goal saw another driving run from Martens capped with a pass in behind for Graham Hansen, whose cutback led to the penalty. The third goal again started with her evading defenders and playing a cross into the middle that Jenni Hermoso laid back for Alexia Putellas, whose through-ball led to the goal. Then on the fourth goal she just obliterated poor Charles and put it on a plate directly for Graham Hansen to score. This was all in the first 36 minutes, mind you.

Lieke Martens was literally involved in all four of the goals that decided the final. She only got one direct involvement, but her fingerprints were all over everything. This was the most absurd dominance imaginable; the kind of thing players dream of doing. Lieke Martens is one of the very best players on planet earth, and this game is proof.

2. Chelsea start slow again

In the first-leg of their semi-final against Bayern Munich, Chelsea were kind of all over the place. They lost 2-1 but it could have been more. In the second-leg, Emma Hayes made tactical adjustments and the Blues battered the Bavarians 4-1. It showed the quality of Hayes and her squad but the question was always if they could get away with such a slow start against a better side in Barcelona, with no second-leg to fall back on.

Turns out, they could not. Chelsea started sluggishly in Gothenburg and never recovered as the brilliant Barcelona put their foot down. Obviously they were unlucky with the first goal, but even after that Chelsea managed to create chances. They were just so sloppy in taking them, Pernille Harder in particular missed an absolute sitter with the score at 1-0. The Blues got better after the break, but by then it was already 4-0 and Barcelona were in cruise control.

Chelsea have the talent to win this competition, they just need to cut out these slow starts.

3. Alexia’s “Iniesta moment”

In the 2009 men’s Champions League final, Andrés Iniesta played the game half-fit with one of his legs severely injured. He was one of the best players on the pitch, orchestrating Barcelona’s incredible win.

12 years later in the 2021 Champions League final, Alexia Putellas played half-fit with one of her legs heavily strapped up. The Barcelona vice-captain (skipper on the day) had trained alone prior to the match and there was concern about her participation.

Once the game started, those concerns evaporated. For the hour she was on the pitch, Alexia was the picture of poise and precision as she controlled the game superbly from the middle of the park alongside the similarly excellent Aitana Bonmati. Her every touch was composed, her passes always looking to do something. She nervelessly converted the penalty to make it 2-0 and her outrageous first-time through ball for Aitana created Barcelona’s stunning third goal.

If the fourth goal summed up Barcelona’s individual brilliance through Martens and Graham Hansen linking up, then third was the epitome of the team-play that has enabled their dominance this season, and that Alexia was at the heart of it was not an accident nor a surprise. The Catalan has been at Barcelona since 2013 and her performance in this showpiece final was her announcing herself as one of the greatest players in the world.


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4. Chelsea can take hope from 2019

In the 2021 Champions League final, Chelsea were 4-0 down by 36 minutes and ended up losing 4-0.

In the 2019 Champions League final, Barcelona were 4-0 down by 30 minutes and ended up losing 4-1.

The Blaugrana got absolutely ripped apart by Lyon, with Ada Hegerberg bagging a hat-trick and leaving a plucky Barcelona side looking completely outclassed. However they didn’t blow it up, they carried on building with Lluis Cortes. 10 of the starting XI that day are still at the club and seven of the starters were also starting tonight.

This is the blueprint Chelsea can take hope from. Emma Hayes is clearly brilliant, no one could doubt the excellence of Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr. Trust in them, build around them the way Barcelona built around La Masia. Recruit complimentary pieces the way Barcelona got Caroline Graham Hansen, Kheira Hamraoui and the returning Jenni Hermoso.

There’s more to come from Hayes’ Chelsea, let’s hope we get to see it.

5. A Barcelona dynasty?

So after years of trying, years of heartache and failure, Barcelona have finally won the Champions League. The first Spanish side to win the competition, the first side ever to win both the men’s and women’s editions of the Champions League. This was monumental and historic, and we have to ask, is this just the beginning?

Just as Lyon had their dynasty, Barcelona could have theirs. Lluis Cortes has really found his groove as manager and his squad is superb. The attack is phenomenal and in Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen they have two of the best wingers in the world, the midfield dominates the ball with Alexia Putellas and the defence is rock solid with 25-year-old Mapi Leon’s colossal performance drawing praise from none other than Carles Puyol. Plus there’s miracle-maker Sandra Panos in goal.

 

Nothing in football is certain, but watching Barcelona demolish Chelsea (one of the very best teams in the world) 4-0, the biggest winning margin in Champions League final history, and with them having already won La Liga and closing in on the Copa de la Reina too – you can’t help but feel like; yes, this is the end of a long journey for this side, but it could also be the start of a long period of winning.

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