Barcelona shrugged off their Champions League final demons to obliterate Chelsea and deliver a crushing blow to the prestige of the Women’s Super League.
A first-minute own goal and another three inside 36 minutes, from the midfielders Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí and the Norwegian forward Caroline Graham Hansen, quietened the usually vocal Emma Hayes, who stood alone in her technical area, unable to mastermind a way past an exhilarating team that has played 26 and won 26 on the way to a La Liga title with five games to play, scoring 129 goals and conceding only five in the process.
Two years ago the Barcelona players had confronted the manager, Lluís Cortés, after their 4-1 defeat by Lyon in the final and, driven by a desire to bridge the gap, said they wanted to train more, train harder and come back and win. In that game in Budapest a fifth-minute opener from Dzenifer Marozsan and three goals in 16 minutes from Ada Hegerberg had put the holders four goals clear by the half-hour mark. In Sweden Barcelona looked fuelled by all the intensity, pace and desire that had so cruelly crushed them in 2019.
In that respect there is hope for the WSL champions. Their opponents offer a blueprint for how to reignite the flame after the most brutal of downpours. Their tear-stained faces at the close were a mirror of those in blue and red two seasons ago.
Chelsea’s journey to the final had been fraught with adversity. Each time, though, they had proved equal to the task in front of them no matter how tall the order.
After the influential defensive midfielder Sophie Ingle was sent off in the 13th minute in the last-16 first leg against Atlético Madrid, the toughest draw of the round , they weathered the pressure in the immediate aftermath and coolly struck back to win the game 2-0 and the tie 3-1. Against Wolfsburg they exorcised the ghost of defeat, having been knocked out of the competition on three previous occasions by the German team. Utterly against the run of play they secured a 2-1 home win before brushing aside the two-time champions 3-0 in Germany.
Then they became the third team in the 20-year history of the competition to lose the first leg of a semi-final, 2-1 to Bayern Munich , and still reach the final.
Yet the final hurdle was not just one notch too high but many. Chelsea were carved apart by the delicious movement of Barcelona again and again and again.
It took 33 seconds for the Blaugranes to make their mark but it was a cruel goal to concede. Chelsea had benefited from a deflection off Melanie Leupolz in their 2-1 defeat by Bayern but in Gothenburg luck was not on their side. The Netherlands forward Lieke Martens smashed the ball against the bar from the edge of the area and Fran Kirby’s desperate clearance in the follow-up hit Leupolz and looped over the goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger. Hayes could only shake her head at the misfortune.
Inside 10 minutes Barça had a second, this time from the spot. Chelsea could perhaps be aggrieved by the penalty decision, with the forward Jenni Hermoso seemingly kicking Leupolz as she mis-kicked her shot, going down as a result, but even with the benefit of VAR in the final it was not entirely clear. Putellas scored from the spot.
On 20 minutes it was three as the Spanish side were rewarded for their slick play with a more Barça-style goal. Putellas’s neat pass spun through the middle to the feet of Bonmatí who brushed off the challenge of Jess Carter and slotted past Berger.
The only thing that slowed was the time between the blows but Barça did not stop dishing them out and Martens nutmegged Millie Bright for Graham Hansen to pop into the empty net from close range.
The Blues began the second half with a point to prove but they could not connect in the final third. The neat flicks and telepathic interplay of Sam Kerr and Kirby, that has been so electric this season, was cut off with ease, the ball pickpocketed away by the masters of the passing game who never looked out of control. So suave were Barça that they were able to shuffle the pack extensively to rest legs needed for their last eight domestic games.
There is perhaps a sliver of solace for Chelsea fans, in the fact that the Hayes/Chelsea project is far from over, that there is a new test for the finest manager in English women’s football and, with the owner, Roman Abramovich watching on, surely the desire to avenge this bruising defeat will pump through the veins of the club.