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Champions League heartbreak for Emma Hayes as Chelsea fall to controversial Barcelona defeat

Chelsea and Barcelona women line up ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg

Emma Hayes’ hopes of winning the Champions League in her last season with Chelsea ended in heartbreak as the blues succumbed to a controversial 2-0 defeat.

The blues, who had produced one of their finest performances under Hayes’ premiership in Catalonia the previous week, led 1-0 after first leg and they were buoyed on by a sold-out Stamford Bridge, the first time the women’s team had achieved the feat.

But a moment of magic from Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati, a soft penalty and a harsh red card for Kadeisha Buchanan meant that there would be no dream farewell for the most successful manager in the women’s game.

Stamford Bridge was raucous as 39,398 fans heeded the Chelsea manager's call to sell the stadium out and help drive her side over the line.

Chelsea lined up in an unfamiliar 5-3-2 formation, with right back Ashely Lawrence on the left of captain Niamh Charles.

The blues, who had handed Barcelona their first defeat in five years in the reverse fixture a week ago set up compactly in the hope of dealing with the irrepressible Bonmati and Walsh in the centre of the Catalan midfield.

This they did well, restricting the visitors to one clear chance in the opening 20 minutes, as Patri Guijarro decided against hitting Lucy Bronze’s chipped ball first time, instead opting to take a touch which ultimately evaded her.

But the talent in Barcelona’s ranks means that they need few sights of goal to punish sides and this Chelsea found to their detriment as the elegant Bonmati collected the ball on the edge of the box and cut inside Charles before rifling past Hannah Hampton via a Buchanan deflection.

The sides traded blows soon after as Caroline Graham Hansen fluffed her lines after a clever Bonmati cutback before Lauren James broke down the left and cut the ball back to Melanie Leupolz only to see her hit the bar from six yards.

Chelsea had their chances and were clearly intent on hitting Barcelona on the break rather than sit on their parity with both Cat Macario and Sjoeke Nusken going close, the latter played through by a careless back pass but couldn’t quite square it for the onrushing James.

The second half saw Barcelona dominate the ball but rarely penetrate as a resolute Chelsea defence gave them a platform to attack.

Nusken again went close just before the hour, but saw her first time effort agonisingly hit the post before the game changed in an instant as Buchanan was shown a second yellow card after seemingly winning a 50/50 with Guijarro.

VAR is in operation for Champions League fixtures but does not apply to yellow cards, denying the referee a second look at a poor misjudgement.

Barcelona’s domination turned into tyranny as the extra player allowed Bonmati and Lioness Kiera Walsh to further pull the strings in midfield and control the tempo of the game.

Their uphill task was made infinitely steeper as Bonmati burst into the box between Jess Carter and Lawrence before being brought down.

Although replays suggested that the attacker had initiated the contact with the back of Lawrence’s leg, the VAR saw no clear and obvious error and Fridolina Rolfo made no mistake as she sent Hampton the wrong way and seemingly sent her side into the final.

Club Captain Millie Bright, out with injury since November was brought on in the hope of causing mischief up front but to no avail as for all of Chelsea’s spirit and fight, Barcelona reduced them to half chances at most.

Hayes, who leaves the club at the end of the season after twelve years in charge looked bereft as she left the pitch and left the referee in no doubt as to what she thought of her performance.

Hayes said: “That is the worst decision in Women’s Champions League history.

“We weren’t given the opportunity to lose the game, we were robbed by shocking officiating.”

Hayes claimed that she had been shocked that the referee Iuliana Demetrescu had been selected for such an important fixture labelling her as famous for being generous with her awarding of cards.

On the sending off which played a crucial role in the outcome, Barcelona manager Jonatan Giráldez Costas disagreed: “It is part of the game, we were unlucky last week to have the penalty decision over turned so it is part of the game.”

On her sides performance, Hayes said: “I think we were the better side and we were building momentum when the red card came, we had just hit the post and the crowd were driving us forward.”

Costas disagreed, saying: “Today we were better than Chelsea and last week I think that we were better also.”

The result sees Chelsea bow out of their third competition of the season emptyhanded, with only the WSL now in their grasp.

They currently sit three points behind Manchester City with a game in hand as the season heads to its climax.

Hayes must now pick up her distraught squad as they return to WSL action away to Liverpool on Wednesday.


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