Women’s Champions League semi-finals: Who can beat Barca? Triumphant farewell for Hayes?


The Women’s Champions League semi-finals begin this weekend as Barcelona host Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain travel to Lyon.

Barcelona, Lyon and Chelsea have won their domestic leagues in each of the past four seasons — with the exception of PSG taking the 2020-21 French title — but all three are looking at a summer of change.

Chelsea and Barcelona have both confirmed that their managers are moving on. Emma Hayes will take charge of the USWNT in June, while Jonatan Giraldez will also head stateside to coach Washington Spirit in the NWSL. Lyon’s manager, Sonia Bompastor, is Chelsea’s No 1 target to succeed Hayes.

With all the forthcoming changes this summer, will there be a shake-up at Europe’s top table? Here’s how the four semi-finalists are shaping up.


Barcelona

Semi-finals reached: Seven

Champions League wins: Two (2020-21, 2022-23)

It is no surprise holders Barcelona are the favourites to win again this year having been consistently the best team in Europe over the past couple of seasons. Ballon d’Or holder Aitana Bonmati has been arguably even better this season, while Norway winger Caroline Graham Hansen (below) has been utterly unplayable. It was Graham Hansen who led Barcelona past Chelsea at this stage of the competition last year, scoring in the home and away legs as they won 2-1 on aggregate.

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Caroline Graham Hansen, the quiet hero of Barca Femeni’s Champions League run

Giraldez’s decision to leave the club at the end of the season was a surprise. The 32-year-old has been in charge since Lluis Cortes left after Barcelona’s first Champions League win against Chelsea in 2021. The decision to promote from within stood Barcelona in good stead and they are set to do so again to replace Giraldez.

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(Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

With no shortage of talent, it is hard to imagine Barcelona slipping from their pedestal any time soon. They have the most successful academy in women’s football as well as continuing to attract the best players from abroad.

The only concern would be their dominance in Liga F. It is not Barcelona’s fault their domestic success is so pronounced — they are 12 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid, having only failed to win one game all season — but the desire to play in a competitive league may be off-putting to some.

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However, Barcelona remain the most attractive team in Europe. Even if the margins between them and other sides in Europe begin to narrow, it is hard to see them falling away from the top table.


Chelsea

Semi-finals reached: Five

Champions League wins: None

Everyone knows the Champions League is Emma Hayes’ missing piece of silverware from her time at Chelsea, but she will have to get her team past the side who have caused her the most problems in recent years. Barcelona have become a nemesis for Chelsea, decimating them in their only UWCL final appearance, although their semi-final match-up last season was closer than might have been expected.

Chelsea and Emma Hayes have learned on the job when it comes to competing in the Champions League, with some spectacular highs as well as lows. They have ground out results against Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, Lyon and PSG in past years, but that final success has always eluded them.

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Of all the teams to be losing managers, Hayes’ departure leads to the biggest question mark. In her 12 years at Chelsea, she has moulded the club to her own specifications and both the manager and team have reaped the rewards. There may be positives and negatives to be found from a fresh pair of eyes having a look at the setup.

Chelsea’s squad is in good shape, having recruited continually at both senior level and with an eye on the future. But despite their dominance of the WSL, the league remains the most competitive in Europe and even missing a beat can spell a year without Champions League football, as Manchester City have found out.

There is no doubt Chelsea’s ambition will continue without Hayes, but it will be a whole new journey.


Lyon

Semi-finals reached: 11

Champions League wins: Eight (2010-11, 2011-12, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2021-22)

The most successful team in women’s football history, Lyon return to the semi-final stage of the Champions League having been knocked out dramatically by Chelsea in the quarter-finals last year. Despite their success, Lyon sometimes feel underlooked compared to the glitz and glamour that surrounds Chelsea and Barcelona. However, their new owners are keen to change that.

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Michele Kang’s plans for Lyon: ‘Training women as women’, a new stadium and increasing attendance

Michele Kang (below) is the majority owner with a 52.9 per cent stake in the women’s team. She also owns Washington Spirit — the NWSL club Giraldez is going to manage — and London City Lionesses, who are in the Women’s Championship in England. She has big plans for a side which might need something of an overhaul.

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(Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

They have the oldest average age of any of the remaining four sides — at 28.4 years, it is a full year older than the next oldest (Chelsea, 27.4). Wendie Renard and Danielle van de Donk are well into their 30s, although the success of younger players Damaris Egurrola, 24, and Melchie Dumornay, 20, give them options for the future.

One of Kang’s first acts in charge looks set to be replacing manager Bompastor, who is strongly linked to the Chelsea vacancy, along with Bompastor’s assistant, Camille Abily. The direction Kang takes will be intriguing as Lyon fight to avoid being overtaken by other clubs. The recent contract renewal of Ada Hegerberg is a positive start.

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Paris Saint-Germain

Semi-finals reached: Seven

Champions League wins: 0

It is rare to have a PSG season without much drama, but other than the departure of coach Gerard Precheur early on in the season, it has all been rather quiet in Paris. Replaced by his son Jocelyn, PSG have become a fun, albeit rather chaotic, team to watch.

The loan signing of Malawi forward Tabitha Chawinga (below) has been inspired, with 29 goals and assists in 19 league games, and after a rocky couple of years, France winger Sandy Baltimore has started to find her feet again. The return of 25-year-old Marie-Antoinette Katoto to full fitness after her ACL injury has also been a big boost.

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(Franco Arland/Getty Images)

PSG may fancy themselves against Lyon in this semi-final. Despite Lyon being nine points clear in the league, there have been chinks in their armour, most notably when they needed a late Elisa de Almeida own goal to get a point against PSG.

The real question mark around the club is where they stand in relation to these other three sides.

With all of them going through changes, this should be the perfect opportunity for PSG to take advantage and lay down a marker. This is their fourth semi-final in the past five years — impressive consistency for a team that seems so often in crisis. Perhaps a first Champions League final since 2017 could bring the confidence they need to step up.

(Top photos: Getty Images)





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