UWCL Semifinals: Chelsea and Lyon secure Leg 1 victories

Erin Cuthbert and Aitana Bonmatí slap hands
Erin Cuthbert and Aitana Bonmatí slap hands at the end of the UWCL semifinal first leg between FC Barcelona and Chelsea at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium on April 20, 2024. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

This season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) semifinals got underway in spectacular fashion. The weekend featured two mouthwatering clashes between Europe’s heavyweights: Chelsea at Barcelona and Lyon at Paris Saint Germain.

The semifinal clashes presented a thrilling spectacle as each team vied to reach the 2023/24 UWCL Final in Bilbao.

Barcelona 0-1 Chelsea

First half

Chelsea took a giant step towards the perfect farewell present for Emma Hayes as Erin Cuthbert’s goal inflicted a first home defeat in five years on the Spanish champions.

The English side sought revenge on Barça, who defeated them at this stage last season and in the 2021 final.

Barcelona dominated large parts of the game. Salma Paralluelo had the first effort of note when Aitana Bonmatí picked her out in the 16th minute. But a wonderful recovering block by Johanna Rytting Kaneryd denied Paralluelo’s chance on goal.

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Chelsea took the lead after 39 minutes with a move that owed a lot to Mayra Ramírez’s tenacity. Her movement forced Irene Parades into a pass that Ashley Lawrence intercepted.

The Canadian defender deftly turned on the ball and found Cuthbert, who played the ball into Sjoeke Nüsken. The German international created space for herself on the edge of the box before playing a slide rule pass across to Cuthbert, who continued her run and slammed the ball high into Cata Coll’s net.

First blood to Chelsea.

Second half

Five minutes into the second half, the Catalan side thought they received a way back into the match. This opportunity came after Kadeisha Buchanan apparently handled Patri Guijarro’s shot.

Buchanan — who was also trying to fend off Paralluelo’s attention — got a reprieve following a lengthy VAR check that showed the Spaniard was offside.

Ramírez spurned a glorious chance to double Chelsea’s lead with 15 minutes to play. She latched onto a long ball forward and shrugged Guijarro off the ball before firing wide.

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I’m not sure if the Spanish have their own version of the phrase “throwing the kitchen sink at it.” But Barça did that and then some as they tried to level the match.

Paralluelo somehow side-footed wide Caroline Graham Hansen’s wicked cross that found her completely unmarked at the back post.

Ramírez — still full of energy as the game neared its end — broke away down the Chelsea right with 86 minutes gone and pulled back an inviting ball. It was just waiting to be tapped home, but no one made the run forward with her.

Into the eighth minute of additional time, Hannah Hampton was quick off her line to snuff out another chance for Paralluelo, with Buchanan on hand to clear the danger.

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It was a brief respite for Chelsea as Barcelona poured forward, smothering the Blues as they tried to escape their own half.

Lawrence was caught in possession, eventually allowing Lucy Bronze to cross for Paralluelo. But Jess Carter hoofed away Paralluelo’s header.

Again, Chelsea soon found themselves under the cosh as Cuthbert bundled Bonmatí over for a free kick.

Paralluelo swung in the set piece to the back post for Bronze to head across goal for Alexia Putellas, who inexplicably put her shot wide with the last kick of the game. Emma Hayes’s side held on for a famous win and the slenderest of leads to take back to Stamford Bridge.

Lyon 3-2 Paris Saint Germain

First half

Lyon and PSG played out an instant classic, with the hosts coming back from 2-0 down in a remarkable game on Saturday evening.

The Parisians made a fast start. With barely three minutes on the clock, Sakina Karchaoui fired a cross in that Tabitha Chawinga couldn’t head home.

Lyon had a couple of sighters from distance courtesy of Delphine Cascarino and Lindsey Horan. But neither unduly worried Constance Picaud in the PSG goal.

Damaris Egurrola’s effort did give Picaud cause for concern as she spectacularly tipped the Dutch international’s pile driver over the bar in the 23rd minute.

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The eight-time winners were starting to overwhelm their French counterparts.

Picaud was forced into another save to tip Ellie Carpenter’s shot away and then denied Cascarino with her legs following a slick passing move between her and Egurrola.

To say the PSG opener just before halftime was against the run of play would be something of an understatement, but it was the visitors who struck first.

A turnover in midfield eventually saw the ball find its way out to Sandy Baltimore on the right-hand side.

She danced to the byline and put a cross into the back post that Carpenter misread, allowing Marie-Anoinette Katoto to prod home.

Second half

If Lyon had been hoping for a quick start to the second half, it never came, as PSG doubled their lead within minutes of the restart.

Again, the hosts were the masters of their own downfall — giving the ball away and not being strong enough in the tackle to win it back.

That gave Chawinga the chance to take a shot. Although half-deflected, it fell nicely for Katoto, who slotted home past Christiane Endler.

It was 2-0 to the visitors, and Lyon was threatening to collapse as Chawinga raced away before pulling the ball back to Karchaoui, who shot just wide barely moments later.

Chawinga missed a great chance a minute later, as she, too, poked the ball just the wrong side of the post.

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A fine stop from Endler denied Katoto her hat trick with 20 minutes left — the Chilean demonstrating why she is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

With 10 minutes to play, all hell broke loose as Lyon halved the deficit thanks to Kadidiatou Diani, who took Carpenter’s pull back in her stride to toe-poke past PIcaud.

Just four minutes later, Lyon was level through Melchie Dumornay, who slammed home from the edge of the box, leaving PIcaud grasping the thin air.

Dumornay turned provider a matter of seconds later for Amel Majri as Lyon completed an incredible turnaround.

Majri, on as a second-half substitute, cleverly let Dumoray’s pass run and slip past Amalie Vansgaard to steer the ball home into the far corner with her left foot past the despairing dive of Picaud.

Mon Dieu!

Lyon were ecstatic, PSG crestfallen.

What’s next?

The second legs take place next weekend, starting with Chelsea vs. Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. PSG will host Lyon on Sunday at Parc des Princes.

If the first legs are anything to go by, we’re in for two more incredible matches.

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