Chelsea Women realising their CL final dreams

After a string of near misses, Chelsea Women will finally realise their dream of playing in a Champions League final when they face Barcelona Femeni in Sweden on Sunday, and are eager to prove themsel

Chelsea Women realising their CL final dreams

After a string of near misses, Chelsea Women will finally realise their dream of playing in a Champions League final when they face Barcelona Femeni in Sweden on Sunday, and are eager to prove themselves as winners.

It is no secret that manager Emma Hayes has long targeted a spot in the European showpiece, having twice been knocked out at the semi-final stage in recent seasons.

But after an incredible semi-final second leg performance against Bayern Munich, Chelsea Women's staff and players will finally be involved in arguably the biggest game in the team's history with one aim - to bring home the trophy.

They will be hoping to add the silverware to an already growing collection this season, having secured their second successive WSL title last weekend and the Women's League Cup earlier in the year.

Ahead of the Champions League final, Sky Sports' Charlotte Marsh sat down with some of Chelsea's stars to chat final anticipation, the influence of Emma Hayes and what winning the trophy would mean to them...

How Chelsea reached the Champions League final

Fran Kirby scored Chelsea's first and fourth goals against Bayern Munich
Image: Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in their Women's Champions League semi-final

Chelsea were semi-finalists in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, being knocked out by Wolfsburg and Lyon in the respective campaigns.

The Blues claimed Wolfsburg as one of their scalps on their path to the Gothenburg final, so just what has been the difference this season?

"It's the sheer strength and depth that we have. We've always had depth but this is probably the strongest group of players that's been in this team," Chelsea forward Bethany England said at a photoshoot with adidas to celebrate the players' success this season. "The type of players that are here and their willingness to want to win is even greater than before.

"I think everything just seems to be going right for us this year. We seem to be getting the luck of the draw, which feels like it's about time, and hopefully that luck can push us over that final hurdle. It's an unbelievable team and environment to be a part of.

"It's not every day that you get to go to a Champions League final and to make history with the club is an unbelievable achievement. Our club has been working towards it for a number of years and it's finally come. I'm excited to see what it's going to hold. Barcelona are going to throw some tough challenges at us, but I'm confident this team are going to put in a performance everyone can be proud of. Fingers crossed we bring that trophy home."

Millie Bright echoed her team-mate's assessment, adding: "Definitely the depth in our squad. When you're playing every two or three days, your squad has to come into effect and that's certainly what we've managed to do this year. I think that has been the difference, everybody has been at the top of their game, we've been able to rotate and get the job done.

"The players we've been able to bring in with Champions League experience has made a big difference but for me, it's the resilience. It's the games that have been tough and we've managed to grind out a result, that's been the difference for us.

"Obviously the girls up front have been absolutely amazing, putting the ball in the back of the net and that makes defending a little bit easier because it takes the pressure off. But the resilience and mentality of the team has gone to the next level where we can go a goal down and have that confidence and belief to know we will come back.

We've got a lot of players that captain their national countries, a lot of players that have played in big games like this before, and played in big tournaments. So that experience has really helped us and I think we're at a stage now where we're really mature in that aspect. When we lost against Lyon two years ago, we were gutted and over the two legs, we made a few mistakes. But I think we've grown from them and so far, so good, because we're into the final.

Drew Spence on Chelsea reaching the CL final

"Everyone wants it [the game] to be tomorrow. We've got a full week to prepare and be fully ready for that game, which we are and everyone is super excited. I think it's everybody's dream to win the Champions League and to have finally made it to the final, it's a really proud achievement for everyone at Chelsea."

Erin Cuthbert also points to a psychological improvement, telling Sky Sports: "I think the mentality this year is different. In the changing room, we have a belief that everyone can do the job, the whole squad is capable of going on the pitch and putting on a performance.

"We've been working a lot this year on our mentality and how we overcome challenges, how we overcome tough moments because there have been tough moments this season. Everyone sees the title and thinks it's been all rosy, but it's not. There have been a lot of highs and lows, missed our family and we've all used that as extra determination to give more on the pitch.

"You don't need motivation to refocus your mind for a Champions League final. Everybody has been working for this, certainly since I joined the club, and four-and-a-half years ago, Emma said she was targeting the Champions League.

PA - Chelsea Women celebrate WSL title 2:26
Sheffield United's Courtney Sweetman-Kirk reflects on Chelsea Women winning the WSL title and believes they will also go on to win the Champions League

"That's been a project since I've been at the club. Emma has wanted it and we've come close on numerous occasions but fell short. This time, we're ready, we're excited but I certainly know that I won't be leaving any stone unturned in my preparations this week."

Melanie Leupolz - who scored in the semi-final against her former side, Bayern - added: "These games are why we play football. We want to win titles and we want to play against the best teams, so these are the most important games for us. And especially as players, we love to play these games and, of course, they are much more interesting than others.

"You want to face the best teams in Europe and I think we have a big chance this year to win a title. We had a great season and we just want to finish what we started so we have to be positive going to Sweden.

"The Champions League is so special - it's the biggest title in Europe. And of course, we also wanted to win the league and we did but as an athlete, you just have to focus on the next, so the focus is already on the Champions League game."

England: The best team I've been a part of

Bethany England (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Bethany England says the current Chelsea side is the best she has played in (Image courtesy of adidas)

It is difficult to pick out an area of weakness for this Chelsea side. In the WSL this season, the Blues conceded just 10 goals and kept 15 clean sheets and, at the other end of the field, scored 69 goals - just one shy of the WSL record set by Arsenal (70).

"It's amazing. You look from back to front and the quality in the squad is unbelievable," England said. "Being able to train with such amazing players every day only makes you as a player and person better as well.

"I think this is the best team I've ever been a part of too, learning from different players every day, different people who have come from different leagues and different nationalities, I think it's such a great group of players and I'm very privileged and lucky to be a part of this team. I hope there's going to be more success for us."

Chelsea Women

Midfielder Drew Spence added: "I think it's definitely been the best squad that I've been involved in. Every training session has always been tough and pushing each other to achieve the best that we can and what we can do. It's an amazing feeling to be a part of it and we've had so much success so far this season, but it's not finished yet."

Cuthbert, who is still only 22, believes being around such players has made her better. She said: "As a young player, I think it's amazing. I love training with world-class players, I want to be challenging myself physically, tactically, mentally, everything I want to do to become better.

"I know I've got so much more in me so training every day with these players is bringing me up another level. Everyone sees what you do on the pitch, but there's so much behind it that happens every day that people don't see so I just love that everything came to fruition this year."

Chelsea Women's WSL records and awards 2020/21

  • WSL Golden Boot - Sam Kerr (21 goals)
  • WSL Golden Glove - Ann-Katrin Berger (12 clean sheets)
  • Joint-highest number of WSL assists - Fran Kirby (11)
  • Most WSL title wins (4 - overtaking Arsenal)
  • Joint-highest consecutive WSL title wins (2 with Arsenal and Liverpool)
  • Most WSL points in a season (57 - beating Arsenal's previous record of 54)
  • Joint-highest for WSL wins in a season (18, with Arsenal)

Bright also points to Chelsea's recruitment in recent years, adding: "I think it's down to the players that the staff have brought in. I've said this from day one, you can't just be a good footballer, you have to be a good person. You have to be a team player, you have to be willing to put the team first every single day and that's something that Emma and the team have recruited really well.

"We have an unbelievable squad of both talent and good people so we're all on the same page every single day. Don't get me wrong, there are days that are tough and people might have down days, but we're human and we're going to go through those emotions.

"It's a really proud moment to be a part of this team and having been here for six years now and seen the growth and development of staff and players is definitely a journey I'm looking forward to continuing."

Bright: Emma Hayes breaking barriers for women in sport

One of the driving forces behind Chelsea's success is their manager Hayes, and the players only have admiration for their coach.

"Emma is a very driven person," Bright began. "She's an unbelievable manager, she knows how to get the best out of every single player and she understands that every player is different.

"She teaches you to not only be a good player, but a good person in the way we have to carry ourselves and remain humble in every single win and defeat. It's the overall package for me that Emma develops at Chelsea and she's a very, strong independent woman.

"She's not only trying to break barriers for Chelsea but for women in sport. I'm really proud to be able to call her my manager and I've built up a good partnership with her over the years and hopefully many more to come as well."

I think it's not easy for her, but because like she said, she has a lot of talented players, and everyone wants to play every single game, so I think it's hard. But she's really good at motivating us and she has a really good staff working for her. I think it's really professional, how she prepares every single training session, how they analyse the games with what we can improve.

Melanie Leupolz on Emma Hayes

Cuthbert also praised Hayes for her personal development, even at a young age, saying: "Emma has put the belief in me. Ever since I joined the club, she knew straight away that if you're good enough, you're old enough and hasn't been afraid to put me into big situations, even in the Champions League a few years ago against Lyon.

"Having the belief I've felt from her as a manager has been really important and it's given me the confidence to believe that I can compete with the best. I think what makes her special is her communication, her passion, she can't hide her passion and she's like her players. To have a manager that wants to win at any cost like me is nice and it's a pleasure to play under her."

Drew Spence (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Drew Spence has called Emma Hayes 'amazing' as a manager (Image courtesy of adidas)

Chelsea winger Niamh Charles believes Hayes brings out the best in her players, adding: "She's incredible, she's got so much experience as have all the other staff and that's invaluable. She's been on both sides of winning and losing, but she's relentless every day. She's created such a winning environment, but such a great team-orientated culture as well that it makes it so competitive when you go to train, but so enjoyable as well. I think that brings the best out of us."

"She builds great relationships," midfielder Drew Spence explains. "She always says to all the players, 'my door is always open if you need to talk about anything', and I think that's key for a manager. She also understands things from a woman's perspective, as well. She's amazing."

Bright targeting consistency

Millie Bright (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Millie Bright wants Chelsea to replicate their success this season in the coming years (Image courtesy of adidas)

Although it has been a successful season so far for Chelsea, Bright believes there is more to improve and that consistency will be key in the coming years.

She explained: "We're not quite there in that we haven't won all the trophies that we want to win. The Champions League is there for the taking and it's certainly one that we've got our eyes on.

"But I think for me, it's being able to continuously win, being able to be champions - we've done it back-to-back but go and do it again and again. In previous years, we've been on this uphill, downhill kind of ride where we've won and then maybe not have won so to consistently be the best team and to prove why we're the best every single day in every single game.

"That's where we're at now and it's just continuing to do that, be persistent in our performances and push the boundaries, be that team that everyone wants to beat."

Cuthbert: We want more than just the WSL title

Erin Cuthbert (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Erin Cuthbert is aiming for plenty more trophies with Chelsea (Image courtesy of adidas)

Cuthbert is certainly not afraid to show her competitive edge, and wants to add the final piece of the puzzle to her Chelsea's trophy cabinet.

The forward explained: "There's no motivation required when you have feelings like you did against Reading and the feeling when we qualified for the final of the Champions League. It's an addictive feeling and you want it again and again.

"I'm not willing to just stop at having it once, I'm not willing to settle for having a league title - we want more. I want to achieve the Champions League with the club, it's the only title I don't have here so we want more. We've got a squad that's willing to do it, we're prepared and we're ready to get the job done.

How to follow Chelsea Women vs Barcelona Femeni

Follow the Women's Champions League final on Sunday with our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports' digital platforms and on Sky Sports News.

"We know we're facing a tough team in Barcelona, they are real contenders for the title as well so we're not underestimating them by any stretch of the imagination. But on our day, we've got enough in the dressing room to pull through.

"I just want it to come along quicker, to be honest. All season, we've had a midweek game so I've been used to just training, game, training game, but now we've got a full build-up to the Champions League, it feels almost a bit strange and we're going to be able to go really in-depth with our tactics.

"I'm really excited for it, these moments don't come along often, this build-up won't come along often so I have to grasp it the whole week, suck everything I can out of the manager and what she wants and just be a sponge, hear everything they're saying and hopefully take it out in the game on Sunday."

Erin Cuthbert (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Erin Cuthbert is proud to be representing Scotland in the Women's Champions League final (Image courtesy of adidas)

Sunday's game will also be a huge moment for women's football in the UK, and Cuthbert reflected on how Chelsea are paving the way for other girls across the country.

She reflected: "From a personal point of view, I know there are so many girls in Scotland that are going to be watching this game because I'm in it and that's a really special feeling.

"I know that if I was a young girl growing up in Scotland and there was a Scottish player in a Champions League final, it would be the first thing I'd be tuning in to. It's nice to know you're inspiring a generation, we're role models to so many people and I think we forget that.

"For us, we're so focused and honed in on winning, sometimes we forget the impact it has on so many young girls and I think remembering that is pretty special so it's going to do a lot for the women's game in the UK."

Facing Barcelona

Melanie Leupolz (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Melanie Leupolz has faced Barcelona in the Champions League with her previous clubs (Image courtesy of adidas)

To lift the Champions League title, Chelsea will need to find a way past an outstanding Barcelona team. They have conceded just six Champions League goals in eight games, scoring 24 times.

"I've seen a few games of theirs. They are really, really good," Leupolz explained. "I played them with Bayern two years ago in the Champions League semi-final and we got knocked out. They were really good then, but I think they improved over the last two years.

"They are really good in ball possession, that's their game, so we have to be really physical and good in transition, and just play our game. I think on Sunday, there will be two different styles of football and we will see what is the most more successful one."

England believes Chelsea must be at the top of their game to beat Barcelona, saying: "They have a lot of pace, especially [Asisat] Oshoala up top, she's lethal. I think certain mistakes we've made this season, even on Sunday [against Reading], we can't afford to make those mistakes around a team like Barcelona.

"We've got to really be on our A-game to stop their threats. We obviously can't stop everything, but it makes it easier when you've got Ann-Katrin [Berger] in goal, who is like a cat and saves everything. We don't know what they're going to throw at us but hopefully, they don't know what we're going to throw at them either.

"It's two different teams in the final this year. We know how amazing Lyon have been and how dominant they have been in this competition. So for everyone involved to see two teams potentially lift that trophy for the first time is going to be amazing whichever way it goes and it's just such an honour to say you're going to a Champions League final."

Niamh Charles (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Niamh Charles says Barcelona are a good team, but Chelsea are also incredible too (Image courtesy of adidas)

Charles added: "Barcelona have a great philosophy in the way they play, everyone across the world know how the men and women play. They have had a great season and we have massive respect for them, it's going to be a really tough game and an exciting game for women's football in general.

"We know they're extremely technical from the back to the front, but as much as we can focus on what they're doing, it's also about what we're doing as well. They're a great team, but we're an incredible team as well so how can we hurt them?"

Chelsea making history

PA - Chelsea Women celebrate WSL title 1:32
Former Chelsea Women's forward Eni Aluko has labelled her former side as the best in the world, and says she will be backing them to win their first Champions League against Barcelona on Sunday

Chelsea are the first team in history to have both women's and men's teams into their respective Champions League finals.

Hayes recently said it showed that 'winning was in the DNA of the club', and Cuthbert agrees with her manager.

"We talk about it every day - we want to win," she said. "Even in training, we're competitive. I'm walking off the pitch angry if I've not won in training so winning breeds at this football club. There's a great atmosphere at the club, and we all want the same goal - we all want the Champions League.

It says something about the club that they’ve built a huge women’s team, they’ve built a very competitive squad like what you expect when you see anybody in a Chelsea shirt doing sports, you expect them to play to win, to take it seriously, to challenge and to push the boundaries and challenge every competition possible. This is what everybody expects from every team and the women’s team have clearly fulfilled that task this season so big congratulations to them. They are also the [WSL] champions now, which is also an incredible achievement and hopefully we can win both finals together.

Thomas Tuchel, speaking to Sky Sports, on Chelsea Women

"We can definitely feel the support from the men's team. They're pushing us on as much as we're pushing them on and to feel like we're one big family is something that's getting us through as well."

England also echoed the feeling of family around Chelsea, adding: "Winning is part of this team, not just as the women's team, but the men's team and the youth teams as a collective. I think the way the club is run, the main ambition is to pick up trophies. They also recruit well to allow people and players to do that.

"Chelsea, for me, it feels more like a family than it does a team and I think that's one of our strongest assets going into this game - no matter when you step your foot over that line, you've got every single team-mate behind you, willing you to be the best, do the best and play the best.

Chelsea celebrate Mason Mount's second goal in their 2-0 semi-final second leg victory over Real Madrid
Image: Chelsea men's team have also reached their Champions League final, with Chelsea the first club to have both sides into their respective finals

"I think that stems from the top to the bottom and to create history by having the first men's and women's team to go through, it's an incredible achievement to be a part of that. Hopefully, we can make bigger history and both teams go on to win it."

Charles is hoping the game will be a strong advert for women's football, explaining: "It's massive that an English club has got there and it's a credit to the English game. You've seen how competitive the WSL has been this year, it's been exciting at both ends of the table and no game is a given so that's a credit to the growth of the women's game.

"This is another step on that journey to making English football and women's football in general out there for everyone to see and realise how good we are."

England: Childhood dream to be CL winner | Cuthbert: This is where we belong

Bethany England (Image courtesy of Adidas)
Image: Bethany England says it would be a childhood dream to win the Champions League (Image courtesy of adidas)

Sunday could mark a career-defining victory for Chelsea and their players, and the Champions League final is an occasion they have been dreaming about for many years.

England said: "It's huge. To get an English team into the final itself is massive. It's just such an honour to say you're going to a Champions League final. As a little girl, I would never have dreamed I'd be able to say I'm going to a Champions League final so I think we've just got to relish the moment, enjoy every minute of it whatever happens and fingers crossed that trophy is coming back to England.

"It goes without question that I want to win it more than anything. To be able to have that title on your card is unbelievable and I think it's everyone's dream. People dream of World Cups, FA Cups and all the biggest trophies, you want to be winning everything. It's a childhood dream to be able to say I'm a Champions League winner."

"I want it so bad," Cuthbert added. "We've been working so hard for it, we've sacrificed so much, no one realises the hardships we've been through. I didn't see my family for almost a full season, didn't get home at Christmas, I've not been able to see my friends or socialise - we've given up so much for football, we want it so bad that we'd do anything for it.

Spence, Leupolz and Charles on winning the Champions League

Charles: "It’s a dream. When you’re younger, you watch the men winning it and in recent times, the Women’s Champions League has been out there more in the media. It’s the ultimate club trophy you can win so it would be incredible."

Spence: "It'll mean everything. I think it's something we've all been working for over the past few years. I think that has always been the key aim so hopefully we will finally get over that last hurdle."

Leupolz: "Of course, I want to win it. It's a big dream and we have big chance to do it. We will try to do everything that we can to achieve this."

"This Sunday is no different. It's a game nonetheless, we have to play the game, not the occasion, we can't get too hyped up about it or too over excited about it, but we'll be ready and this is the stage we all belong on."

Bright said: "The tables have turned and we represent the English teams and show that we are here to compete and win it. Every club is striving for that, the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United want to be in the Champions League and as an English team, we want the English teams to do well.

"It's bigger than just Chelsea, we're representing English teams and we're setting the tone that we're here to compete and we're here to win.

"It's everything that we've worked for. Like Emma always says, no matter the trophy we're competing in, it's there to be won and that's our task. It would mean absolutely everything and it would be the biggest trophy in your career that you can win. We're fully focused on that, have a good week and I'm pretty sure we'll go on and do well."

The new adidas Superspectral pack is available from adidas.co.uk/football-shoes [3]

References

  1. ^ pic.twitter.com/ME7KkUnJLM (t.co)
  2. ^ May 9, 2021 (twitter.com)
  3. ^ adidas.co.uk/football-shoes (adidas.co.uk)