It is advantage Blues after an Erin Cuthbert goal secured a first-leg victory in Spain in this Champions League semi-final tie.

The result is Barcelona’s first defeat of the season in any competition and it was thoroughly deserved by Chelsea, who had not beaten the Spaniards in any of our previous three competitive meetings.

We took the lead in a first half during which our players did what was needed at both ends of the pitch. As expected, the home side had over 70 per cent of the possession but solid defending denied them a single shot on target before the break, a stat that continued after it.

Having been pressed back, the visitors began to venture forward and when the chance came late in the first half, created skilfully by Sjoeke Nusken, Cuthbert scored with characteristic power.

There was a scare at the start of the second half when Barcelona were initially awarded a penalty for handball but a VAR intervention thwarted the European champions.

For the rest of the game the Blues had to work very hard but tested the home side just as much as they did us, and Lauren James and Mayra Ramirez sent chances to extend the lead wide. At the very end, and to the Londoners’ relief, Barcelona wasted their best opportunity of the game.

We remain unbeaten in this season’s Champions League. It has been a good afternoon’s work in Catalonia. Now it is all back to the Bridge for the conclusion next Saturday.

This tie is a repeat of last year's semi-final when the Blues lost 2-1 on aggregate. On that occasion, the home leg was first whereas 12 months later we travelled to Spain for the first leg, held in a different arena this time - Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium due to the ongoing redevelopment of Camp Nou.

Hayes’s side drew in the away leg there last April. In fact Chelsea came into this match unbeaten in our last nine away European games, six of those wins.

A close contest was on the cards, and so it proved to be, even though Chelsea had to soak up plenty of pressure in the early stage of a first half from which we emerged on top.

Standing firm

Barcelona sent over a dangerous cross in the very first minute but the Blues survived. Jess Carter, who went on to have very good game, then dealt with the threat when the home side got forward again and delivered from their right.

Emma Hayes had opted for a back-three defence with Ashley Lawrence as left wing-back and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd on the right. The Swede was the first to take an attack into the Barcelona penalty area but was dispossessed.

Barca responded with their best attack so far, thwarted when Carter blocked Salma Paralluelo’s shot after a powerful run by Aitana Bonmati.

Bonmati then shot well wide and Kadeisha Buchanan did well to dispossess Paralluelo inside the Blues area, as Barcelona kept the pressure on.

Lauren James, although paired with Mayra Ramirez in attack, clearly had freedom to roam and at times was coming very deep to get on the ball and try to make something happen. She won a free-kick which was delivered threateningly by Cuthbert but Niamh Charles could not apply the needed touch.

Blues venture forward

A James’ cross from the left just cleared Ramirez’s leap in one of Chelsea’ most promising moments of the half so far. An even better one followed when Nusken won the ball and released Ramirez to tee-up Melanie Leupolz for a shot. The German sent it wide of the far post. Half-an-hour had been played.

Chelsea were growing into the game and James won our first corner. Soon to come was Cuthbert’s goal.

Nusken deserves plenty of credit for the skilful manner in which she retained possession when receiving the ball under pressure in the area, and then squared it to the Scot. Cuthbert made extra space with a step to her right and then lashed her shot high into the net from 15 yards out.

The Blues headed into the dressing room at half-time with that lead intact.

The first shot on target of the second half was Chelsea’s, Lawrence firing straight at Catalina Coll but soon after came a Barcelona penalty, or at least that is what everyone thought when the referee pointed at the spot after Patri Guijarro’s shot hit Buchanan’s arm.

There was a delay before VAR became involved but when it did, the officials between them settled on an offside offence.

VAR was not in Chelsea’s favour when it briefly looked at a challenge on Ramirez but despite that, Chelsea remained in the ascendant. James missed the target by not much.

Seeing it out

Inside the final 15 minutes, Ramirez created a good chance of her own to double the advantage after using her power to shrug off Patri, but she fired high and wide.

Barcelona had seen plenty of the ball but the possession stats were much more balanced than in the first half. With time running out, an unmarked Paralluelo volleyed wide from a cross from Caroline Graham Hansen, so often a thorn in Chelsea’s side with goals against us.

In the dying seconds, substitute Alexia Putellas should have equalised when the ball was headed down to her five yards out, but she turned it wide.

That miss was a big let-off but today, most notably, we had prevented Barcelona’s formidable attack from testing Hannah Hampton even once in the game. The last time the Spanish side had lost at home was February 2019.

What it means

A draw in the second leg will be sufficient to progress to our second Champions League final.

The Blues are now unbeaten in our last 10 Women's Champions League matches, extending our longest European run without defeat.

What’s next?

Next on the agenda is the second leg of this tie, taking place in a week’s time on Saturday 27 April. A later kick-off this time - 5.30pm – and there is going to be a big crowd at Stamford Bridge but you can still be there

Hampton; Carter, Buchanan, Charles; Rytting Kaneryd, Cuthbert (c), Leupolz Nusken, Lawrence; James (Macario 73), Ramirez (Reiten 90+2)
Unused subs Musovic, Cox, Perisset, Bright, Ingle, Beever-Jones, Kirby
Scorer Cuthbert 40

Barcelona Coll; Batlle (Bronze 63), Paredes, Engen (Putellas 63), Rolfo; Bonmati, Walsh, Guijarro (c); Graham Hansen, Paralluelo, Caldentey (Lopez 73)
Unused subs Panos, Fernandez, Torrejon, Martina, Dragoni, Ari, Brugts, Pina, Vilamala
Guijarro 80, Parades 83

Referee Stephanie Frappart (France)