Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s live coverage of Real Madrid v Chelsea at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in Madrid. It’s the start of Emma Hayes’ last attempt to reach the promised land by winning the Women’s Champions League with Chelsea. As champions they avoided the labyrinthine qualification phase, in which both Manchester United and Arsenal were eliminated. Now things are more straightforward: four groups of four, with the top two going through to the quarter-finals.
Real Madrid’s squad is full of players who won the World Cup with Spain in the summer, including Olga Carmona, who scored the only goal against England in the final. They are second in Liga F, a familiar position given Barcelona’s astonishing consistency over the last few years, with seven wins out of eight so far this season.
Chelsea are also in a familiar position – top of the WSL. They are favourites to win this group, though there are no guarantees in such a cut-throat competition. The other teams are BK Hacken, runners-up in Sweden, and Paris FC, a dangerous team who have already eliminated Arsenal and VfL Wolfsburg.
The confirmation of football’s worst-kept secret, that Hayes will leave Chelsea at the end of the season to become head coach of the United States Women’s National Team, adds another layer to tonight’s game and the whole season. Hayes has enjoyed extraordinary success since becoming head coach 11 years ago: six WSL titles, five FA Cups (including four Doubles) and two League Cups. Only one trophy has eluded her.
Chelsea have been getting closer. They reached the final in 2021, only to be taken apart by Barcelona. Yet though they went out in the semi-finals last season, they were arguably closer to glory. Chelsea again lost to the eventual winners – but this time it was 2-1 on aggregate and they gave Barcelona a scare in the second leg at the Camp Nou.
Before they can think about a possible reunion with Barcelona, they have another Spanish giant to consider.
Kick off is at 8pm in London, 9pm in Madrid.