Walsh eager to dispatch Chelsea as Barcelona chase UWCL double

Keira Walsh has said she is extra motivated to host Chelsea at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday as Barcelona eye back-to-back Champions League titles.

Walsh, 27, joined Barça from Manchester City in 2022 and helped them win the Champions League for the second time in the club’s history last season.

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Barça host Chelsea this weekend in the first leg of their semifinal tie with the aim of becoming the first side since Lyon in 2020 to retain the trophy.

“This is exactly why I signed for this club.”The ambition of the club, the players and the coaches all match mine It’s six Champions League semifinals [in a row] for Barça and, for me, two in two years, which is really important,” Walsh said.

“But we’re not just happy with the semifinal. As players, we want to go and win it again back-to-back and do something really special with this club.”

Barça have the upper-hand going into the game having knocked Chelsea out at this stage last year, while they also beat them in the 2021 final.

The Blaugrana are also unbeaten across 37 games in all competitions this season and, having already won the Spanish Super Cup, remain on track for a quadruple.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have stuttered in recent weeks, losing the Conti Cup final to Arsenal before being knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United last weekend.

“It will still be a very tough competitive game,” the England international added. “It’s the Champions League so everyone comes in to it with a different mindset.

“They could [even] be extra motivated. They lost in the cups, so for them it’s the league and the Champions League. And because [coach] Emma Hayes is leaving [to take over the United States Women’s National Team in the summer], I imagine they will want to get a good result.

“When I was at City, they were our main rival a lot of the time going for the league title, so for me playing against Chelsea is always a bit of an extra motivation.”

Australia striker Sam Kerr remains sidelined with an ACL injury, but Walsh is still wary of the threat posed by Chelsea’s other players.

“Sam’s so dangerous on the counter and around the box, so she’s a massive miss, but they have so many world class players we need to focus on stopping,” Walsh said.

Erin Cuthbert, Lauren James, Guro Reiten, they are all unbelievable players. Lauren is a very special player, but they have so many important players.

“We have to keep an eye on the counter attack, play the Barça way, have a lot of possession and be aggressive. We have to get up to the ball, stop shots, stop crosses. The things that all these girls do week in week out.”

Walsh has settled in well at Barcelona, with teammate Patri Guijarro recently labelling her the best player she has ever played with, despite also playing alongside Ballon d’Or winners Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí.

“No, no she is [the best],” Walsh laughed when Guijarro’s comments were put to her. “I think it gives me a lot of confidence if players like her are saying that.

“Everybody knows what I think of her as a person and as a player, I think she’s incredible — the same for Mariona [Caldentey], Aitana. I could list the whole team to be honest.

“It’s a special team to be a part of and I think the way they see the game has really helped me improve. I play a lot faster and see things differently.

“The main thing for me is defensively I have improved. My intensity off the ball is a lot better. A lot of people don’t expect that when you come to Spain so much because you have so much possession, but that was one area that me and [coach] Jonatan [Giráldez] spoke about to focus on.”

However, one thing lacking in Spain is competition domestically. Barça are 12 points clear at the top of Liga F and cantering to a fifth straight title, while just six points separate the top three in the Women’s Super League.

“I think if you look at English league, the competition is more spread out,” Walsh said.

“Some games here are not at the level of the WSL, but I think if you look at training, the technical and tactical level on average is better.

“Spanish players understand the game so well. People can talk about competitive level, but if Barça played in other leagues, I still think they win most of the games quite comfortably.

“That is my opinion from playing with these players, who are all so special.”

The return leg between Barça and Chelsea will take place on April 27 in London, with the winners meeting either Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain in the final in Bilbao on May 25.