After 10 months, the Women’s Champions League returns this Friday to finish the competition’s remaining matches, starting with the quarterfinal match-up between rivals Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Both teams, but especially Barça as one of the three favourites along with Lyon and Wolfsburg, will be looking to make it to the Champions League final on August 30.
A lot has changed for Barcelona over a year since their 4-1 loss versus Lyon in last season’s final. The Catalan club remains undefeated across all competitions in Europe. As one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the competition, Barça is an incredibly strong team.
The return of Jenni Hermoso and Andrea Falcón from Atlético Madrid and the arrival of Caroline Graham Hansen from Wolfsburg have been critical to Barcelona’s dominance at domestic and international level. So far, they’ve won their fifth league title, the very first Spanish Super Cup with a scoreline of 10-1, and are currently in the semifinals of the Queen’s Cup.
A REFORMED TEAM
FC Barcelona is much more prepared this time around to face Europe’s biggest clubs. They’ve won all their pre-season matches in preparation for Friday’s game against Atletico Madrid. They haven’t seemed to have lost their top form and offensive options: Jenni Hermoso, Lieke Martens, Mariona Caldentey, Asisat Oshoala, and Caroline Graham Hansen have dominated the games and continued to show the team’s superiority in the attack.
Barça hasn’t signed any first-team players during this transfer window, yet potential opponents such as Lyon or Wolfsburg would be big tests for in-form center backs Mapi Leon and Andrea Pereira.
Marta Torrejón suffered an injury in July but received some minutes and actually managed to score a preseason match goal. However, she has yet to receive the medical green light. If Torrejón can play on Friday, she would be a vital element for the team as she’s had an incredible season as one of the top scorers for her side even as a defender.
Barcelona set their focus this season on winning the league title after 4 seasons. Along the way, they also dominated the domestic competitions, and now all that’s left is the Champions League. On their path to the final 8, FC Barcelona faced the Italian league champions Juventus winning 4-1 on aggregate before beating FC Minsk in the round of 16.
THE BIGGEST TEST YET FOR BARCELONA
The Blaugranas have become a very cohesive and united team. In previous seasons, the team might have fallen under the pressure, but now the team’s mentality has changed, and they’ve become much more confident, making them one of the best teams in Europe. It just seems like things are working correctly for Barça. Each player knows their role on the pitch, but there is a fluidity that allows them to switch positions, and they all make an effort to help in the defense, which has been crucial to helping them win back and maintain possession.
Players like Alexia Putellas, Sandra Paños, Mapi León, and Patri Guijarro have had a fantastic season and are looking to top it off with the biggest trophy of all, but this will be their biggest test yet. They’ve scored over 125 goals and only conceded 11 goals this season.
They’ve won 11 games by more than 5 goals, generally scoring early on in the game, conceding very few goals and more towards the end of the match when they’ve already consolidated their win. Their last major test was in the Queen’s Cup quarterfinals against Deportivo Abanca, a game went well into overtime with Barcelona winning 1-0 thanks to Kheira Hamroui’s goal in the 120th minute.
FC BARCELONA VS. ATLÉTICO MADRID
Barça and Atleti know each other very well, which can be advantageous and a disadvantage for both sides. This Clasico is never an easy match, and the stakes are higher than ever. In their first matchup of the season way back in September, Barcelona beat Atlético 6-1. Their second match ended in a goalless tie, and their last meetup in the semis of the Spanish Super Cup was a close 3-2 win for the Catalan club.
Barça’s defense has been almost impenetrable this season. Still, in matches such as the Spanish Super Cup semifinal, their defense showed some weak points, and their possession game makes them more at risk to counterattacks, something that Atleti knows to take advantage of.
Atlético Madrid had dominated the domestic competitions in Spain until this season with Barça’s reformed team. However, they still managed to make it to the final 8 for the first time after knocking out Manchester City. Unlike Barcelona, Atlético had a busy transfer window, signing seven players, including Merel van Dongen, Emelyne Laurent, Hedvig Lindahl, and Grace Kazadi. Both goalkeepers Lola Gallardo and Sari van Veenendaal, Kenti Robles, Caro Arias, and Olga García have left the team.
A significant advantage for Barcelona will be that they’ve actually been able to have a smooth preseason and regain their form, whereas Atleti hasn’t played a match in five months. The club from Madrid released a statement recently that they had cancelled all training sessions since August 7 due to five positive COVID cases. The match against Barça is this Friday, and it is still not clear if Atlético will be able to play.
According to UEFA’s COVID-19 rules, Atléti must be able to field 13 healthy players to play. If there is no fit keeper, the match will be rescheduled, and if a reschedule isn’t possible, they’ll be forced to forfeit the quarterfinal match 3-0. If the game is played, it seems likely that it will go in Barcelona’s favour, but Atleti won’t make it easy for them, and it’ll surely be a strong fight for a place in the semifinals.
A DUEL BETWEEN THE TOP OFFENSIVE TEAMS IN THE COMPETITION
If Barça beats Atlético Madrid, they would most likely face VfL Wolfsburg in the semifinals, a matchup between two of the favourites to win the trophy and two of the top-scoring teams in Europe. The last time they met was in 2014 in the quarterfinals where Wolfsburg beat Barcelona 5-0 after two matches and would end up winning the whole tournament.
Barcelona will also have to defend Pernille Harder, one of the most in-form strikers in the world right now, who will lead the attack along with Alexandra Popp, and Ewa Pajor. On the other hand, Wolfsburg will have to stop the likes of Jenni Hermoso, Asisat Oshoala, Lieke Martens, and Caroline Graham Hansen. Graham Hansen, who joined Barcelona in the summer after five years with the German side, could help the blaugranas get to know the tactics and weaknesses of their possible opponent.
Like Barcelona, Wolfsburg hasn’t added any defensive players to the squad, but in their case, the loss of defensive midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir to Lyon has created a weakness in their defense. If Barça can manage to impose pressure on Wolfsburg’s weak defense from their compact midfield to the wings with their strikers’ help, they could catch Wolfsburg unaware. They will have to stay vigilant to stop the Germans on the break as their counterattack could be extremely dangerous. Defenders Mapi Leon and Andrea Pereira will have to be ready to shut down any opportunity that the Wolfsburg’s attacking trident gets.
This would be a match between two similar teams with a big desire to win. With two teams this resilient, it could lead to an incredible game, one worthy of being a final. Either side that would win would be a worthy Champions League winner.
COULD CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
If FC Barcelona beat the German giants, their potential opponent in the final could be a familiar foe: Olympique Lyon. The French club is the record holder for most Champions League titles and has won the last four years in a row, beating Barcelona last season in the final 4-1. It was the very first time that Barcelona or any club from Spain had ever made it to the final.
This time around, Barça has learned from their mistakes, but it can’t be denied that in the Champions League, Lyon is always a title contender. Although Lyon has conquered the French competitions winning the league and french cup, their path to the final won’t be easy. They’ll have to get past a fully match-fit Bayern Munich and either domestic rivals PSG, or Arsenal but with their strong attack and solid defense, it’s more than likely that they’ll make it through.
Barcelona would go into a potential match against Lyon looking to redeem themselves after last season’s final. When they met last year in May, Catalan coach Lluís Cortés had only been at the helm of the team for about 9 months; now, over a year later, his project for the team is much more consolidated. Barcelona is now much more prepared to face an opponent like Lyon.
Barça would also most likely have quite a different lineup. Defensive midfielder Patri Guijarro didn’t play in the final last year due to an injury but is now fully fit and has proved herself to be an essential part of the team. The addition of Graham Hansen and Hermoso to the front line gives Barça an attacking element that they lacked last year. Additionally, Barcelona’s improved defense could prevent Lyon from scoring early on as they did in 2019, where they scored four goals in only the first 30 minutes.
Different tactics, newfound confidence, and having one of the best attacks in the continent would make it a much closer matchup. Barcelona no longer sees Lyon as an invincible team. It won’t be easy, but in such an atypical year, Barça’s competitiveness that has led them to go undefeated this season could lead them to the Champions League trophy, making them the first Spanish side to win it and consolidating them as a major team in Europe.