Analysis from September 11th, 2019
Final Score: Barcelona 2-0 Juventus
In excitement for the upcoming Champions League matches this week. Below is an analysis of one of the top contenders, FC Barcelona Femení.
Lluis Cortés’s side came out with a hunger to win, trying numerous tactical changes that differed slightly from the Barcelona team seen in previous matches. Chances started coming from early on for the Spanish side, with multiple long range efforts from the Barcelona midfield and forward lines. The first came just after the five minute mark, when Caroline Graham Hansen attempted to finish off a long spell of possession by rifling her ball just over the crossbar. Similarly, around the tenth minute, Alexia Putellas had what would be the first of many opportunities for her at goal throughout this game, just managing to force Laura Giuliani into an easy save. For Juventus, a free kick in the 12th minute and a throw in around half way through the half kept Barcelona on their toes, and allowed for a few minutes of speed to try and force their way through the European finalists. However, Putellas ended up turning the tides in her team’s favor. With a cheeky chip to Jenni Hermoso, and a goal of her own to put her team ahead, Barcelona were up going into half time.
The second half proved to be a similar game for both teams. Barcelona switched up their style of play to become a bit more recognizable, and it was in these types of transitions where the Catalonian side was most vulnerable. Again, Putellas played a crucial part in Barcelona’s second half triumph, faking out a Juventus defender before lofting the ball to set up a goal by Marta Torrejón. Juventus was able to come back strong towards the end, after Barcelona had changed their set up, forcing a last ditch tackle from Mapi León on Eniola Aluko. León was sent off of the field from a straight red card, meaning that she would have to sit out the next game in Barcelona’s, so far successful, Champions League campaign.
Barcelona on Defense:
Keeping the Ball in Defensive Positions
Unlike what most were expecting, Barcelona experimented, switching up their usual systems of attack. They played a 3-5-2, leaving a large amount of flexibility for players to roam around the field and in turn, a large responsibility for their three defenders to carry out a load of awareness and cover for players up field. Even though Barcelona was out of their usual shape of four defenders, they kept their normal style of play through possession out of the back and a high line to allow for distribution up field. Patri Guijarro, the main pivot of the five defenders in the midfield, was trusted with both the position of being the only defensive midfielder and the position of becoming a makeshift second center back when Barcelona had possession in the back of the field. Guijarro relieved a large amount of constraint from her defensive counterparts by doing this, as Juventus could play a very high line of pressure at points throughout the game. Even though this strategy was largely foolproof for allowing Barcelona to keep the majority of possession, it could have limited the amount of play in the midfield with the lack of a central player to alleviate the oncoming Juventus press. This was where Barcelona’s flexibility came into play. Kheira Hamraoui, a French midfieldfielder, took on this responsibility of creating options for the rest of her team. Hamraoui, along with Guijarro, were the reason this formation was able to work so well and get the best out of the other three players in their midfield.
Another reason this defensive setup was able to work so well was the personnel involved. With an experienced powerful center back in Stefanie van der Gragt, a naturally left footed, anticipatory full-back in Mapi León, and a speedy, spatially aware right-back in Marta Torrejón, Barcelona created their own success. Both León and Torrejón were constantly pushing up and dropping back to make sure that Juventus were not able to spring a counter attack. Both players are very technical on the ball, but had to be more sharp than ever without it especially when Barcelona was not in possession. León in particular was key to prosperities further up the field. She is a versatile defender, who can play both center-back and left-back and can switch her mindset very quickly to make important game-deciding decisions. Along with her infamous slide tackle, León is also very physically aware. Even though her tackle in the last minutes of the game caused her to miss out on her team’s next match in the competition, León was willing to put this on the line for her team to leave the field with a shutout under their belts, and more importantly, seal the win.
Defending Without the Ball
Although the Catalan superpower did an exceptional job for the most part, there will always be some issues when playing with a smaller number of players in the back. For Barcelona, these issues were especially prevalent during formation changes and at earlier points throughout the first half. Luckily for Barcelona, Juventus were set through much of the game for playing out of the back, down the wings, and over the top. The Spanish side were very equipped to handle this kind of attack, as their flexibly and spread out forward players were pressing Juventus’s back line whenever they had the ball, and wherever they were on the field. This type of pressure made it very hard for Juventus to use their defense and implement them into their attack going forward. Midfield wingers Caroline Graham Hansen and Andrea Falcón were especially tricky to get around on the wings and made playing down the sides of the field highly improbable, though not impossible. When balls were played down the wings Barcelona had a very hard time handling Juventus’s pace into the center of the field. During these various weak points, Juventus figured out how to exploit Barcelona’s defensive line by playing in these balls down the wings and, in the second half, over the top. These balls eliminated Barcelona’s midfield from the equation, giving Juventus time to get numbers up and form their attack.
Even though there are many added benefits of playing Graham Hansen and Falcón as midfield wingers, both players have a lot of speed and technical skill driving the ball up the field. This can make defending on the wings very tricky and cause a lot of issues when Barcelona’s outside backs choose to push forward. Especially when Barcelona transitioned into a four-back, Juventues were able to play balls into space around the Spanish side’s now smaller midfield, and make runs in and behind. Falcón, Leila Ouahabi (her substitute), and Torrejón, are all fairly attacking minded players, and with the technicality of switching formations, defending balls over the top with a more attacking minded midfield proved fairly difficult. This may seem slightly contradictory, but when Barcelona were able to get into a groove in their three-back, they were possibly more successful than their formation-changed, later stages of the game. Barcelona were not as exposed because of their midfield security, even despite the fact that wider areas were more open to attack. Juventus were not able to capitalize on the supposed weak spot of balls over the top as much as they may have liked, though against stronger opposition, Barcelona are not going to get away with just a red card.
A Flexible Midfield
Similar to various successful formations in the past, this Spanish midfield relied heavily on positional flexibility. In a team where possession is everything, movement off of the ball is almost as crucial is a line breaking pass through the center of the field. Barcelona’s players are molded to become comfortable with this type of play from day one, and this match played into that skill set and gave players a chance to express themselves on the field. As discussed previously, this type of play allowed for more security in the defensive midfield and central defensive areas from Guijarro and Hamraoui, but it also benefited the attacking side of the equation heavily. For Alexia Putellas, this type of play is the Catalan midfielder’s bread and butter. Putellas is a main distributor of the ball and is the axle in the center of the field that the rest of the game seems to spin off of. With Hamraoui and Guijarro giving Putellas the defensive security to be able to push forward and use her creativity on the ball, there is no doubt as to why she was able to both score and net an assist. The Spanish international, even aside from her statistical achievements, was fully confident in her technical skills and pulled off some amazing maneuvers.
Along with unleashing Putellas in the center of the field, Graham Hansen and Falcón were also able to play to their advantages, while also providing defensive security. As talked about when both of these wingers were playing on defense, each of them has an explosive style of play and loves taking on opposition in a 1 versus 1 battle. Graham Hansen in particular is a player that thrives in tight situations. Throughout the match, she took full advantage of her new midfield role to dribble up the wings and interchange her positioning with Jenni Hermoso or Mariona Caldentey further up the field. Falcón on the other hand, is a typical pacey, skilled winger with a cheeky Spanish flair. Throughout her journey to finding a spot on Barcelona’s first team, Falcón has found ways to apply herself in most situations she is found in. She brings a youthful energy to her side of the field and is a player that is hard to take eyes off of.
The Technical Attack
It’s hard to find a better pair up top than the infamous Jenni Hermoso and the firecracker that is Mariona Caldentey. Both of these players are perfectly suited for the Barcelona style of play, and versatility in their positioning. Throughout her years with the Spanish national team and with three different clubs in the past four years, Hermoso is more than used to finding her niche during her 90 minutes on the field. Hermoso was more than happy to be a provider, though proved sneaky when it came to her own chances in trying to find the back of the net. The runs she made beyond defenses and placing herself in the exact right spot causes one to believe that her ability to read spaces in otherworldly. She was keen on drifting between positions across the forward line, moving off of where others dribbled and where she felt that she could be of the most use during the continuation of Barcelona’s attack. If that description was not convincing enough, her scoring records throughout the past five years show for themselves with her becoming the top scorer in the Spanish league four out of the last five seasons. Caldentey, although lacking her rightful amount of international recognition, could perhaps have been the most captivating player on the field during her time on the ball. Caldentey is most known for her tricky technical play and slicing defenses open, her movement off of the ball could possibly be her most dangerous feature. Caldentey is yet another player on this Barcelona team with a sense of the game well beyond her years. Her runs in behind or around Juventus’s back four showed exactly the caliber of player needed to beat the top team in Italy and other top teams around the world.
Beyond the amazing ability of Caldentey and Hermoso, the midfield was a key piece of these two players being able to execute brilliance. Putellas, Falcón, and Graham Hansen were vital for Hermoso and Caldentey to be able to make runs and interchange positions. There were even moments where it was the defense making those overlapping runs and allowing the two strikers to pull inwards to get onto the end of a cross. Most of the Barcelona team would be constantly pushing wide to create crossing opportunities. An example of this is the second goal scored by Marta Torrejón. Jenni Hermoso received the ball as a result of a poor clearance by Juventus (and a strong press by Barcelona). Hermoso then passed the ball off to Putellas, who checked out wide and then took the ball herself to the endline before doing a scissors to fake out the defender before crossing the ball to Torrejón who headed the ball into the net. None of these players are in their typical positions, especially not Torrejón who was playing right-back, but the formation’s flexibility allowed for it to work.
In conclusion, Barcelona has the mindset and caliber of players to play any formation they want to. Although they will most likely stick with a 4-3-3 for the majority of games they play, it is fun to see how different tactics can impact the results of games played. It has almost been a year since Barcelona have played a Champions League match, though I am sure that we will see them go far in this year’s quarter final against Atlético Madrid.
Van der Gragt
Marta T. María León
J. Hermoso Mariona
Hyyrynen Gama Sembrant Boattin
Rosucci Galli Caruso
Staskova Girelli Cernoia
Written by Maddie Metz
Creator of Only Women’s Soccer
- Juventus 0 Barça 2: Dominance from start to finish: https://www.fcbarcelona.com/en/football/womens-football/news/1340956/juventus-0-barca-2-dominance-from-start-to-finish#
- FC Barcelona – YouTube: [FULL MATCH] UWCL: Juventus – FC Barcelona (0-2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kYyAxMPyps
- Barça World – YouTube: Barcelona Women vs Juventus 2-0 | Full Goals & Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqUSAjXSGbQ
- Eurosport.es: El Barcelona vence a la Juve y cosecha una buena renta para la vuelta: https://www.eurosport.es/futbol/champions-league-femenina/2019-2020/el-barcelona-vence-a-la-juve-a-domicilio-y-cosecha-una-buena-renta-para-la-vuelta_sto7455364/story.shtml
- Newschain.uk: Barcelona open Champions League campaign with victory as holders Lyon thrash Ryazan: https://www.newschain.uk/sport/womens-sport/football/barcelona-open-champions-league-campaign-victory-holders-lyon-thrash-ryazan-1560
- Juventusnew24.com: Juventus Women, Morace: «Cosa manca per i successi in Europa»: https://www.juventusnews24.com/juventus-women-morace-cosa-manca-per-i-successi-in-europa/
- Barcaacademy.fcbarcelona.com: HIGHLIGHTS | Juventus 0 Barça 2: https://barcaacademy.fcbarcelona.com/en/videos/1341115