After a 2019//20 season full of ups and downs for her personally, Lieke Martens was back at his best in the month of December as she was Barça Femení’s player of the month.
FC Barcelona Femení maintained their winning record at the end of December and, despite playing three less matches than second-place Real Madrid Femenino, went into the winter break as leaders of the Primera Iberdrola. Lieke Martens enjoyed a great run of fixtures in the month of December, racking up six goals and three assists. Notably, three of those goals were scored in the important UEFA Women’s Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven in the round of 32.
After missing nearly half of the 2019/20 season due to injury and having a rough restart since August’s Champions League matches, Martens seems to have fully returned to being a key player for Barcelona, hitting world-class form. The Dutch international has scored a goal every 85 minutes and assisted every 128 minutes in the league, and as of December, she is the top scorer for Barça Femení in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
It was quite the task to pick the player of the month, especially given the multiple record-breaking performances from Jennifer Hermoso and the complete domination of the right side by Caroline Graham Hansen. However, Martens was simply too dominant throughout the month – especially in the two important European encounter – for her to not be chosen.
Primera Iberdrola | Santa Teresa CD (H) (5/12/2020): 9–0
- Minutes: 62
- Goals: 3
- Assist: 1
With Caroline Graham Hansen out of the clash against Santa Teresa, Lieke Martens was tasked to hold the team’s width on the right side. She showed her versatility by combining well with Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, scoring a quick hat-trick within the space of 15 minutes which helped blew away the opponent at the end of the first half.
She started the game brightly forcing a save out of Raquel Poza in the early minutes. With some intricate passing, Barca got the lead in the 4th minute through Jennifer Hermoso. It was non-stop entertainment from Barca Femeni as they continued to score for fun. In the 10th minute, Crnogorćević played a low cross into the penalty box for Martens to score an instinctive tap in.
Again in the 16th minute, she utilized her speed when Mariona Caldentey played a long pass into her path on the edge of the box. Martens controlled the ball with one foot and volleyed the ball into the net in a fantastic display of skill and technical quality. Moments later, she completed her first-ever hat trick in blaugrana colours when she either intentionally or unintentionally placed a perfectly-aimed cross from out wide into the back of the net, catching the Santa Teresa goalkeeper completely off-guard.
She didn’t think of stopping there. Martens continued to toy with Santa Teresa’s left-back, creating quality changes and eventually recording an assist in Barcelona’s sixth goal scored by the ever-reliant Jennifer Hermoso.
UEFA Women’s Champions League | PSV Eindhoven (A) (9/12/2020): 1–4
- Minutes: 90
- Goal: 1
Barça Femení made their return to the Champions League in the round of 32 against Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. Once again, Martens was played in the right-wing position. She caused a lot of trouble in the early minutes, creating quality chances such as in the 16th minute when she picked out Asisat Oshoala, who shot the ball well above the post.
Martens’s pace provided some much-needed width for Barca on the right side, balancing out the width which was lacking down the left due to the inverted winger in Mariona. After about 67 minutes into the game, Caroline Graham Hansen was introduced into the game and Martens switched back to her natural left-wing position. As usual, switching Martens from right wing to left wing majorly improved Barcelona’s chance creation. Not soon after, at the 75th minute mark, Hansen picked out Martens on the left after a well-worked move, and Lieke smashed an exuberant volley into the back of the net. This goal gave Barça a much-needed cushion to experiment and rotate players in the second leg at home.
UEFA Women’s Champions League | PSV Eindhoven (H) (16/12/2020): 4–1
- Minutes: 90
- Goals: 2
The Catalans welcomed PSV to the Estadi Johan Cruyff in the second leg of the round of 32. This time around, birthday girl Lieke Martens started in her natural left position while the wrecker in chief Caroline Graham Hansen started on the right side. Barcelona started the game brightly and never took the foot off the gas. Martens could hardly be stopped here.
A misplaced pass from PSV captain Mandy van den Berg led to a Barça breakaway with Vicky Losada lifting the ball over the top to the far corner for Martens to slot it home. It was later pointed out that this goal was reminiscent of Johan Cyruff’s “Flying Dutchman” goal.
🇳🇱🙋♂️ 1973: The Flying Dutchman— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 17, 2020
🇳🇱🙋♀️ 2020: The Flying Dutch𝘸𝘰𝘮𝘢𝘯 pic.twitter.com/rICmkK9Vha
Fifteen minutes before the end, Martens made it 4–0 with a second striking header following a corner.
Martens scored a total of three goals in the tie, which were important in dismantling a physically imposing, high pressing PSV side. Her performances over both legs helped Barcelona reach the round of 16 of the Champions League with ease.
Primera Iberdrola | Sevilla (H) (19/12/2020): 6–0
- Minutes: 90
Martens started in her natural left-wing position against a Sevilla side that likes to counter-attack with their pacy forwards. Although she didn’t mark the scoresheet, her dribbling and pace were a threat to Sevilla’s backline and her combination play in the final third greatly helped Barcelona’s attack. It was a convincing game from the Netherlands playmaker who continued to solidify her case to be a starter.
Primera Iberdrola | RC Deportivo de la Coruña (A) (22/12/2020): 1–6
- Minutes: 76
- Assists: 2
To cap off an excellent month, Martens made her 100th appearance against RC Deportivo. She started on the right but switched back to the left-wing to help exploit Deportivo de la Coruña’s weakness in the right-back position. Two crosses from Lieke Martens led to two further goals from Oshoala and Aitana Bonmatí before the break. If Barça were clinical in front of the final third, she easily could have ended up with more assists.
Lieke Martens will be returning from the holiday break brimming with confidence, her form hopefully continuing to some of Barcelona’s more important league, Supercup, Copa de la Reina, and Champions League matches. This includes the next match at the Camp Nou against Espanyol, a historic clash that she is very likely to start given her current form.
Barcelona Femení still have not learned from their mistakes
Our Guest Author: Kelsie Smith
Another day, another avoidable loss for a team that’s supposed to be one of the best in the world.
FCB Femení lost on penalties to Atlético Madrid in the Supercopa Femenina semifinal yesterday, their first competitive loss against their Rojiblanco rivals in nearly two years. On the surface, this match means little in the greater context of Barcelona’s season. So far, they have won every match in the Spanish league by scoring 62 goals and conceding just two in 11 matches.
They likely will have an easy Round of 16 Champions League draw, and are still probable to complete a domestic treble for the 2019-20 season, pending the Final of last season’s Copa de la Reina. With all this in mind, this Supercopa loss should be just a blip in what is supposed to be a very exciting 2021, but the outcome of this match is representative of some much more pressing issues within the club that have gone on for far longer than necessary.
So, all these glaring issues that came to light against the Germans… were they ever resolved?
Did they address their vulnerability in defense? Did they ever find a pure striker who could consistently score goals without having to be handed 20 opportunities? Have their managerial decisions gotten any better? Has their big-game mentality improved any since then? Has the club brought in any significant reinforcements in their problem areas? Has FCB Femení done anything meaningful to remedy the many mistakes that they made against Wolfsburg?
After having two transfer windows and almost six months to fix their issues, the answer for all of those questions remains a flat no. Specifically, Barcelona’s forwards have not addressed their inability to convert, the backline have not addressed their defensive shortcomings, and the coaching staff’s managerial decisions have not gotten any better. As a collective, they have not improved their mentality in big games and they have not improved their squad since the Champions League semifinal.
Barcelona may have only conceded 2 goals in the league and they may regularly win their league matches by 5 or more goals, but that speaks more to an ever-increasing disparity in the quality of Primera Iberdrola teams than it does to the overall quality of Barcelona. The defensive issues are still there- they’re just less evident when Barcelona is in the opposition’s half 90% of the time. The inability to convert is still there- it’s just less evident if the opposition’s backline is discouraged from the starting whistle when it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be letting in 5+ goals. Recording dominant wins like these every matchweek makes it easy to ignore the problems that still exist within the team, which could very well lead to complacency farther down the line.
These problems need to be acknowledged and addressed if they have any chance of winning it all in Europe. This starts with their key issues on the pitch. Barcelona have no reliable, consistent strikers. Jenni Hermoso might be Barcelona’s all-time top scorer, but she is not a pure 9, she is too slow to play as a 9, and she should not be in Barcelona’s long-term plans considering her age. Barcelona’s other option at striker, Asisat Oshoala, is also less than ideal. Her resolve in front of goal has taken a downturn since returning from the pandemic hiatus, and she has shown herself time and time again since then to be ineffective under pressure. Her shooting against Atléti in last year’s Champions League was poor, her shooting against Wolfsburg in the Champion’s League was a disaster, and aside from one or two moments of quality inside the box against Atléti in the Supercopa yesterday, her performance was nothing to write home about. This also includes her poor performances in the league that often go under the radar because she ends up on the scoresheet anyway. Her signing in 2019 seemed extremely promising, but this summer should be time for her to hang up her boots in Barcelona so the club can make room for a proven, world-class striker, whomever that may be.
Barcelona’s other biggest area of weakness can be found in left-back Leila Ouahabi. Leila offers little to the team in terms of providing width, giving defensive stability, creating chances, or really any other quality that a fullback might want to have. Her positioning is often so poor that Mapi León spends a significant part of any given match covering for her, to the point where she regularly plays as both a left-back and a center-back at the same time. Too many times has this thrown off Barcelona’s formation and made the team lose its balance, causing them to suffer from avoidable counter-attacks through the left-wing and the centre. Cortés either needs to shift his focus towards Melanie, who is a significant improvement in almost every area except pace or go shopping for a world-class left-back. The club outgrew Leila’s level a long time ago, and they simply do not have time to waste being held back by players who are not at the level that they need to be.
Speaking of Cortés, he has yet again demonstrated himself to be a weak coach in big matches, something culés have seen on more than a handful of occasions now. This time around, he fielded an extremely predictable starting XI- no formation changes, no surprises. When he does this, he gives his opponents an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, he seems content and even adamant in repeating his mistakes, and then doing nothing to fix them. He also seems apprehensive to own up to his shortcomings as a coach. Poor substitution choices, inadequate reading of the team’s needs and extreme predictability are all things he does that lower the level of Barcelona when it counts the most. As time has passed, Lluís has shown himself to be a more and more limited coach. If this trend continues, Barcelona will have to search elsewhere for a manager who can rise to the occasion, especially given the level of talent at their disposal.
Finally, it goes without saying that the refereeing in the women’s game is a disaster. VAR in major competitions should be one of the top priorities of women’s football, because the two penalties not called in Barcelona’s favor could have easily had a significant impact on the outcome of this match. Alexia practically being tackled in the box by Silvia Meseguer and a handball from Merel van Dongen were not called, despite the fact that van Dongen clearly extended her arm to prevent a cross into the area. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch, a handball was called against Andrea Pereira which gave Atléti the upper hand and nearly sent them through to the semifinals in regular time. Decisions like this are immensely frustrating, but at this point, poor refereeing is not a valid excuse when it’s pretty much a staple of Spanish football. The players should know by now that they need to expect major refereeing mistakes in big games. What really prevented them from winning was their shooting, which, similar to the Wolfsburg match, was absolutely unacceptable. Barcelona recorded 31 shots with 17 on target and had 5.4 expected goals but shockingly scored zero goals from open play. Atleti’s keeper Hedvig Lindahl is one of the greatest keepers to ever do it, but she has not played a match since August of last year. Their only goal came through a miracle free kick from Alexia Putellas, who yet again had to save Barcelona from crumbling.
The possible penalty on Alexia Putellas by Silvia Meseguer
The possible penalty from Merel van Dongen after a cross into the box hits her outstretched arm
It’s difficult to look at this match and not feel discouraged by a loss like this that was completely preventable. It felt exactly the way Wolfsburg did- all the team’s issues came to the forefront at the worst possible time, causing them to crash out of a tournament once again.
The club simply cannot afford to overlook this loss. The Supercopa is a relatively meaningless trophy, but it’s extremely telling that the first time Barcelona was legitimately challenged in a win-or-go-home match this season, they failed to put up any sort of fight. Until these problems are fixed to the point of near perfection, they are not serious about European success. It is not possible to put up a challenge to Lyon with so many glaring weaknesses in a team, let alone the likes of PSG, Chelsea, or Bayern.
Atléti let them off with a warning. The next time they face a bigger and better team, it will be a test whether or not they’re truly prepared to join the ranks of Europe’s top clubs, or whether they’ll continue to settle for being second, third, or fourth-best.