Our Guest Author: Kelsie Smith
Barça Femení kicked off the 2020/21 season on a high note, beating new rivals Real Madrid by 0–4 away from home, but in this preview, we look at the bigger picture and what there’s to expect from this campaign.
This summer has been a turbulent one for women’s football in Spain. After the RFEF suspended all 2019/20 non-professional football campaigns, it has been up in the air when the 2020/21 season would start, whether or not groups would be a factor, or if there would even be another league match played in the year 2020. Fortunately, last month, the RFEF was somehow competent enough to decide on a start date without having to separate the league in the groups, and the Primera Iberdrola and other competitions – like the still-unfinished 2019-20 Copa de la Reina – will finally make their return this week.
After their unprecedented success last season in Spain’s domestic competitions, Barça Femení enter this season with the same expectations as last year: that they will become the best team in Europe. We will look into how this team has changed since the previous season, what their new goals are, some players to look out for, and how they will approach the long season ahead.
Barcelona has had a very minimal transfer season, especially compared to other big teams in the league. For the most part, the team will continue with the same group of players with whom they went undefeated in the league and reached the Champions League semi-final.
Two players, Pamela Tajonar and Stefanie van der Gragt, left the team at the end of the season to go to EdF Logroño and Ajax, respectively. On the other hand, the club picked up 17-year-old Gio Queiroz from Madrid CFF B to play for Barcelona’s B team. They also introduced 19-year-old Spanish keeper Cata Coll into the squad after her successful loan spell at Sevilla, where she will be joining the team for the first time after being transferred in from UD Collerense in 2019.
Instead of signing any new first-team players, the club opted to promote and extend the contracts of multiple promising Barcelona B talents, including Laia Codina, Jana Fernández, Bruna Vilamala, Clàudia Pina, Carla Armengol, and Candela Andújar. The former 3 players stayed at the club and will be present in the first team for the season, whereas the latter 3 players have been loaned out to get first-team minutes elsewhere. Pina and Armengol have been sent to Sevilla and Andújar has been sent to Valencia, and the three players seem ready to at least be rotation players in their respective teams.
Like almost every recent season, Barcelona have come so close to full European dominance but fell short at the last second. Like every time after, they will be looking to avenge their defeat and push to win it all again.
The 2019/20 league season was cut short by COVID–19 after matchday 21, with the RFEF declaring Barça as the winners of the league for the first time in years. After going undefeated in that league campaign, Barcelona will try to repeat the same level of dominance – and they want to prove it on the pitch this time.
“I want to win again next season as well just to prove that it wouldn’t have mattered if there were 8 games left or not, that we can also win it when playing a whole season through”Caroline Graham Hansen, on her expectations for the new league season
In August, they continued their exploits in the Women’s Champions League, reaching the semi-finals and narrowly losing to Wolfsburg. This time around they will aim to go one step closer to the UWCL title and reach the final again as they did in 2019. After going toe-to-toe with European giants like Wolfsburg, PSG and Lyon, the footballers are confident in claiming that there is no gap in quality and that they have what it takes to finally win that trophy.
Photo by SERGIO PEREZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
It is not going to be easy, though: Barça Femení are going to play across five different tournaments throughout the season (considering the Copa de la Reina 19/20 still has to be completed) along with the league, Supercopa Femenina, Copa de la Reina 20/21, and Champions League. Player rotation will have to be managed very closely to prevent injuries and fatigue. Lluís Cortés has to be ready with a very set plan to keep the team winning and motivated.
The expectations for Barcelona this season are higher than they have ever been. Knowing how high their level is, there is no reason the players shouldn’t expect to win every competition and secure at least a treble.
Players to look out for
If Barcelona wants to keep hold of the league title along with winning other trophies this season, their crucial players need to stay fit and in-form. They will also have to rely on rotation, meaning the recently-promoted group of Barça B youngsters are likely to show their heads in some smaller matches and will be looking to prove themselves with their new opportunities.
So far, 2020 has been a breakout year for Barcelona’s second-captain Alexia Putellas. She could easily be considered the player of the campaign for 2019/20, owing to her creativity, dominance, and how she conducted herself in her newfound leadership role. She scored 10 goals and assisted another 12 goals as well as being the team’s best playmaker aside from her stat sheet.
Photo by Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images
When it comes to Alexia, it’s not just her numbers that position her above the rest, it’s her mental presence, reading of the game, and constant demand of greatness from herself and her teammates. Alexia will continue to show her importance to the team and will play a key role in Barcelona’s repeated search for a treble.
Caroline Graham Hansen
Last summer, Barcelona signed Caroline Graham Hansen from VfL Wolfsburg and she very quickly proved to be one of Barcelona’s best signings of the last five years. Hansen helped end Barcelona’s league title drought by balancing the right side and giving consistent, dominant performances, displaying her smarts and skill every time she played and eventually racking up 24 direct goal contributions in all competitions.
With the arrival of the Norwegian, Barça took a step further with their ambitions and are looking more of a complete team. If Barcelona wants to go deep into the final stages of the Champions League, it will be essential that Caroline Graham Hansen is fit and firing on all cylinders.
Last year, Barcelona’s first captain missed half the season due to injury and found a lot of difficulties getting back into the team when she fell down the pecking order upon recovery. It is not going to be easy to get ahead in Barça’s packed squad. With players like Mariona Calentey, Patri Guijarro, Aitana Bonmatí, Jennifer Hermoso and Kheira Hamraoui taking up space in midfield, it’s going to be a challenge for Vicky to prove to Lluis Cortés that she’s one of the best starting options. This could be the season where she can prove to her doubters that she has a lot left in the tank. Otherwise, this could be a make-or-break year for her role in Barcelona.
This summer, Laia Codina was one of the many Barça B talents who were promoted to the full team and had their contracts extended. Cortés also gave her the number 3, which seems like a serious statement of intent in his plans for the young defender.
Culés know how difficult it is for youth players to earn a place in the first team- it requires patience, hard work, and persistence along with a dedication to the club. Laia is a player who embodies all of these traits and is one of the players most deserving of a promotion. The former Barça B captain enters this season likely to be a rotation player for Mapi, who notoriously racks up the most minutes out of any player in the squad. This could very well be Laia’s breakout year if she takes advantage of her opportunities.
This season will have a new dynamic to the league altogether with the reconstruction of Atlético de Madrid and the introduction of Real Madrid Femenino. These matches will bring a new audience to the league, expand interest from the men’s side and possibly even form a new rivalry. With that in mind, here are three of our favourite rivalries to look out for.
Atlético de Madrid
For the past four seasons, the Spanish league title has come down to one of Atleti or Barcelona. Barça Femení’s rivalry with Atlético is a result of this constant back and forth battle between the two Spanish giants, and this season could be no different. These two teams always make for a stressful 90 minutes for both sets of fans, with the results usually determining who will finish the league as a winner. In recent seasons, Barça have managed to emerge victorious in almost all their ties against Atleti, notably winning 6–1 in their first league meeting last year. Atlético are looking to close the gap again since they struggled more than usual in last year’s domestic campaign.
The Rojiblancas have not beaten Barcelona since February 2019 – they have accumulated four defeats and a draw – which has undoubtedly pushed the club to look for new blood to pish for titles again. Atleti’s transfer window may have been the most active transfer window out of any other major European team. Italian defender Alia Guagni, English midfielder Jade Moore, Dutch defender Merel van Dongen and legendary Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl are just some of their many new signings and loanees who were brought in the summer. With such a new squad, Atlético could either be complete flops or make a serious challenge for the Spanish league title once again.
RCD Espanyol has had a turbulent past few years in the league. Their drop-in form hit rock bottom last season, and they were very lucky to escape slipping to the Reto Iberdrola when the RFEF decided there would be no relegations for 2019/20. Their 16th place finish was the worst they have ever had in club history, going winless in 21 games with 16 of those being losses.
In the offseason, Espanyol made multiple signings, had multiple departures, and replaced their coach in an attempt to keep the club out of the relegation zone. These signings include the addition of legendary Argentinian keeper Vanina Correa who will certainly prove useful to a team who struggled greatly in defense last year.
After a season as CD Tacónm Real Madrid are finally marking their presence in the highest category of Spanish women’s football. Their first match of the season, the first-ever women’s Clásico, was supposed to set the stage for the rest of their campaign – and Barcelona won by 0–4 on Sunday. At least, that was already an improvement to when they were demolished 9–1 by Barça on the first matchday last term.
Los Blancos have completely overhauled their squad this summer and have recruited multiple national / league talents in Misa Rodríguez, Teresa Abelleira, Ivana Andrés, Marta Corredera, Kenti Robles, Olga Carmona, Maite Oroz and Marta Cardona. Real Madrid Femenino will certainly push for a finish improving upon last year’s 10th place, and may even have ambitions to enter the top 3.
Barcelona players have made it more than clear that Spain’s real women’s rivalry is between Atlético and them, and that the rivalry between Barça Femení and Real Madrid Femenino is almost fully based on the men’s game. However, depending on how events go, this season could certainly mark the continuation of the Madrid v Barça rivalry in the women’s game. In the long run, Real Madrid are looking to match or even upstage Barça’s dominance in women’s football. This is going to be one of the rivalries to watch out for in the coming seasons.
8/11 | Levante (A)
11/11 | Atletico de Madrid Femenino (H)
19/12 | Sevilla (H)
31/1/21 – Real Madrid Femenino (H)
28/3/21 | Sevilla (A)
4/4/21 | Levante (H)
25/4/21 | Atlético de Madrid Femenino (A)
With more than 45 matches to play during the campaign, this is going to be one long season of football for Barça Femení. After taking a major leap in quality last season, the team will be looking to consolidate their position as the best team in Spain. The time has finally come for them to show that they are at the level of Europe’s greats on every possible stage.
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.