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.
FCB Femeni’s January Player of the Month: Alexia Putellas
Another month down, another couple of wins for FCB Femeni. The team is in smooth sailing towards their second consecutive league title with an otherworldly wins-only season, including 73 goals scored and only 3 conceded. January was a rough month for the Catalan team, however, as they faced multiple match cancellations due to both a freak snowstorm and COVID-19 positives alongside an early Supercopa Femenina exit. Aside from the many downs, there were plenty of positives. FCB Femeni played a history-making match at the Camp Nou, the team’s first competitive match in the iconic stadium, and they dominated in a resounding 5-0 win against local rivals Espanyol Femeni. Later in the month, they smashed Rayo Vallecano Femenino 7-0, and at the end of January, they won the second-ever El Clasico Femenino against Real Madrid, scoring 4 at the Estadi Johan Cruyff.
Given the many iconic moments in this month alone, it was never going to be an easy choice. Plenty of players showed up big this month. Asisat Oshoala seems to have returned to form after a rough few months, scoring four goals and having many quality performances aside from her goalscoring. Melanie Serrano has had one of her best seasons in recent memory, and her performances this month were no exception. But if there was one player who came in clutch and made history, it was Alexia Putellas. She started the year strongly by being the first-ever woman to score a competitive goal at the Camp Nou. Her free kick in the dying minutes of the Supercopa Femenina saved Barcelona from going out in regular time against Atletico Madrid. At the end of the month, she drew first blood in the second-ever Clasico, imposing herself against Los Blancos with relative ease. Aside from her goalscoring, she once again had multiple dominant performances in terms of her assisting, passing, and attacking play. Once again, Alexia Putellas is deservedly our player of the month for January.
Primera Iberdrola – RCD Espanyol Femeni (Camp Nou) (6/1/2021): 5-0
• Minutes: 90
• 1 Goal
January 6th marked a historic day for Barcelona as they entered the Camp Nou pitch for the first time after 50 years. The Blaugranas started the game on a bright note with Alexia dictating the play. At the 4th minute of the game, Alexia had a tame shot at the goal following a cut-back from Melanie Serrano. As the shots racked up in the beginning minutes, it looked like Barca would follow this season’s pattern of scoring an early goal. However, Barca were devoid of any clear cut chances after that, and Espanyol started to grow defensively as time went on.
The second big chance fell to Alexia Putellas in the 43rd minute after a cutback this time from Patri following a beautiful couple of moves inside the box. Again, Alexia’s shot was too weak with her right foot and it found the hands of the goalkeeper. However, Alexia made up for her misses when the turning point of the game came in the 45th minute. During a stoppage-time corner, Alexia raced past the marker to head the ball into the far corner of the net, giving Barca some much-needed breathing room going into the half-time. Barca cruised to victory in the second half with a scoreline of 5-0 after goals from Melanie Serrano, Marta Torrejon, Lieke Martens, and Ana Maria Crnogocevic, which ended any hopes of a comeback for the local rivals.
Spanish Supercopa Femenino: Semi Finals – Atletico Madrid Femenino (A) (13/1/2021): 1-1 ( 3-1 PT)
• Minutes: 120
• Goals: 1
Barca played Atléti in the Spanish Supercup semifinal on January 13th. Both the teams were going into the game after Spain’s freak snowstorm, “Filomena,” canceled all the league’s Madrid-based weekend matches. Atlético Madrid announced the re-hiring of manager Dani Gonzalez on the eve of the matchday, sparking a lot of excitement going into the game. The game followed a similar pattern to that of the one played in August when Barça defeated Las Colchoneras to clinch a spot in the UWCL semifinals. As expected, Atleti defended with 9 women at the back and played long balls to Ludmila whenever they had a chance to counter.
Even though Barcelona dominated the game, they failed to score and paid for their lack of effectiveness when Atléti were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute. Merel van Dongen then converted it to give Madrid the advantage. It looked like everything was lost until the 90th minute when Alexia was brought down at the edge of the box. Although it looked like Barcelona was going to lose in regular time, the midfielder had other ideas and took matters into her own hands. Alexia scored a sublime free-kick past a diving Hedvig Lindahl who, until then, was keeping Barca at bay for 90 excellent minutes. In the end, it was not enough for Barca as they paid the price for not converting their chances, also being kept down by some harsh refereeing decisions not going their way. The Catalans ended up losing to Atléti on penalty kicks and were knocked out of the tournament, thereby missing their first possible title of the year.
Primera Iberdrola – Rayo Vallecano (H) (20/1/2021): 7-0
• Minutes: 72
• Goals: 2
FCB Femeni came into the game after their tough semifinal loss to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercup, hoping to get back into their rhythm. Barça scored an early goal inside 5 minutes after Alexia’s header was parried into the feet of Jennifer Hermoso. After the first goal, it was one-way traffic for the home side as they punctured Rayo’s defense with another 3 goals- Alexia being the catalyst of each of them.
Alexia scored her first goal of the game following Melanie’s cross. She stayed in position and gracefully chipped over the keeper’s head to double Barca’s lead. She remained a key part of the midfield in tracking back and dictating the entirety of the half and scored her second goal following a well-worked team move. In the 40th minute of the game, Asisat Oshoala was sent through by Jennifer Hermoso, and Asisat teed up Caroline Graham-Hansen to score from close range. However, Hansen’s shot was blocked and the ball fell into the path of Alexia for an easy tap-in. Barça easily swept past mid-table Rayo to remain top of the table after the matchday.
Primera Iberdrola – Real Madrid (H) (31/1/2021): 4-1
• Minutes: 87
• Goals: 1
• Second Assists:1
Barça faced their new league rival Real Madrid Femenino in the last game of the month, 11 days after their match against Rayo due to multiple match cancellations. This was expected to be a totally different game compared to their first encounter, as Los Blancos have grown into the league and were occupying the second-place position at the time. All the match previews indicated that Real Madrid were in great form, recording only 3 losses in 15 games, with a much more balanced and cohesive team than their first game against the Blaugranas. Additionally, if the team from Spain’s capital won at the Estadi Johan Cruyff, they would’ve gone to the top of the league.
The match started with Real Madrid and Barcelona both going on the offense and trying to assert themselves. Despite Madrid entering the match bravely and attacking well, Barcelona scored first just 14 minutes into the match. Once again, it was the captain, Alexia Putellas, who kicked it off for the Catalan team. Alexia was intuitive in collecting the ball at the edge of the box and scoring a blistering strike to the top left of the net that Misa Rodriguez struggled to get a hand on. From then, it was a similar pattern as the first Clásico, and Barça advanced to a 3 goal lead by the end of the first half. The match proved that Madrid’s women have improved a lot, but they were never a match to the 2019-20 champions as Barca ran out winners 4-1 at the end of full-time.
When Alexia is fit and firing, there isn’t a way to stop her from creating chances and scoring goals. After her breakout out season last year, she’s continued her form and is having yet another world-class season. Alexia only continues to get better and better, and with a lot of important competitions in the next few months, her performances will be integral to the success of the club.