Alexia Putellas has been performing as possibly the best midfielder in the world in the past months, but in October she rose to a different level as the best player of the month for Barça Femení.
Upon beginning the 2020/21 season, Barça Femení have started off their campaign flawlessly in both the league and the Copa de la Reina. Aside from all four of their matches being victories, they have completely and utterly dominated their competition with 22 goals scored and zero conceded. Every individual player has done their part in contributing to this dominance, but the team has taken such a commanding lead largely due to the consistent, near-perfect performances from our October Player of the Month, Alexia Putellas.
2020 has already been a huge breakout year on an individual level for the midfielder. The entire year, she has been playing the best football of her life for both club and country. October, in particular, has been her best month of 2020 from a statistics standpoint: she has 3 goals and 3 assists in four games. We will be looking at a match-by-match analysis that breaks down her scoring, passing, movement, and all the other elements that have made this October such a successful month for her.
Alexia bagged 3 goals in 3 Primera Iberdrola games in October for Barça Femení, while also scoring a goal and assisting another for the Spanish National Team last Friday. The Catalan playmaker is completely on fire in every game she plays in and arguably claiming to be the best midfielder in the world right now.
Primera Iberdrola | Real Madrid Femenino (A) (4/10/2020): 0–4
- Minutes: 90
- 1 Goal
- 1 Assist
The defending champions started their new season in style by winning 4–0 against the newly-established Real Madrid Femenino, formerly known as CD Tacón. Similarly to last year’s season opener, Alexia Putellas was once again the protagonist against Los Blancos with both a goal and an assist.
Alexia’s first direct goal involvement of the season was assisting Barça’s first-ever goal in the women’s Clásico. Alexia waited towards the corner of the box to send in a through ball to Patri Guijarro, who then scored on the edge of the box to find the back of the net for the first time in the historic fixture.
In the 20th minute, she pulled the trigger from the edge of the box with a rocket of a shot that would’ve surely lengthened Barcelona’s lead if not for an equally outstanding save from Misa Rodríguez. She then unlocked the defence yet again with a defence-splitting pass to Marta Torrejón in the 22nd minute, but the latter missed scoring from point-blank range. Alexia created all sorts of danger for Real Madrid Femenino. She rounded off her excellent performance with a well-deserved goal in the 75th minute. Alexia preyed around the box and slid the ball past Misa after a pinpoint cross from Caroline Graham Hansen to make it 0–3.
Against Real Madrid, most of Barça’s attacks came through the left (6 shots), which indicates that Alexia was one of the key players in terms of chance creation. In addition to that, she completed 3 successful dribbles along with as many shots on target. Alexia started off her season with an excellent game, setting a precedent for her performances later in the month.
Copa de la Reina semi-finals | Sevilla Femenino (H) (8/10/2020): 6–0
- Minutes: 63
- 1 Assist
After playing the full 90 minutes against Madrid, Alexia started the Copa de la Reina semi-final encounter with Sevilla. The Catalan was once again the catalyst for the team and spent her 63 minutes moving forward, breaking lines, and being a constant threat on the pitch.
It didn’t take Alexia long to find herself on the scoresheet yet again when she assisted a Caroline Graham Hansen goal in the 18th minute. After Patri stole the ball back from a Sevilla defender, Alexia moved away from pressure and sent a perfectly weighted, line-breaking diagonal pass to Caroline Graham Hansen who was just outside the box. Graham Hansen performed an elegant dribble move past three defenders and slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Alexia’s vision was again in full effect when she sent a no-look through ball in the way of Caroline Graham Hansen, who rounded up Barça’s second goal. Again, in the 25th minute, when Barça countered Sevilla following a corner, Alexia got into the box as a centre-forward ahead of Asisat Oshoala. However, Caroline Graham Hansen picked out Torrejón, who put the ball wide of the right side of the post. These two plays demonstrate their chemistry with each other. Alexia’s connection with Graham Hasen – arguably Barcelona’s first or second-best player – has been crucial in goal creation and attacking momentum this season.
Along with being pivotal in playmaking, Alexia showed herself to be more prone to getting in the box and looking for scoring opportunities. This match is yet another example of Alexia being an all-around player in build-up, goal creation, and goalscoring.
Primera Iberdrola | EdF Logroño (H) (11/10/2020): 6–0
- Minutes: 24
- 1 Goal
Alexia Putellas was on the bench against Logroño to make way for captain Vicky Losada, who got her first start of the season in this match. Barcelona were cruising past the opponents with a scoreline of 4–0 when Alexia was subbed in for Vicky in the 67th minute. Alexia widened Barca’s lead when she scored their fifth goal out of six, a strike from within the box after a swift buildup sequence.
Barcelona’s fifth goal was a fluid, well-worked goal involving 8 players with 9 passes between them. Alexia was positioned in the midfield leading up to the goal, always keeping herself open for a pass. When the ball advanced upfield thanks to an excellent dribble from Jana Fernández, Alexia started to make a run up the centre. No player marked her entry into the box because the focus stayed on Graham Hansen, and Alexia timed her run perfectly and slotted in neatly between the two centre-backs to find the ball and score.
In addition to Alexia’s goal, Vicky bagged one of her own and Aitana scored a brace. Since the loss against Wolfsburg, the midfielders have been getting into the box to contribute to scoring much more often. It became clear in the Women’s Champions League semi-final that the team had poor effectiveness in front of goal, and thankfully, almost every player seems to be making progress in that regard. Alexia particularly is leading by example with a refined finishing technique and an increased proclivity to get into the box.
Primera Iberdrola | Huelva (A) (18/10/2020): 6–0
- Minutes: 90
- 1 Goal
- 1 Assist
Barça Femení visited a notoriously difficult ground in La Orden to face Huelva on Matchday 3. Alexia started the match and was once again crucial to Barca’s win by scoring a goal and assisting another during her fine display.
Alexia frequently advanced into the box in the first half of the game, switching positions with Lieke Martens on the left side of the pitch. In the photo below, Alexia sends in a perfectly timed through ball, dissecting the defence for Martens. However, Martens’ first touch was a bit heavy and the defence took care of it quickly.
At the 39th minute, Alexia picked the ball on the left of the pitch, dribbled past a player, settled towards the end of the box, and sent a long-range lob shot that chipped the keeper on its way into the net. This goal took serious technical skill to finish off and is probably one of the best goals of her career. Alexia is becoming even more lethal inside the box than she used to be, and given how clinical she’s been from both long and short-range, she could be on track to beat her single-season league goal record of 16.
During the build-up, Alexia’s positioning and link-up play with Mapi León were crucial again in Barcelona’s success. She got herself in between players and constantly asked for the ball to break the defensive structure of the opponent. Alexia once again found her name on the stat sheet with her assist to Bruna Vilamala, who scored her first senior-team goal in the 78th minute. This was another well-worked team goal with 15 touches involving 8 Barça players. The sequence ended when Alexia shook off her defender and sent in the assisting pass straight to Bruna Vilamala’s feet.
In addition to her performances with Barcelona, Alexia put up yet another stellar performance for the Spanish national team with a ridiculous volley goal and an assist to cap off one of the finest months of her career. Alexia has already been having a phenomenal 2020, but consistent, dominating performances like those we saw this month only solidify her reputation as one of the best players in the world with unlimited potential to get even better.
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.