FC Barcelona Femení maintained their 100% record in the past month, winning their matches against Real Betis, Atlético Madrid, and Real Sociedad, scoring 13 goals and conceding only 1. Norwegian winger Caroline Graham-Hansen has proved to be integral to these wins, contributing 4 assists and leading the forward line against two tough teams, Atlético Madrid Femenino and Real Sociedad Femenino.
After winning the league, Supercup, and reaching a UWCL semifinal with Barcelona in her first season, she is determined to accomplish even more with the club. Her drive for success has shown through her consistent and ever-improving performances since the start of the new campaign. Caroline Graham-Hansen’s performances have been integral to Barcelona’s wins among a tough schedule, making her our November Player of the Month.
Primera Iberdrola – Real Betis Femenino (A) (31/10/2020): 0-5
- Minutes: 94
- Assist: 1
- Passes: 38
- Accurate Passes: 68%
- Key Passes: 5
- Chances Created: 3
- Successful dribbles: 70%
- Ball recoveries: 4
- Ball interceptions: 4
- Tackles won: 75%
Barcelona faced a tricky away trip to Sevilla after the international break to face a physical Real Betis team. Caroline Graham-Hansen was a constant threat on the right-hand side, dribbling past defenders to her liking and creating plenty of chances. Her famed partnership with Marta Torrejon also created plenty of headaches for Betis’s left side.
CGH’s attacking prowess straight out the gate set the tone for the entirety of the match, giving FCB Femení plenty of attacking momentum. She started the game brilliantly creating a goal-scoring chance within just the first minute. If not for a last-ditch clearance from the defender, the ball would have ended up in the net. She followed it with a powerful shot from just inside the box to the right side of the post which missed the goal by hardly a foot.
CGH picked Alexia out in the box with a short free-kick in the 32nd minute to put the game to bed. However, Alexia missed the opportunity by trying to assist another player instead of going for a goal. This happened again not soon after when Graham-Hansen started a mazy run on the right and picked out Aitana in the box who squandered another chance.
She continued to poke holes in Real Betis’s defense, who had no answer to her attacking play on the right. A moment of brilliance from Vicky Losada put Caro through on goal and her fine display was rewarded with a deflected shot ending in the back of the net. Her final act of brilliance came in the 88th minute with an assist to Jennifer Hermoso who finally broke the duck in the league with a close-range tap-in.
Primera Iberdrola – Atletico Madrid Femenino (H) (11/11/2020): 3-0
- Minutes Played: 92
- Passes: 47
- Assist: 2
- Accurate Passes: 79%
- Key Passes: 5
- Chances Created: 5
- Successful dribbles: 75%
- Ball recoveries: 2
- Ball interceptions: 2
- Tackles won: 33%
CGH played her next match when the Estadi Johan Cruyff hosted the biggest rivalry in Spanish women’s football, Barcelona vs Atlético Madrid. After two postponed games, Barça entered the game without playing any game for 10 days, leaving them rusty for one of the biggest matches of their season. A win against FCB Femení would have made the title race more interesting, but Caroline Graham-Hansen has different things in mind. Atlético Madrid ended up being yet another victim of the Norwegian’s fine attacking display.
CGH created the first clear chance of the game in the 5th minute with a fine dribble into the box, sending a cross towards the far post which resulted in a scramble in the box. After having an early reprieve from Cata’s saved penalty, Barcelona were on the front foot again with a solo run from Graham-Hansen that split Atléti’s defense and went out for a corner. These plays demonstrate the trend that most of Barca’s initial attacking plays come down the right side, and CGH is an integral part of that.
She made Atlético pay for their penalty miss in the 30th minute with a defense splitting pass to Patri, who controlled the ball and skipped past the challenge from the onrushing goalkeeper to give Barça the lead.As the game wore on, Barça lacked some width on the left side due to Mariona Caldentey playing more towards the inside, making Caro’s role in stretching Atleti’s defense even more integral.
Her creativity was called into action again in the 83rd minute when she spotted an unmarked Lieke Martens and put the ball on a plate for her to seal the victory for the Catalans.CGH was at her best when the team needed her to be as she created 5 chances and made 5 key passes along with two beautifully crafted assists.
Primera Iberdrola – Real Sociedad Femenino (H) (21/11/2020): 5-1
- Minutes: 85
- Assist: 1
- Passes: 46
- Accurate Passes: 67%
- Key Passes: 4
- Chances Created: 2
- Successful dribbles: 80%
- Ball recoveries: 2
- Ball interceptions: 2
- Tackles won: 67%
Barcelona faced Real Sociedad Femenino after another 10 more days without a match. This match had plenty of narratives. It was the first time since the 10-1 Supercopa Femenina final rout where the two sides met. It was a game between two friends, Lluís Cortés and Natalia Arroyo, two highly-rated coaches, and two former coworkers in the Catalan Women’s National Team. It was also the match week that Europe’s giants fell (Wolfsburg, Lyon) so all eyes were on Barcelona on the chance that they slipped up against a transformed Real Sociedad. The match ended up with a score to 5-1, but it started poorly and could have ended even worse if Barca didn’t capitalize on their chances in the first 20 minutes.
In the first half, Caroline Graham-Hansen worked hard to break a resolute Real Sociedad defense who didn’t give her any space on the right to exploit. Her defensive work rate was clearly evident in the first half as Barca were struggling to find an attacking rhythm since both of their goals weren’t really scored from clear-cut chances. In response to CGH’s presence on the right, Barcelona created a flurry of opportunities down the left using the other winger, Lieke Martens. However, they failed to capitalize on any of the chances.
Graham-Hansen started to cause danger towards the 60th-minute mark against Real Sociedad’s tired legs, combining well with the midfielders to create plenty of goal-scoring chances. She finally got her assist to Alexia with a cut-back pass.
Caroline Graham-Hansen was crucial to Barcelona’s winning ways this month, even more so than she usually is. As her Barcelona career goes on, she has only continued to improve in her chance creation, decision-making, goalscoring, and passing, and her performances this month made that even more evident. CGH continues to be one of the most vital figures of the Barcelona squad.
Stats Credit: InStat Football
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.