With just three games needed to be crowned Women’s Champions League winners, this is the match preview of Friday’s quarter-finals duel between Atlético Madrid de Femenino and Barça Femení.
Date and kick-off time: Friday 21 August 2020, 18:00 CET
Stadium: San Mamés, Bilbao, Spain
Competition: UEFA Women’s Champions League, quarter-finals
After almost six months of waiting, FC Barcelona Femení are finally back on the pitch this week for the biggest match of their season so far. The blaugranas‘ UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign will resume in the quarter-finals against their Spanish rivals Atlético de Madrid Femenino.
On Friday, the Primera División rivals will meet for the fourth time this season, and the rojiblancas will surely be aching for a win after being completely swept this term by their Catalan rivals. Atleti were taken apart in a 6–1 defeat by Barcelona earlier in the campaign, in a series of results that didn’t improve much when they drew Barcelona 0–0 at home and then narrowly lost 2–3 in the Supercopa Femenina semi-finals.
Following the COVID–19 pandemic, Barcelona were 9 points clear in the league and were given the title after the RFEF chose to cancel all non-professional leagues. This decision was lamented by Atleti, who finished their domestic season without a trophy for the first time in years.
This past season isn’t the only bit of recent history between the two clubs. In recent ears, the rivalry between the Spanish giants has attracted a lot of attention, most notably because their second league meeting in the 2018/19 course set a world record for attendance at a women’s football match. Both sides have gone back and forth with domestic title success for the past half-decade, sharing the Primera División and Copa de la Reina titles between them season after season.
Domestic rivalry will be translated to the continental stage for the first time | Photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP via Getty Images
Rivalries aside, meeting on this scale is a major landmark for Spanish women’s football, for it will be the first time two Spanish teams have made it to the quarter-finals of the Women’s Champions League in the same campaign and the first-ever match between two Spanish sides. Additionally, the match will be played in Spain at San Mamés, Bilbao, so both teams will be playing on familiar ground in their home countries.
“I don’t know if it favours or hurts us, but what is clear is that it conditions us. There are good and bad things but we are prepared for this type of games. External factors don’t affect us, but the margin for error is slighter”
Barça coach on the new format of the Women’s Champions League
This summer, Barcelona has retained almost the exact same team from the last season with the exception of Stefanie van der Gragt and Pamela Tajonar, who departed the club. Instead of making signings, the club decided to replace the players by promoting Laia Codina, Jana Fernández and Bruna Vilamala from the B team and introducing keeper Cata Coll after her loan at Sevilla. Overall, the team looks fairly balanced and settled in defence, midfield and attack.
There has been some talk that they should reinforce their defence, but otherwise, they look to be one of the favourites to win the title with a star-studded line-up including Mapi León, Alexia Putellas, Lieke Martens, Caroline Graham Hansen, Jennifer Hermoso and Asisat Oshoala. The latter four make up a lethal frontline which has the potential to cause trouble for any European team.
Atleti, on the other hand, has gone in the complete opposite direction with their summer transfer window. Some of their most important starters left the team, including their star goalkeeper Lola Gallardo, Olga García, Sari van Veenendaal and Kenti Robles. Virginia Torrecilla is also out indefinitely as she recovers from the removal of a brain tumor.
In turn, Atlético made some quality additions with the signings of Merel van Dongen, Alia Guagni, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Jade Moore, Turid Knaak, Grace Kazadi, Deyna Castellanos, Emelyne Laurent and Hedvig Lindahl. The major overhaul in the colchoneras‘ line-up was focused on strengthening the defence and replacing the vacant keeper position while the midfield and attack remain almost the same.
“We don’t know what we will encounter. This reinforces the idea of focusing on ourselves and our weapons. All we could do now are just hypotheses”
Preseason was going well for Atleti until one of their staff tested positive for COVID–19, forcing the club to suspend the friendly against Athletic Club. To add salt to the wound, this past week Atleti released a statement in which they announced that they were halting training after five players tested positive for coronavirus. The team returned to training four days ahead of the quarter-final clash but with little to no preseason matches to build team chemistry after a major squad overhaul. Silvia Meseguer, Deyna Castellanos, Charlyn Corral, Laia Aleixandri and Leicy Santos are the five players who tested positive for COVID–19, almost all of which are major figures in the Atleti squad.
With UEFA’s new rule for which the clubs can register six new players for the knockout stages of the Women’s Champions League, Atlético has chosen to register Lindahl, Laurent, Guagni, Van Dongen, Moore, and Knaak, leaving Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Deyna and Kazadi out of the squad. Ludmila will also be out of the squad for the quarter-finals for yellow card accumulation. The team selection is surely going to be a headache for coach Dani González, considering the number of players they have had to register that have no competitive experience with the team.
What can we expect?
Barca will likely try to impose themselves and dictate the game early. This will be done by deploying their usual 4–3–3 formation, with a standard backline of Leila Ouahabi, Mapi, Andrea Pereira and Marta Torrejón, and Patri Guijarro holding the midfield as a pivot. Alexia and one of Aitana Bonmatí or Jenni will most likely play ahead of Patri to feed the attackers ahead of them.
Lluís Cortés can also go with a 4–2–3–1 formation with a double pivot consisting of Alexia Putellas and Patri. In this scenario, Jennifer Hermoso, Caroline Graham Hansen and Lieke Martens would be behind giving support to the lone striker up top, Asisat Oshoala. The bench strength of Barcelona looks stronger as well with the likes of Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmatí, Kheira Hamraoui, Vicky Losada and Ana-Maria Crnogorčević.
Atlético de Madrid will be greatly conditioned by absences | Photo by Denis Doyle via Getty Images
Because of their thin forward pool, Atlético will go heavy in either midfield or defence, likely with a 4–4–2 formation. This will be to minimise the damage that Barcelona’s forwards and midfielders can cause and to counter using Laurent and Toni Duggan. Barça’s quality in the final third and the much better preseason they had will prove to be a major factor in deciding this match.
Barcelona have a curious situation with how they will line up their forwards and midfielders. By this point, Lieke Martens, Caroline Graham Hansen, Asisat Oshoala, Alexia Putellas and Patri Guijarro are all guaranteed starters. Assuming Barcelona keep a 4–3–3, this leaves the starting position in midfield to go to one of Jenni Hermoso, Aitana Bonmatí, or even Kheira Hamraoui or Mariona Caldentey. Cortés could follow through with any of these four players depending on his game plan. This would be their XI at full strength:
Torrejón · Mapi León · Pereira · Leila
Alexia Putellas · Patri · Jennifer Hermoso
Martens · Oshoala · Caroline Graham Hansen
Coach: Lluís Cortés
Atlético de Madrid
Predicting an Atleti starting XI is difficult due to their drastically different squad and notable absences. Atlético also has many players registered that haven’t had any game time whatsoever in a full starting line-up. This is the best guess at how they would set up at full strength_
Strom · Tounkara · Menayo · Van Dongen
Sampedro · Moore · Knaak · Sosa
Duggan · Laurent
Coach: Dani González
Players to watch out for
Lieke Massed missed half of the previous season due to a toe injury that she suffered with the Netherlands at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Her return to the pitch in early 2020 was marked by a Player of the Match performance against none other than Atlético de Madrid in the Supercopa Femenina semi-final. In the weeks that followed she returned to full form and clicked very well on the left with Asisat Oshoala and Alexia Putellas. Lieke is fully fit now and hungrier than ever, something she mentioned in an interview to Barça TV earlier this month.
“The Champions League is a very beautiful tournament and in nine days you can win it. UEFA has done well to be the same for boys and girls. It’s great to have kept the team, last year it was very good. The group dynamics are good and with just following you can continue to learn. All last year I was able to play a few games. Now I have a fresh head and I want to win everything I can”
The Dutch star has some unfinished business when it comes to the Women’s Champions League and she will be playing a key role in getting the trophy to home to Barcelona.
When Alexia last played a competitive match, it was with Spain at the 2020 She Believes Cup. Her elite performances against Japan, England and the USA earned her the award for tournament MVP ahead of players like Christen Press and Julie Ertz. Prior to that, she was on fire with Barcelona and was one of their most instrumental players on the pitch. Barça co-captain’s return to play will surely be something to look forward to.
Oshoala was one of the breakout players in Europe this past season. Her staggering 20 league goals took Spain by storm as she finally started to establish herself as a regular starter for the team. Oshoala’s stats for the month of February 2020 are bizarre: she played in 6 matches across three competitions, scored in every match, and scored twelve goals in total, including three braces and a hat-trick. She hasn’t let up in preseason either and has been deadly up top in the striker position. Asisat seems more than ready to show up big this week.
English striker Toni Duggan has a lot to prove in this match against her former team. After feeling unsatisfied with Barcelona’s mentality following last year’s Champions League final, she opted for a move to Atlético de Madrid. In her first season with the Madrid-based club she scored six total goals, a steep drop from her 15 total goals with Barcelona in the 2018/19 campaign.
Toni Duggan will be facing her former side once again | Photo by Denis Doyle via Getty Images
However, when the time came and the clubs reunited in the Supercopa Femenina, she showed up to score Atleti’s first goal in a match that ended in a 3–2 loss against her former club. Duggan remains one of Atleti’s few forwards that have gone unaffected by suspension, a COVID diagnosis, or UEFA’s eligibility rules, so the team will be counting on her to show up.
Atlético de Madrid
Last 5 games in the UEFA Women’s Champions League: WDDWL
Atlético de Madrid 2–1 vs Manchester City | 30 October 2019 | UWCL Round of 16
Manchester City 1–1 Atlético de Madrid | 16 October 2019 | UWCL Round of 16
Atlético de Madrid 1–1 Spartak Subotica | 26 September 2019 | UWCL Round of 32
Spartak Subotica 2–4 Atlético de Madrid | 12 September 2019 | UWCL Round of 32
Atlético de Madrid 0–6 VfL Wolfsburg | 31 October 2018 | UWCL Round of 16
Last 5 games in the UEFA Women’s Champions League: WWWWL
ZFK Minsk 1–3 Barça Femení | 30 October 2019 | UWCL Round of 16
Barça Femení 5–0 ZFK Minsk | 17 October 2019 | UWCL Round of 16
Barça Femení 2–1 Juventus | 25 September 2019 | UWCL Round of 32
Juventus 2–0 Barça Femení | 11 September 2019 | UWCL Round of 32
Barça Femení 1–4 vs Olympique Lyonnais | 18 May 2019 | UWCL final
• Barça have the longest winning streak of matches between the two sides with six between 3 February 2013 and 16 November 2014
• Barcelona have kept 14 clean sheets in all prior meetings while Atlético have kept 8 clean sheets
• Sonia Bermúdez is the only Barcelona player to score a hat-trick against Atletico, which she did in the 2013 Copa de la Reina semi-finals
• Asisat Oshoala has scored 4 goals in 342 minutes for Barcelona against Atlético de Madrid
• Barça have won by a margin of 3 goals or more in 6 of their matches against Atleti
• Barça have won 5 out of 7 knockout matches against Atlético de Madrid Femenino, including the Copa de la Reina and Supercopa Femenina
A poorly prepared Atleti will be tested against the best team in Spain in a high-pressure match. Though the odds are against them, it will be a highly competitive match that will be huge for Spanish women’s football and could very well be a preview of what’s to come in the 2020/21 league season.
No distance between Barça and glory: A new era for Barça Femení
After years of growing in leaps and bounds, Barça Femení already belongs to the European elite: this is the new era of Barcelona’s women’s team.
“No hay distancia” [There’s no distance]. The powerful words of Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas couldn’t be any closer to the truth. It could be written off as just emotions getting the best of her following the team’s heartbreaking 1–0 loss to Wolfsburg in the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, but anyone who has been following this side for at least a few seasons knows that she in fact makes a good point and that her words hold some volume to them.
“The small details make the difference. We have had many chances. In the end, we haven’t been able to score and thus we go back home. We have had opportunities, but we couldn’t convert them”Alexia Putellas, after the 1–0 loss against Wolfsburg
As a fan and follower of the Primera Iberdrola and the team since 2015, I want to give a brief perspective and a slightly in-depth look into as to how far Barça Femení has really come in recent years just from what I have seen.
My love for Barça came when I was just a little girl just starting to play club football and I had a coach who was Dutch and he was a huge admirer of Johan Cruyff. Yes, Johan Cruyff the Dutch and Barça legend who even went on to manage the club later on after his playing career was over.
So after watching highlight videos of his constantly and learning more about the history of the club I quickly fell in love with everything the blaugrana signifies. I had no clue until 2015 that they even had a women’s team that had been founded in 1988, ten years before I was born.
Following the women’s team back in 2015 from abroad was quite hard as games weren’t streamed as often as they are now and social media especially wasn’t a big thing yet. I had to rely on Google just to keep up to date with their results and just hope they were accurate.
Fast forward to now, games are streamed more frequently or shown on TV and social media has become a pillar of how the team is marketed given their recent growth in popularity outside of Spain. As of now, they have over 300,000 followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Instagram, which is just proof of the teams recently gained popularity.
Shortly after I started following Barça Femení they went on to win the 2014/15 Primera División, which brought their league titles count to four and officially became a professional team in 2015. After that, the team went on to finish second in the league for four consecutive seasons and won only two Copa de la Reina titles in that time. Atlético de Madrid proved themselves as worthy rivals of Barça in that time as they dominated in Spain for the last three seasons. It wasn’t until the 2018/19 season that the headway the club was beginning to make became more noticeable.
The climb all started in July 2018, when Stanley Black & Decker became the official main sponsor of the women’s team and they now adorn the Stanley logo on the front of their jersey. The team named Lluís Cortés as their new head coach in January 2019, which proved to be crucial for the team.
They followed that up with an impressive feat as they defeated Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the 2018/19 UEFA Women’s Champions League, which sent them to their first-ever final of the prestigious tournament. A moment I will never forget as a fan and one I am sure that the players won’t be forgetting in a hurry either.
There is no longer distance between Barça Femení and the best continental sides | Photo by Gabriel Bouys via Getty Images
They faced a tough task in the final though as they came up against a dynasty in Lyon who had already won the tournament the past three consecutive seasons. This proved to be too much for Barça who ended up losing 4–1 on the day, but nonetheless there was still a lot to be proud of following a historic season. A historic season that saw them become the first women’s Spanish team to ever reach the UEFA Women’s Champions League final and all in the same historic season where they beat Atlético de Madrid 2–0 in front of a record crowd of 60,739 spectators at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium. A world record for a club match in women’s football.
After a brief break for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Barça picked up right where they left off and started the 2019/20 season in some fashion as they beat CD Tacón [now rebranded as Real Madrid Femenino] 9–1 in their brand new stadium, the Estadi Johan Cruyff [Johan Cruyff Stadium].
The team dominated the league and ended the season a bit prematurely due to the coronavirus global pandemic, but as undefeated champions nonetheless. They also beat Real Sociedad to win the Supercopa de España Femenina, which was reinstalled for the 2019/20 campaign.
In Europe, they beat Juventus, FC Minsk and Atlético de Madrid on their way to face the German giants in women’s football, Wolfsburg, in the semi-finals. A semi-final game that saw some controversial calls and non-calls made by the ref fly under the radar due to the teams not making the most of the goalscoring opportunities they had, where Wolfsburg made the most of their lack of opportunities and won the game 1–0. As true football fans know, that’s the way it goes sometimes.
However, many things stand out from that game. The main thing is that Barça are no longer a type of underdog team due to their lack of experience in the competition, but that they are a force to be reckoned with. No longer are they a team that goes out onto the pitch wanting only to just be able to compete with other teams, but a team that plays to win and be the best even if they might not be the favourite.
“I would change none of our players for one of the rivals. The team is hurt, but we know that we must keep growing and the next time this won’t happen”ALEXIA PUTELLAS, AFTER THE 1–0 LOSS AGAINST WOLFSBURG
Their play throughout the 2019/20 term signals that this is clearly the mentality of the team and Alexia Putellas’ words shine light on that. The only direction Barça is heading is up and it is only a matter of time before glory is theirs for the taking, because, as Alexia said, there is no distance. Not anymore.