While Lieke Martens is many times seen as an overpublicised figure off the pitch, her contribution to FC Barcelona is actually undervalued.
Whether you follow women’s football or not, you have most likely come across the name Lieke Martens, one of the biggest female figures at FC Barcelona and the Netherlands national football team. Her claim to fame came three years ago when she became one of FCB Femení’s most highly-publicised signings as the team started to professionalise after a long period of domestic success.
The month after signing for Barça Femení, she was named the best player at the 2017 Women’s Euro for being a pivotal part of the Dutch side that won their first international trophy by defeating Denmark 4–2 in the final. Since officially joining the club, she earned the Best Women’s Player of the Year Award in 2017, helped Barcelona reach their first Champions League final, and was a major factor in the Netherlands reaching their first World Cup final last year.
Lieke has been at the forefront of all of her team’s accomplishments for the majority of her career, and yet she faces endless criticism regarding her productivity, output, and overall ability as a player. Some argue that Lieke Martens is an overrated player and that it is her marketability that makes her so highly-rated, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lieke is a player whose skill, talent and success is considered first when she is rightfully and often deemed one of the best players in the world.
This constant criticism towards her is not something that started recently. Some of the best women’s footballers have had a hard time facing similar situations in the past. Lieke, specifically, is often given the label of “overrated”. This clearly isn’t true – she has accomplished enough in her career to prove otherwise. Aside from her team performances, she’s one of the best forwards on the planet who can score and assist and dribble and create chances better and more beautifully than almost anyone else.
Lieke Martens, an international superstar | Photo by Gerrit van Keulen via Imago
Of course, any player thrust into the spotlight as abruptly and massively as Lieke was in 2017 is going to be subject to widespread criticism and be picked apart at every angle. However, in cases like her’s and Alex Morgan, for example, there’s a strange theme behind this criticism. Women in football who are more feminine presenting and highly marketed are taken less seriously.
Even in sports environments deemed more progressive than others, there’s still an aching tone of sexism that comes from overrated shouts that are so often directed towards conventionally attractive, feminine-presenting players. No matter how talented or how accomplished a player like Lieke may be, her ability will always be put into question because of the way she presents herself.
It plays into the pervasive idea that feminine women can’t be as talented or skilled at “masculine” activities unless they behave and dress in a masculine way. It perpetuates the same sexism that so many female footballers and fans speak out against daily. Instead of advocating for acceptance for all types of self-expression, some fans and players would rather make negative, belittling comments about how these players are trying to compensate for lack of talent by wearing makeup on the pitch or modeling for magazine covers.
These types of sentiments distract from the quality of so many players and instead focuses the conversation on their looks, the exact opposite of what needs to happen in women’s football.
Aside from the bouts of sexist comments that come from a lot of her critics, her role and her full career at Barcelona is often misunderstood as well. When Lieke arrived at Barca, she was a part of a small group of prolific players who knew signing up that they’d be a part of a major transitional phase at the club. The decision by the club to professionalize meant that they were going to focus on UWCL success equally or even more than domestic success.
Martens joined when many players were coming in and out, being moved around and being experimented with to see what stuck. At points, her support in front was below-par and at others she was injured or played out of position. It is worth asking what Lieke’s numbers would have been in terms of goal contribution if Jennifer Hermoso didn’t leave in 2017, or if Barcelona had better depth in forward positions. For her first two seasons, Barça weren’t nearly the same Barça they are today in terms of quality and stability.
Martens was an impactful signing for Barça Femení | Photo by Imago
Comparing Lieke’s productivity to that of the Norwegian international Carlione Graham Hansen from this season seems unfair too. Graham Hansen has better strikers and players around her with Jennifer Hermoso, Asisat Oshoala, and the full-back Marta Torrejón, who had her best season at the club to date. Particularly, Jenni and Asisat were the top scorers in Spanish Iberdrola this season.
Adding to this, Lieke partnered with left-back Leila, who isn’t much creative and supportive in the final third in the same way that Marta Torrejón is. Lieke didn’t have the chance to play more with the attack-minded Andrea Falcón as one of them was injured while the other was fit during this season. Despite all of these challenges and comparisons, Lieke has shined in many different team setups and positions, and her numbers at the club reflect that.
Numbers at Barcelona
Lieke Martens managed to rack up 20+ goal contributions in both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns. She scored 14 goals and assisted another 13 from 34 matches, or 2324 minutes, in all competitions in the 2017/18 term. The following season, she repeated the same numbers with 13 goals and 9 assists in fewer matches – 31 – and fewer minutes played – 1714.
Martens has the best dribbling success rate ( 63% ) among players in all competitions including the Spanish top-flight, the UEFA Women’s Champions League, and the Copa de la Reina. She attempts 12.67 dribbles every 90 minutes and successfully completes 7.9 dribbles out of them according to FutFem stats. These numbers validate how good and important she is to this Barcelona side.
Lieke Martens is one of the most complete technical wingers in women’s football. Having Lieke in the team gives a tactical superiority in the final third. She stays wide on the left side pulling defenders out of position thus giving the much-needed width for Barca’s attack and she has the ability to drift inside and go for the goal.
Lieke loses possession only 12.9% in the final third and has one of the best recoveries in the opposite half at 4.47 every 90 minutes ( almost 76% success ) according to the Wyscout stats engine. Her successful crosses stand at 37.7% and long passes at 61%, which is good when considering she plays mostly in the attacking third of the pitch.
The most important factor among all these stats, is how they translate to her success in important matches. She was one of the key players in deciding the outcome against Bayern Munich in the Champions League return leg which Barça won 1–0. She was brought down in the penalty area giving the much-needed penalty to settle down the nerves in the dugout. Her playmaking skills and technical astuteness played an important role in Barcelona reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
Despite being injured for most of the 2019/20 season, Lieke Martens was only behind Alexia Putellas and Caroline Graham Hansen when it comes to the number of assists. She amassed a total of 2 goals and 8 assists in all competitions for Barcelona this season after only being at full strength for one or two months. She was getting better and better after each game until the COVID–19 break.
Specifically, her recent performance against Atlético de Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final is an example of what she has to offer when she’s linking up with her teammates in the right position at full strength. She still has time to deliver the goods in the UWCL knock-stages which restarts on August 21 and prove why she is the vital cog of this team.
Yes, Lieke Martens has her own clothing brand and she is the female face of most Barcelona advertisements and kit drops, but her marketing power shouldn’t take away from her performances and her ability as a player. These criticisms aren’t going to stop Lieke from performing at her best. With a much-improved front three, healthy legs, and better finishers in front of her, this coming UWCL campaign and domestic season are going to see the best version of Lieke Martens to date. If everything goes as expected, Lieke Martens is soon going to prove to her doubters and naysayers that she is still the best in business.
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.