Tuesday night, in front of a crowd of nearly 39,454—a new record for Italy in a women's match- At the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Barcelona Femeni were called upon to make a substitution. Spain's best women's team started their journey through the knockout stages of the Champions League with a big lead with a 1-0 victory over Roma, a team that is going from strength to strength in the middle of a fantastic season.
Everything beyond the finish linesuggest it was a typically dominant Barça performance: 63 percent possession, 10 shots on target for an insane number of 34, and 101 tackles. The hosts, meanwhile, only managed four shots on target for a total of 10. But the end result is how we go about it, and a hard-fought 1-0 win, even away from home, falls short of expectations - Barça last won by one goal in January 2022.
The first half hour was goalless as usual as Mapi León, Aitana, Salma Paralluelo, Caroline Graham Hansen (who is at the back), Asisat Oshoala and Lucy Bronze failed to convert any of the seven good ones - they were given great chances. Barça only broke after 33 minutes when Paralluelo, the 19-year-old who for my money is the future best striker in Europe, connected with a beautiful strike from the edge of the box.
For much of the second half, things stayed the same as Oshoala had five chances of varying quality in 20 minutes - one of which inspired a brilliant reflexive save by Roma goalkeeper Camelia Ceasar, while another was cleared from the line by a defender and two who definitely should have been be targets. Although León saved Barça with a stunning close-range block from Roma's top scorer Valentina Giacinti, even on an off-night the second (or perhaps even third) goal looked certain to find the net and tie both the score and the positions as expected .
But behind a relentless counterattack that forced León, Irene Paredes, Bronze and Keira Walsh into repeated defensive sprints and desperate tackles, Roma changed everything - except the score. In the two minutes that started just before the 70th minute, Sandra Paños was forced to make several defensive saves. Then, in Manuel Giugliano's 83rd game, he hit a racket from around 23 meters which had to be pushed over the crossbar. Finally, in the last minute of added time, a clever set-piece set-up freed Giacinti for another shot on target, this time from eight yards, also saved by Paños.
In any case, Barça were understandably expected to overcome the draw relatively comfortably. But when Hansen not only gets back into action and wastes no time reminding the world exactly who he is...
... one could be forgiven for expecting a decisive outcome in Rome. DownBlaugranaleaving with less than they wanted while still clearly dominating is a good reflection of the team's current place in the women's game.
Irecent article for The Athletic, Michael Cox has drawn a rich vein that is the defeat of Paris Saint-Germain men's team in the Champions League. The first paragraph of the article briefly outlines the trades players make when deciding to play for PSG:
When you sign for Paris Saint-Germain, you have to accept that a few games this spring will decide whether you win or lose your season. The Ligue 1 title tally is considered a formality. It's really about the Champions League.(Video) The Crawl - Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham (1997)Athletics
This is it. This is a deal. The upside is the virtual guarantee of winning domestic trophies on a regular basis and the overall enjoyment of winning the vast majority of the matches you attend. And of course cash. Lots and lots of cash. The downside is the increasing pressure of starting each season knowing that only the Champions League matters.
Barça Femeni and several other European women's teams have found themselves in the same situation over the past decade. Clubs that committed to their women's teams more quickly had the first-man advantage and dominated the country. The most extreme example here is Lyon, the undisputed Goliath of women's club football, which won15championship titles in 16 years. Meanwhile, Barça have won seven league titles since 2015 and currently have a 10-point lead over Real Madrid in the race for this year's title.
Unlike PSG's men's team, Barça Femeni actually holds the Champions League title; he lifted his first UCL trophy in the 2020–21 season after beating Chelsea 4–0 in the final. But there have also been high-profile European defeats in recent years, for which the team is now seeking revenge. ThisBlaugranathey were eliminated by Lyon in the 2018-19 final, lost to Wolfsburg in the semi-final of the 2019-20 season, then defeated again by Lyon, 3-1, in the 2021-22 final.
These losses were hard to swallow for a team that claims to be the best in the world. Last year's defeat was the hardest because it ended a season in which Barça had won 45 of their 47 matches in all competitions, scoring 221 goals and conceding only 23. A few weeks later, their talisman, reigning two-time Ballon d'Or winner and then the best player in the world, Alexia Putellas, lost due to ACL tear. The fact that Aitana Bonmatí, herself in the top five of the 2022 Ballon d'Or, missed the start of the season with calf and thigh injuries did not help. By the time Hansen (who, curiously enough, wasn't even on the Ballon d'Or shortlist) had been out for more than four months, the thought arose that if Barça didn't return to the pack, it seemed prudent to at least show something close to vulnerability.
Barça Femení have played 31 league, Champions League and Supercopa de España matches this season—started the Copa de la Reinafield an ineligible player. They won 30 of those games with a combined score of 134-12. They ran their record league run to a ridiculous 57 games. They are undefeated in domestic competitions (despite being banned from the Copa) since June 2021 and unbeaten in Barcelona since May2019.
Their lone unrelated defeat this season,a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in Germany, they came with their Champions League group well in hand. I suspect their next worst performance was at home to Real Sociedad in early December, where they lost in the second half before managing to win 2-1. The shocking 15-minute 1-0 deficit against Valencia last Friday probably also belongs in this conversation. The match ended with a 5-1 victory.
On the one hand, given the pool of talent in this roster, it's not entirely surprising that sailing remains relatively smooth. At the same time, it is impressive that this team has not even wavered from its dominant position in Spain. The difference between Barça and Liga F runners-up in the last two years was 24 and 25 points. This year's 10-point lead is much smaller, but Barça lead by a ridiculous 47 goals over second-placed Real Madrid on goal difference.
However, for some, whether that matters in the long run comes down to what happens in no more than four games over the next two months. It's just the cost of doing business once you've reached a cartoon level of dominance - Champions League knockout matches become the only "real" matches.
The fact that Barca's first 'real' game of the season was not quite the explosion fans and spectators might have expected shows how difficult it is for even a team as successful as Barça to rise year after year. Yes, Barça dominated every statistical category in a 1-0 first leg win, and yes, it's entirely possible that the Spaniards will go home in the second leg and score more goals past the goalkeeper, but Roma kept close and had their chances. Opposition is not something Barça were used to at this stage of the competition, and certainly not with an Italian side only in their fifth year and on track to win their first league title. It's good to be a superclub, but the road to glory isn't any easier.
Alexia Putellas' documentary reveals the truth behind the disaster
Why is Alexia Putellas not playing? ›
What big games did Alexia Putellas miss with injury?
|July 20, 2022||England 2-1 (AET) Spain||Euro 2022 quarter-final|
Futbol Club Barcelona Femení, commonly referred to as Barça Femení, is a Spanish professional women's football team based in Barcelona, Catalonia. It's the women's football section of FC Barcelona and it competes in the Primera División, the top tier of Spanish women's football.Where can I watch Barca Femeni match? ›
- MLS Next Pro.
- ViX. VIX+
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament in the center of the knee that prevents the shin bone (tibia) from moving forward on the thigh bone (femur).Why isn t Vida playing? ›
Out with foot injury Vida will miss multiple weeks because of a foot injury picked up over the weekend, reports Vecernji. Impact It's an unfortunate blow for Benfica just before Champions League is set to begin.