In the past three years, FC Barcelona Femení has had five transfer windows, all without signing a single defender. Between that point and now, Barcelona’s defense has held the team together well enough, although the cohesion and consistency of the back four have been called into question at some points. Specifically, Barcelona have had their fair share of problems when it comes to defending set-pieces, as well as having some issues with positioning and discipline.
Barcelona have been in need of a center-back who could give a better balance to the backline and could add a much-needed defensive aerial presence. The center-back position is likely the weakest overall position in the team in terms of depth. With starters Andrea Pereira and Mapi León and the young Laia Codina, the team only has three pure center backs.
Former Paris Saint-Germain captain Irene Paredes was linked to Barca previously in 2019, but the move didn’t materialize. This year, on April 21, Spanish sports publication SPORT reported that Paredes was due to sign for Barcelona and had already completed her medical. This report was published just days before Barcelona played PSG in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, and was understandably written off by some as an attempt by Spanish media to unsettle the Parisian team.
Now, after running out of her contract, she has finally decided to move back to Spain after breaking the 14-year hegemony of Lyon’s league titles. Irene Paredes announced that she was leaving PSG via her social networks last Tuesday:
“I will be leaving PSG. A very hard decision but it’s the best for me. I have grown a lot. I am very happy with what I experienced here. There are new projects waiting for me, I will be able to continue to grow. I am sure that PSG will continue on their way and that they will grow even more.“
Paredes’ football career started in 2003, when she joined a local football club in Ilintxa in the northernmost province of the Basque Country. After four years, she made the stop up to CD Zarautz, a Second Division team. Only one season at Zarautz was enough for Real Sociedad to snatch her away. Three seasons in the txuri-urdin team made her a more complete player.
In 2011, she joined La Real's eternal rival Athletic Club Bilbao, and spent five years there. Her last season in Bilbao was her one and only trophy she has won in Spain to date: the 2015/16 Primera División title. Paredes left Athletic Club Bilbao after the expiration of her contract.
25-year-old Paredes made her first venture outside of Spain, leaving for Paris Saint-Germain on a one-year contract. Due to her performances and development with the club, she was renewed twice after that, and became the head captain of the team in 2019. At PSG, she won the D1 Arkema and the French Cup in her 5 years at the club, both times shattering records held by Lyon for consecutive trophies won.
When a defender plays for FC Barcelona, they have one of the most difficult jobs on the pitch. Center backs playing in the Barça style need to cover so much space on a counter-attack, be very fast, and anticipate a lot. It’s an even harder task to find passing lanes from the back considering they need to think a lot about their positioning when Barça have the ball.
Laura Del Rio, former Spain teammate of Paredes:
“Irene has really good positioning in defence, she’s a really good tackler and so strong. She’s comfortable playing the ball out from the back but she can also be a very good offensive player. For me, she’s one of the best defenders in the world.”
Irene Paredes is a ball-playing center-half who is genuinely comfortable with bringing the ball out of defense, a commodity that is becoming rarer and rarer in today's game. Just like her teammate Mapi Leon, she has impeccable timing in the tackle and is very good when venturing forward to join the attack. There is an aspect of her game that she has improved a lot in the past few years, which is to attract opponents. Barça always try to create a kind of triangular connection between Mapi, Paños, and Andrea Pereira. This has been done to attract opponents’ forwards and midfielders and look for passes behind their backs, something which Irene demonstrated through the years at PSG and the Spanish National side.
Although not the fastest, she commands on both the ground and in the air. There is always plenty of aggression and full commitment when Paredes goes up against an attacker. This type of dominant center back profile is something Barcelona have lacked in defense for a long while. For someone of her height and quality, her arrival comes with the expectation that there will be an improvement from Barcelona's backline in defending set-pieces and balls into the box.
With Irene joining Barcelona, there is an added depth in the defense that has been missing for quite a few years. The experience and the calmness she brings along with her quality will definitely play a crucial role for Barcelona Femení to defend the team on all fronts.