This week, FC Barcelona Femení went up against two of their most difficult opponents of the season- Arsenal WFC and Atlético Madrid Femenino. These two matches had quite a lot at stake, but Barcelona continued with their winning streak with imposing victories against two of Europe’s most in-form teams.
Home vs. Arsenal WFC (5 October 2021, UEFA Women’s Champions League):
On the 5th of October, defending European Champions Barcelona kicked off their inaugural match in the UEFA Women’s Champions League against Arsenal. Their opposition were sitting atop of England’s Women’s Super League, seemingly transformed under new manager Jonas Eidevall. Barcelona has a new manager of their own, Jonatan Giráldez. This match was Giráldez’s first big test as head coach.
Barcelona were unplayable in the first half of the match, mounting on pressure that seemed impossible for Arsenal to deal with. Barcelona played possession football paired with an insurmountable press, sending in a constant barrage of shots that Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger had to work hard to save. By the first 30 minutes, Barcelona had roughly ten shots on target compared to Arsenal’s zero.
Barcelona celebrating Mariona Caldentey's goal in a UEFA Women's Champions League group stage match against Arsenal / via @FCBFemeni
Mariona Caldentey broke the deadlock in the 30th minute, scoring from a save rebounded from an Asisat Oshoala shot. Twelve minutes after Mariona’s goal, Oshoala continued to cause trouble for Arsenal's backline as she found herself receiving a line-breaking cross from right back Marta Torrejón. Although Oshoala looked just a bit offside, nothing was called as she dribbled her way to the near post, passing the ball to the middle of the penalty area for Alexia Putellas to tap the ball into goal.
The second half of the match began almost immediately with a goal from Asisat Oshoala. Mariona was deep in midfield and sent a pass towards Oshoala that broke Arsenal’s defensive and midfield lines. Oshoala found herself one-on-one against Manuela Zinsberger and finished neatly through the middle against her former club. After her goal, Barcelona relaxed a little and stopped pressing quite as highly. As Arsenal eased into the second half, opposition started to keep possession and play more aggressively. Barcelona conceded their second goal of the season in the 74th minute, again from a set piece. Tobin Heath sent a free kick into the box that Frida Maanum got a head on, and scored her first ever goal for her club.
Barcelona’s fourth goal was almost identical to their third. Patri Guijarro, deep from midfield, sent a through ball to Lieke Martens that split Arsenal’s midfield and defense. Instead of finishing through the middle like Oshoala, Martens decided to chip the keeper, putting Barcelona 4-1 up with 7 minutes to go. Alexia Putellas took a penalty in the final minutes of stoppage time, but it was saved by Manuela Zinsberger. The final score was 4-1.
Ballon d'Or nominee announcements (8 October 2021):
In the middle of the week came the nominees for the Women’s Ballon d’Or, which included 5 Barcelona players: Alexia Putellas, Sandra Paños, Lieke Martens, Jenni Hermoso, and Irene Paredes. One notable absence was Caroline Graham Hansen, whose exclusion from the list prompted some critical responses from the media, fans, and some current and former club teammates.
Away vs Atlético Madrid (9 October 2021, Primera División):
On October 9th was Barcelona’s biggest domestic match of the season so far, where they played away in the league vs Atlético Madrid. Prior to this match, Atlético were on a run of 5 wins from 5 games. Their performances so far this season have been miles ahead of where they were last year, when they finished fourth in the league and failed to qualify for the Champions League.
As expected, Atlético entered the first half very defensively. As they did against Arsenal, Barcelona sent a barrage of attacks against Atléti’s defense but to no avail. Atléti got somewhat lucky in the first half, as Barcelona had a number of shots hit the post or just barely skid past goal. On the other end of the pitch was a defensive masterclass by Barcelona, who were quick and effective in shutting down Deyna Castellanos, Ludmila, Bárbara Latorre and Estefanía Banini. Mapi León stood out in particular, with her positioning, passing, tackling, and quick thinking helping Barcelona escape quite a few offensive dangers.
Barcelona celebrating Asisat Oshoala's goal against Atlético Madrid in a Primera División match / image via @FCBFemeni
Oshoala broke the deadlock in minute 34, scoring her ninth goal of the season. The goal was created by Caroline Graham Hansen, who spent the entire match up trying to break down Atlético Madrid defenders Merel van Dongen and Carmen Menayo. Hansen dribbled up the right side and past van Dongen, allowing Oshoala to tap it into the net. Oshoala’s goal made it the sixth match in a row where she has scored this season.
The second half of the match was much more evenly-matched, as Atlético changed their tactics to play more offensive football in search of a comeback. Atlético made a few offensive substitutions around the 65th minute but to no avail- Aitana scored Barcelona’s second, a belter of a strike from outside the area. Lieke Martens scored Barcelona’s third a few minutes later, finding herself a tap-in with yet another assist from Caroline Graham Hansen. Near the end of the second half were the return of two core Barcelona players- Jenni Hermoso and Leila Ouahabi- from their months-long periods of injury. The final score was 3-0.
The upcoming weeks for Barcelona:
With this match out of the way, Real Sociedad and Barcelona remain the only two teams left unbeaten in the league. Their first matchup of the season will be at the Estadi Johan Cruyff on October 31st, and given the form Real Sociedad are in, a match like that could be considered a title-decider.
The week ahead for Barcelona will be a pretty easy schedule on paper. The blaugranas will be traveling to play Danish side Køge in the Champions League on the 13th, and then will play away league opponent Sporting Huelva on Sunday the 17th. After that is the international break, where Barcelona is expected to be represented in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Nigeria, the Netherlands, and Spain.