FCB Femení's May Player of the Month: Lieke Martens
FC Barcelona Femení completed the treble at the end of May, winning the Primera Iberdrola, the UEFA Women's Champions League, and Copa de la Reina, thus becoming the first Spanish club to complete a continental treble in the women’s game. Barcelona also became the first club to win both the men's and women's Champions League, as well as the first club to have both the men's and women's teams complete a historic treble in the process.
Dominance like this takes the full, unwavering effort and concentration of all players in a team, regardless of their position or squad role. That being said, there have been quite a few standout players in the run of fixtures during the single most important month for FCB Femení. Aitana Bonmatí was named as the Most Valuable Player in the Champions League Final, and she also helped Barca claw back into winning the Catalan derby against Espanyol. Alexia Putellas scored and assisted in the Champions League final, as well as earned the MVP of the Copa de la Reina final for her brace scored against Levante. Other players like Caroline Graham Hansen, Patri Guijarro, Jenni Hermoso, and Bruna Vilamala have also had significant contributions to the club’s success this past month. However, Lieke Martens enjoyed a great run of fixtures and proved to be absolutely crucial in all competitions, especially in the knockout stages of both the cup and the Champions League.
After losing her starting spot to Mariona for important games earlier this season, Lieke got her groove back and redeemed herself in time for some of the biggest matches in Barcelona’s history. In time, she reminded Lluís Cortés that she was the missing puzzle piece in Barcelona's at times faltering attack. Her pace, tenacity, and ability to shrug off defenders with ease reminded everyone why she is one of the best forwards in football. Her incredible run of form in the last month proved decisive for Barcelona, and her performances were crucial enough to be named our player of the month for May.
UEFA Women's Champions League - Semi-Finals 2nd Leg vs PSG (H) (2/5/2021): 2-1
Lieke Martens was chosen to start against PSG at the Estadi Johan Cruyff after a rather quiet outing in the first leg. In classic Lieke Martens fashion, she showed up big in a big game with two clean strikes in the first half an hour, which proved crucial for Barcelona to win the tie.
Lieke's pace caught PSG’s right-back Ashley Lawrence out of position in the 8th minute, as Lieke was able to get through on goal from a Leila Ouahabi's pass. Lieke slotted the ball past the outstretched arms of Tiane Endler into the far corner, a goal displaying such quality that it was voted the third-best goal of this season’s UEFA Women's Champions League campaign. The early goal from Martens gave the impetus Barcelona needed to settle their nerves.
She continued to be a constant threat on the left side and in the 31st minute, she ran away from the marker to put the ball into the net following an exquisite cross from Caroline Graham Hansen on the right side. PSG got one back through Marie-Antoinette Katoto, but the winger did not stop knocking at the door of Tiane Endler. In the 51st minute, Endler was sharp to get hold of a trademark curler from Lieke Martens towards the far corner.
Lieke was constantly exploiting the space on PSG’s right side whenever she got a chance, completely taking advantage of the loss of PSG right-wing Kadidiatou Diani. At the end of it all, her brace brought the aggregate score to 3-2 in Barcelona’s favor, almost single-handedly bringing Barcelona to their second Champions League Final in 2 years.
Copa de la Reina - Quarter Finals vs Sevilla (A) (5/5/2021) : 1:4
For the first 60 minutes of the Copa de la Reina quarterfinal against Sevilla, Lieke was rested following her exploits against PSG in the Champions League only 3 days prior.
Lieke subbed in for Kheira Hamraoui in the 60th minute, and by that point, Barcelona were already 3-1 up. She completed Barca’s rout of Sevilla with an assist in the 90th minute, which Caroline Graham Hansen duly finished off to win the tie 4-1 in favor of Barcelona.
UEFA Women's Champions League - Final vs Chelsea (A) (16/5/2021): 0-4
Key to the build-up all 4 goals
Because of their win against PSG in the semifinal tie, Lieke and Barcelona were set to get a second shot at the biggest match in European women’s club football- the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final. The majority of women’s football media placed Chelsea Women as the favorites to win the trophy, especially considering the front three of Chelsea with Pernille Harder, Fran Kirby, and Samantha Kerr.
On the other side of things, Barcelona’s lead-up to the match was surrounded by an injury scare to Alexia Putellas, one of Barcelona’s biggest attacking contributors. Barcelona were put at an even bigger disadvantage considering the suspension of starting right center back Andrea Pereira, who was replaced by Patri Guijarro, meaning Patri was not going to be able to supply Barcelona’s forward line with her signature pinpoint passes from the defensive midfield position.
On the matchday, Lieke was highly motivated to bring the trophy to Barcelona for the first time, something the team had failed to do two years before.
Barcelona started the game brightly with Alexia winning the ball in Chelsea’s half, putting Lieke through on goal. Lieke cut the ball onto her right foot after getting near the box and curled a trademark shot that cannoned off the crossbar. After a lot of chaos in the box, Kirby’s attempted clearance richotected off of Melanie Leupolz’s leg into the far corner of the net, giving Barcelona a bizarre early lead within less than a minute.
Lieke assessed Chelsea’s vulnerable and inexperienced backline and used her pace and positioning to great effect as she constantly bombarded past Niamh Charles on the left side. In the 13th minute, another piece of dribbling art allowed Lieke to get away from two onrushing defenders to send Caroline Graham Hansen in on goal. After Melanie Leupolz made contact with Jenni Hermoso, Barcelona were awarded a penalty kick. Alexia scored the second goal, bringing them 2-0 up in the 14th minute.
Lieke once again used her physicality and pace to great effect in the 20th minute when she shrugged off Charles on the left side to send a cross across the box. Jenni got to the end of the cross while dragging the defenders out of position and passed the ball to Alexia. Alexia in turn put the ball on the plate for Aitana to dribble past Jess Carter to score, sending Barcelona 3-0 up in the 20th minute. It was a wonderfully constructed goal which had Barca’s DNA written all over it.
The next dangerous attack from Lieke ended with yet another goal. Barcelona’s 4th goal was completely made by Lieke Martens as she destroyed Chelsea’s backline with a slalom run into the box, squaring up Caroline Graham Hansen to tap it in from close range. Aitana was deservedly awarded the MVP award in the final, but it was Lieke’s quality on the left side that determined the outcome of nearly every goal.
Primera Iberdrola - Athletic Club (H) (19/5/2021): 8-0
Lieke continued on with her explosive form going into the match against Athletic Club, the first league match since the Catalan club were declared winners. The Dutchwoman scored a brace in the first half in the routing of Athletic. The first goal in the 12th minute was a trademark Lieke Martens goal, curling towards the far corner from the edge of the box. In the 24th minute, Lieke tapped in a pinpoint cross from Marta Torrejon to stamp Barcelona’s superiority over Athletic Club.
She had plenty of moments throughout the game where she was getting behind the defense and crossing the ball into the box, as well as utilizing her playmaking abilities to drop into the center of the pitch and create chances for the team. It was an eventful week for the Dutch maestro as she was full of confidence. Everything she touched turned to gold.
Copa de la Reina - Final vs Levante (H) (30/5/2021) : 4:2
Despite Alexia’s deserved win of Copa de la Reina final MVP, Lieke Martens was the star of the show again against Levante in the Copa de La Reina final. She notched up 3 assists in the first 30 minutes being a key playmaker. Instead of playing in her usual left-wing, she dropped deep at times to switch plays and pass between the lanes.
She was instrumental in Barca going 3-0 up at halftime, a lead that Barcelona desperately needed to hold considering how quickly Levante changed the pace of the match and pulled two back. Lieke might have missed out on the MVP of the final but she showed up once again, this time in the absence of Caroline Graham Hansen, and made it look like Barca never really felt the absence of the Norwegian.
After so many years of struggling in a transitional Barça and playing out of position with insufficient support, Lieke proved herself to be worthy of all the praise she received in 2017. This month showed a completely rejuvenated version of the winger, contributing immensely in every single big moment of every single big match. In this month, Lieke has now effectively written a name for herself in the history books of Barcelona, reclaiming her star status along the way.
Highlight credits: Twitter @FCBSensy