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Mapi Leon - The Unbreakable Wall at the back

The Blaugrana Defender proved to be immense for Spanish National Team in the She Believes Cup against the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Ellen White. Oh, I just forgot her, yep against Toni Duggan as well.

Just like Gerard Pique, she is the most used player by Lluis Cortes for Barca Femeni this season. She rarely gets the rest thus further indicating how important she is for the Barca Femeni. Her presence in the back looks be a warranty or kind of safeguard for Panos. It sometimes feels like the opponents need to get past Mapi to get anywhere near her. And she is one among the fan-favorites playing for Barca Femeni.

A Little About her:

Mapi Leon is the first paid transfer in the history of the Spanish women's football. She is tenacious and tough, maybe that’s why she plays central defense.

Player Profile:

First name María Pilar

Last name León Cebrián

Nationality Spain

Date of birth 13 June 1995

Age 24

Place of birth Zaragoza

Position Defender

Height 169 cm

Weight 61 kg

Previous Clubs

(2009-2011) Prainsa Zaragoza B (Zaragoza CFF),

(2011-2013) Prainsa Zaragoza

(2013-2014) Espanyol

(2014-2017) Atlético Madrid

(2017-present) Barcelona

Technical Qualities:

Mapi is a left-sided central defender who stands out for her strength, speed, and youth, as well as her versatility, as she can also play as a left-back. She is a technical footballer with great physical attributes that allow her to support the attack when the team needs it. She can hit the ball with her left foot like Messi, has a tattooed arm that reminds you of Sergio Ramos and draws comparisons with Piqué for her ease in getting the ball out of the defensive area. Her attributes include aggression, good anticipation and ability to beat players, and she is adept at crossing into the box.

On the pitch, Mapi is clear about two things: the first is that communication with team-mates, the key to avoid misunderstandings. The second is her preference for opponents to be very mindful of her.

Mapi Leon, Spain against the Netherlands in the Algarve Cup

During an interview with FIFA TV ahead of the World Cup 2019, when she asked about her role, Mapi quoted that

As a defender, my job is to recover possession and defend, so I prefer to be one of those who gets noticed and of whom opponents say, ‘Crikey, this one’s going to be all over me for the entire game’.”

Beginning of her career:

Mapi has been playing since she was a child. She started playing volleyball at age seven and then started indoor football. She enjoyed baseball as well. However, her career started at the age of 17, when Español made her an offer. She had to abandon her parents, Javier, a mechanic, and Pilar, a caregiver for the elderly, in Zaragoza and launch into the professional footballing career. And she stated the following when asked how her parents felt about it: "They were sorry that I left home, but they always supported me ."

Mapi León, during a match with Atlético de Madrid.

Mapi debuted at 16 years of age for Zaragoza against FC Barcelona. She joined Espanyol during 2013/14 where she remained until only one season, before signing to Espanyol. She played at Espanyol during 2013/14 before joining Atlético Madrid the following season. She won the Liga Femenina title with Atletico and caught everyone’s attention. Her performances saw her selected for the Spanish team that contested the European Championship in the 2017summer.

Moving to Barcelona:

On August 24, 2017, she became an FC Barcelona player and the first paid transfer in the history of the Spanish women's football with a fee of around 50,000 euros. The amount of minutes Mapi has played since the beginning of Barcelona’s season is impressive. In the 18/19 season, she played 4748 minutes between her club and country which equals nearly 53 games.

Mapi León poses with the shirt of her new team, FC Barcelona

"It is that at Barça they will not applaud you because you clear the ball, but when you take it out. Watch the game, control, watch before receiving… you have to be smart ”,

She handles the ball very well and knows how to read matches well. Moving to Barca developed her ability on a whole. Her game reading both offensively and defensively is what makes her one of the best center-back in the world. She played a key role in Barcelona becoming the first Spanish team to play in the UEFA Women's Champion League Final defeated by the heavyweights Lyon 4-1.

Sandra Panos (R) comforts Barcelona's Maria Leon after the UEFA Women's Champions League final

And she extended her contract with FC Barcelona until 2022 along with the likes of other key players of the squad Alexia, Leila, and Mariona.

Season 19/20:

Barca Femeni's defense looks the exact opposite of the men's team with a staggering 15 clean sheets from the 21 matches played so far. Mapi played a key role in her performance in holding up the defense from allowing opponents to hit the back of the net. We haven't seen her uncomfortable against any attacker so far this season and her immense presence is getting noticed as the season is progressing.

Mapi Leon against Minsk in the UEFA Women's Champions League

Mapi's defensive approach so far this season:

She moves quickly to the player with the ball and puts the pressure on the attacker. Her high pressure often forces mistakes and the offensive players find it difficult to find a good pass or dribble as far up the field.

Compared to last season, she is often having her body turned slightly to the side when an attacker runs at her making it even harder for the attacking player to move in both directions. Thus she is forcing them in the direction she wants them to go and/or make sure they are on their weak foot. On counterattacks, you can see Mapi and Andrea getting ahead of the forward and stopping the attack, making sure the ball is retained.

Mapi Leon vying for the ball against van der Sanden in the UWCL Final

Mapi usually gets high up beyond the halfway line, when it comes to pressing, Barca defenders contribute the most in terms of recovery. Her sliding tackles and dribbling out of the box are the qualities talked about a lot in Insta and Twitter. It's very rare to see this kind of top-level concentration in the professional football of late which we 'Culers' are missing since the departure of Carles Puyol. She along with Andrea Perreira and Stefanie are the reason why Barca Femeni has one of the meanest defense among the top five leagues in Europe baring Lyon who has played fewer matches when compared to Barca's 21.

Winning Mentality:

A winning mentality is built over a period of time and it's not a case of being born with a good attitude and work ethic. Mapi doesn't like losing either and she said the below words during an interview to a radio channel

I am very angry that I didn't win the league with Barça. I think that it’s out on the pitch where I can contribute most. It’s something I can’t get away from, my blood boils, because I hate to lose.

Whenever we watch the final against Lyon, it becomes increasingly sad to see Mapi in tears with Sandra Panos consoling her. And if you look at this Barca this team, they have the big game players with similar traits having the likes of Alexia, Caroline Graham Hansen, Jennifer Hermoso and the Euro winner, Lieke Martens. Building a team around these players is the reason why this team is doing so well. And Mapi forms as one of the defining players with a character in this team

What to expect till the end of the Season:

With the Queen's cup semifinal and the knockout stages of the UEFA Women's champions league around the corner, we can expect some cracking contests against the likes of Pernille Harder, Vivianne Miedema, Alexandra Popp, and Ewa Pajor.

Hope Mapi delivers the goods against them and gets her hands on that elusive UWCL trophy soon. So we can replace her tears from last year's final with tears of joy.

Definitely she is the 'Pillar' of this Barca team's defense. Don't you agree?



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