In this tie of the semifinals of the first-ever Supercopa Femenina, Barcelona Femeni came into the match with a 9 point lead in the league and with a strong morale advantage over Atletico Madrid. The dominant performance of a 6-1 win against league rivals Atletico Madrid earlier in the season motivated Barcelona to win this title at all costs.
In this analysis, we will dissect the main tactical points from the match. Both sides presented key tactical changes from the first match that we will cover in this analysis, which led to Barcelona winning 3-2 en route to clinching the Supercopa title.
Both teams made changes to their starting eleven for this match. Atletico had an unchanged backline but brought in Ludmila Silva in attack after her recovery from injury. Oshoala started up top for the visitors, with Mariona brought in to support in the frontline. On the left side of the pitch, Ouahabi was introduced at left-back and Lieke Martens started on the left-wing. Patricia Guijarro and Alexia were slotted in midfield in what proved to be a tactical switch to strengthen the defence with Mapi leading the defensive line along with Andrea Pereira, Marta, and Sandra Panos. Regular starter Jenni Hermoso had only just been medically cleared after a brief period of injury and was left out of the XI.
Barcelona approached this game differently from the previous meeting. While their philosophy of controlling the game and keeping possession did not change, the Spanish side deployed a more defensive approach to achieve it. The 4-2-1-3 formation gave them more solidity at the back than the 4-1-2-2-1 (V) deployed in the earlier outing. However, in possession higher up the pitch, Barcelona would revert to more of 4-1-2-3 attacking structure.
In the first few minutes, both the team deployed a 4-4-2 formation so they could get enough control and possession of the ball.
Atletico's high pressing:
Atletico made sure they didn't let Barca have the control of the game or dictate the play. They employed a high pressing from the first minute to get the lead in the initial minutes. In the picture below, you can see two Atletico players pressing against each of the Barca' midfield trio.
This tactic paid off well as Atletico were able to capitalize on Patri's error leading to their first goal. This changed the whole dynamic of the game with Barca reverting back to 4-1-2-3 with Patri playing the pivot with Alexia and Mariona supporting the flanks.
There was a moment of brilliance when Mapi sent an over-the-top pass to Mariona which ended hitting the crossbar. It bisected the defense and Barcelona started to feel more confident as Atletico were confined to a counter - attacking strategy. Atletico were defending with 8 players and utilized Toni Duggan and Ludmila for these counters.
Barca's utilizing the flanks of the attack:
Barcelona found a vulnerability on the right side of Atletico's defense as Laia Aleixandri wasn't able to match up to the trickery of Alexia and Lieke when they were offered space. Barca continually saw Aleixandri out of her position and created most of their chances from the left flank.
You can see in the below picture, it was in the 5th minute Alexia crossed the ball and Patri was waiting ahead of the defensive line but was pressed by Ludmila to lose possession.
However, when Patri was offered a similar situation a few minutes later, this time she had no one pressing her. With Alexia making it easy to bail out from the press of Atletico's erratic defense and cross the ball, it was the thunderbolt from Patri that came as a result of her having plenty of space.
In the attacking phase of Barcelona’s game, they focused mainly on using the wide space. This area was often left vacant due to Atleti pushing their wingers and forwards to press and attack. In the images below, you can see the positioning of the Atletico’s attackers as Barcelona maintain possession. Once this first line of the press is bypassed, Barcelona’s Lieke Martens has the entire field open in front of her. This space was consistently exploited by the attacking player of the Catalan side throughout the first half. All of Barcelona's goals were a combination play from the left side of the attack.
You can see in the pictures below how Barca utilized the left wing to create chances consistently.
How much of a gem is Mariona?
Mariona Caldentey dictated the play and made Atletico dance to her tunes in the third goal, which was all about how she wanted the play to end. You can see in the pictures below Mariona received the ball on the left side of the pitch. She passed the ball back and ran across the pitch to receive the ball on the right side after getting all of Atletico Madrid players' attention to the right.
In her next move, she switched the play to Lieke who had acres of space to run behind the defense and send a pin-point cross to Oshoala who had nothing to do but get her head in the direction of the ball and find the back of the net.
It merely took a little less than 20 seconds to create a goal out of nothing. Mariona proved once again how decisive she can be if she's given license to play to her strength. Yes, Oshoala scored and Lieke assisted, but that third goal was all Mariona. She was the architect and mastermind behind the match-winner. Mariona created 4 clear cut chances, having put Oshoala in 3 one-on-one situations against Atletico keeper Lola Gallardo.
In the second half, Barca deployed a more defensive approach with 4-4-1-1 with Mariona dropping behind Oshoala. It was strange that Barcelona didn't go the same route that caused plenty of problems for Atletico. You can see in the pictures below where Lieke was free on the left side but Barca opted for other options that weren't successful.
How Atletico combated the threat of Caroline Graham-Hansen:
Atletico learned from their mistakes from their previous outings versus Graham Hansen. They've faced her a couple of times, once during her time at Wolfsburg where she tormented them with her electric pace. She destroyed them again during their clash against Barcelona earlier this season. They closed the spaces this time and didn't allow her in a one-on-one situation during any part of the match. Toni Duggan was tasked with extra defending work whenever Caro was on the ball. And still, Caro was able to deliver the punch with her assist to Lieke. It was evident throughout the match Atletico often put players on the right side of the attack to nullify Caro's threat. This worked perfectly for them as she was limited to her trickery and pace in the final third. You can see in the pictures below how often Atletico stacked players on the left side.
Barcelona's defense was breached twice, partly due to a lapse in concentration from Patri. The first one happened as a result of lazily passing the ball back to Andrea Pereira, which was intercepted by Toni Duggan, leading to the first goal. The second goal seems to be the most worrying one. Barca continually ignored the left side of the pitch. This same type of goal happened during the UEFA Women's Champions League final last year when van de Sanden was offered plenty of space on the left side.
And did Barcelona learn from their mistakes from the UWCL final? It's a 'Yes' and 'No'. Barcelona are vulnerable if teams attack through the left side of the defence using the space left behind by Leila. We know that all of the goals in the Champions League Final came through the left side of the defense. And if you look at this season, Barcelona conceded fewer goals, but 70% of the goals Barca conceded came through the left. Leila is often found out of position due to her lack of positional awareness and timing. This came to light many times in the Supercopa semifinal, as many of Atletico's dangerous chances were created using the space left by Leila. Mapi Leon had to make up for the defensive errors of both Leila and Patri which put the entire backline into disarray and pushed the defenders to the left, taking her, Marta and Pereira out of position.
Around the 26th minute, Leila was out of position and Ludmila, a player known for her speed, gets past Mapi, the entire defensive line is again shifted to the left. Marta and Pereira were having to mark Ludmila, meaning Marta did not properly close down Corral, allowing Corral to make a forward run. This was when Ludmila sent in a through ball between Mapi and Andrea which ended with Corral hitting the post. You can see Leila jogging down there, she possibly could have stopped this move if she sprinted towards Corral once Ludmila's run started. We can agree that Leila has to go forward a lot to connect with Lieke, but Mapi has a lot to do if there is so much space on the left side. Leila not being aware of her position and leaving the back vulnerable is not a good sight to see, especially if you think about her going up against more clinical players.
There was another moment when Barca weren't positioning themselves well. This time on the other side of the defense. Marta came out flying instead of closing down Duggan. But thankfully, she handled the ball receiving a yellow card. If the wing-backs keep continuing to commit these kinds of mistakes, Barca are not going to be a contender for the UWCL.
If you look at the picture below, Angela Sosa was offered too much space and time to pick out the pass where she sent the ball vertically through the absent midfield to Charyln Corral. Patri was out of position and she wasn't able to intercept the ball.
This may be her first full season anchoring the midfield as a pivot, but Patri needs to learn from these mistakes. Teams that are stronger on offense like Wolfsburg, PSG or Lyon would severely punish Barcelona if these kinds of opportunities were presented.
This match was not perfect by any means, at least by this team's standards this season. However, they did cover the cracks with a fitting match to lift the first-ever Spanish Super Cup. This match was a gentle yet semi-stressful reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to be the best in Europe. With Ona Battle and Sara Bjork rumors intensifying, Barca are taking the right steps towards making this team click defensively. With two to three players fighting for each position, we'll have increased competition and end up with an overall stronger team to go forward in winning it all.