On Friday, UEFA released their list of twelve players nominated to the UEFA Women’s Champions League positional awards, for the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward of the previous 2020-21 UWCL campaign. This past Champions League season, FC Barcelona Femení breezed past their competition, winning by considerable margins against some of the best clubs in the world. They capped off their tournament by defeating WSL champions Chelsea 4-0 in the final, in a stunning display of tactical and technical dominance.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that of those twelve nominees feature seven Barcelona players, not including new signing Irene Paredes who spent this past season captaining Paris Saint-Germain. At least one Barcelona player is nominated in each of the four categories. Barcelona is also guaranteed to win at least one of these awards, for all players in the forward category (Jenni Hermoso, Caroline Graham Hansen, Lieke Martens) are Barcelona players. We choose which of Barcelona's nominated players are most likely to win each of these four awards based on their seasons and how they stack up against the other nominees in their respective categories.
Goalkeeper: Sandra Paños
Paños in action against Chelsea WFC during the 2021 UEFA Women's Champions League Final / David Lidstrom via Getty Images
Other Barcelona nominees: N/A
Paños' name has been around the block in UEFA competitions, arguably being Barcelona's most consistent player for the past 6 years in the Champions League. Amidst some steep competition, she has found herself in the Champions League Squad of the Season five separate times with Barcelona, the most of all time for any other player in blaugrana. This season was no exception, as Paños showed up as crucial in Barcelona's many hard-fought matches against tough opposition. Most notably this season was her penalty save in the quarterfinals against Manchester City's Chloe Kelly, which allowed Barcelona to maintain a 2-0 lead and mentally shut down City for the remainder of the match.
Paños' quality performances continued throughout the campaign as she managed to keep Barcelona in the tournament despite dangerous plays from PSG's Ramona Bachmann and Marie Antoinette Katoto. Thanks to the excellent defensive work of a makeshift Barcelona backline, Paños did not have much to do in the final, but still was essential in keeping the notoriously clinical Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder off the scoresheet. What resulted was the single biggest margin of victory in a UWCL final.
Her biggest competition in winning the award will be Tiane Endler, who was also an essential part of PSG's campaign. Although PSG may not have advanced to the final, they notably knocked out their arch-rivals Lyon, in which Endler was crucial. With two massive saves in the first leg, she helped keep the score down to a 1-0 loss that PSG eventually jumped back from. In the second leg, postponed two weeks due to fifteen COVID-19 positives in Lyon’s camp, PSG won 1-2 and ended Lyon's 5 year long reign of Champions League titles. Endler's PSG was later defeated by Barcelona, but she also put up another incredible first-leg performance that allowed PSG to keep hold of a draw.
Defender: Mapi León
León playing against Manchester City WFC in the quarterfinals of the 2020-21 UEFA Women's Champions League / Emmanuele Ciancaglini for Quality Sport Images
Other Barcelona nominees: Irene Paredes*
*spent the 2020-21 season with PSG
Mapi León spent yet another season commanding Barcelona's back four as she remained one of the most solid center backs in the world. Mapi has matured a lot since Barcelona's 4-1 Champions League final loss, demonstrated by her calmness on and off the ball and her transition into a leadership role. This year, Mapi got a chance at redemption for 2019's final, putting up an incredible performance against Chelsea's lethal forward three with a makeshift backline beside her. Her season statistics tell this story best; Each nominated defender only conceded 6 goals, but Mapi's backline recorded 4 clean sheets, two of which were recorded against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Chelsea FC defender Madga Eriksson will give Mapi a run for her money in this award. Chelsea were very nearly defeated by Bayern in the semifinals of the tournament with a 1-2 loss in the first leg. Eriksson was notably absent for that match, as Chelsea looked like a rudderless ship without her commanding presence in their backline. They were a different team in the second leg of the semi-final as they won 4-1, observably better with their captain returning to the defense. Unfortunately for Eriksson, Chelsea's four goals conceded in the final will always be something of a stain on her illustrious individual campaign of the 2020-21 season.
Midfielder: Alexia Putellas
Putellas during the 2020-21 UEFA Women's Champions League Round of 16 match against Fortuna Hjørring / Pedro Salado for Quality Sport Images
Other Barcelona nominees: Aitana Bonmatí
Perhaps one of the hardest choices to make in this entire selection process is that between Barcelona's two center midfielders- Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas. These two are easily the best center midfield pairing in Europe at the moment, with two very different player profiles. Aitana fancies herself as more of a workhorse type player, with incredible acceleration and workrate. She possesses the ability to defend, attack, and be everywhere and anywhere when needed. On the contrary is Alexia, Barcelona's calm and consistent presence, who is essential in maintaining the integrity of Barcelona's midfield.
This past year, Aitana has had the best season of her career by far. The 23-year-old was Barcelona’s engine, shutting down offensive players and bullying defensive players with ease. She toyed with City’s midfield in the first leg of the quarterfinals, cut lines through PSG’s defense with an assist in the semifinals, and in the final, finished off an incredible team goal in an exhibition of her dribbling ability and clinical striking. Aitana earned herself the Player of the Match award in the final, an accurate reflection of how important she is to Barcelona’s setup.
Aitana is just barely inched out by Alexia because of how necessary Alexia is to the functioning of the team. She may not have found herself assisting or scoring goals in Barcelona’s quarterfinal or semifinal ties, but the importance of her calm and leadership in those big matches is not to be underestimated. This was demonstrated by her injury scare prior to the final, where she was nearly absent due to stress on her hamstring. She and her teammates were visibly rattled by the news that she may not start the match, knowing how big of a task it would be to win without her. Alexia started anyway, and put up one of her best performances of the season. She converted a penalty and assisted Aitana in the final, and was one of Barcelona’s most involved players in buildup. Her presence, especially after her injury scare, was exactly what Barcelona needed to have a match of their lifetimes.
Forward: Caroline Graham-Hansen
Graham Hansen in action against Chelsea FC in the 2021 UEFA Women's Champions League Final / David Lidstrom via Getty Images
Other Barcelona nominees: Jenni Hermoso, Lieke Martens
Barcelona’s regular starting trio of Lieke Martens, Jenni Hermoso, and Caroline Graham Hansen have put up outrageous numbers this entire season. In the Champions League, the three combined for 14 goals and 6 assists, many of which were in the latter stages of Barcelona’s Champions League campaign. Jenni Hermoso had the best UWCL campaign of her career, and made history as the first Spaniard and the first Primera División player to finish as UWCL top-scorer. On the other hand, Lieke Martens had a comeback-type campaign after being kept out of Barcelona’s starting 11 in many of their big matches. She scored two goals against PSG which single-handedly brought them to the 2021 UWCL final, and then had the team’s best attacking performance when she spent 90 minutes ripping apart Chelsea’s Niamh Charles. Each of Barcelona’s goals in the final (except the penalty) were created on Martens’ left side.
Highly involved with both Jenni and Lieke's goals was Barcelona’s right-winger, Caroline Graham Hansen. Hansen has proven herself many times this season to be Barcelona’s most important and impactful player going forward, a fact that was demonstrated in all of Barcelona’s important Champions League ties. Against City, she was Barcelona’s most important creator, including an assist to Asisat Oshoala in the second leg of the semifinal to keep City’s aggregate score low. Hansen then went on to assist Lieke Martens’ second goal against PSG, which helped Barcelona defeat the Parisians on a 3-2 aggregate score. Hansen finished off her campaign by scoring Barcelona’s fourth goal of the final, proving herself to be the most consistent player out of all of the team’s forwards.
After such a phenomenal season, it comes as no surprise that Barcelona has dominated UEFA's year-end awards so far. Each nominated player is more than deserving of recognition after a history-making, never-before-seen season that allowed FCB Femení to mark their names on the world stage.