To match Lyon’s European pedigree, Barca will need to learn how to not crumble in the face of rare adversity, writes Martin Whiteley.Embed from Getty Images
It’s no surprise that a triumphant Ada Hegerberg spoke of resilience after inspiring Lyon to a record eighth Women’s Champions League title yesterday, but it was something noticeably lacking from beaten rivals Barcelona on the big stage.
When you become accustomed to steamrolling teams domestically and your defence rarely faces a meaningful test, you fail to hone a reliable Plan B to fall back on in the face of adversity. Barca are the ones used to inflicting pain, having won 18 out of 30 Primera Division games by five or more goals this season.
Suddenly, when the shoe was on the other foot in Turin and the Catalans found themselves 3-0 down within 33 minutes, they looked shell-shocked. In the sixth minute, Amandine Henry found the top corner with a long-range curling shot for the early opener. Hegerberg came back to haunt Barca as she doubled the lead after heading home a cross from Selma Bacha, and just 10 minutes later, the striker found Catarina Macario to tap home at the back post.
Barca captain Alexia Putellas pulled one back just before the break and Patri Guijarro, Asisat Oshoala, and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic spurned chances in the second half without ever really troubling keeper Christiane Endler as it ended 3-1. With that, Lyon reclaimed not only the trophy but their place as European football heavyweights.
They had put Barcelona back in their box when the pretenders first took a swing at their crown in 2019 and it was Champions League all-time top scorer Hegerberg — who’s now scored 59 goals in 60 appearances — who tormented them then too, with a first-half hat-trick.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s team work, team work all day long. Incredible team-mates, I’m very proud of them. Winning this one this year wasn’t easy. Resilience, hard work — it’s so motivating. I’m only 26 as well, so let’s keep this going!” Hegerberg said after Saturday’s final. And the Norwegian wasn’t just talking about her return from a long-term knee injury, but Lyon’s steel. That’s what it takes to become Europe’s dominant force.
Before kick-off, the stage looked set for a changing of the guard to Catalan control. If their invincible domestic form was anything to go by, Barca, who scored 159 goals and conceded just 11 on their way to the league championship, would make it back-to-back European titles.
But for all they’ve run roughshod over many opponents this campaign, they still lack an alternative system to combat elite sides. While Wolfsburg showed the chink in Barca’s armour and that it was possible to disrupt their style of play in spells of their semi-final.
The key is to pressure them and keep them from getting their quick, incisive passing going for as long as possible. The problem for the German side was achieving their objectives long enough to influence the overall result. The fact that the tie was over two legs was not in their favour either.Embed from Getty Images
In Barca’s 5-1 first-leg victory over Wolfsburg, they had close to 70 per cent of possession and could dictate play, as usual, making 630 pass attempts. During the Spanish side’s 2-0 loss in Germany, the hosts limited the amount of possession afforded to them by nearly 10 per cent and restricted them to close to 100 fewer passes.
Lyon had the benefit of knowing they only had to stifle the Catalan side for one game and were able to get the job done. The French side’s midfield three of Henry, Macario, and Lindsey Horan worked extremely hard to eliminate the effects of their counterparts of Alexia, Guijarro, and Aitana Bonmati.
Barca were below 60 per cent in terms of possession. That also included them having a lot of the ball in the closing stages of the contest as they fought to try and salvage the game.Embed from Getty Images
When they have struggled to break any opposition down, they know they can bring a stream of players off the bench to remedy the problem. When facing teams with an equally strong starting line-up and a stacked bench themselves, that threat is nullified.
Not many teams have good memories of facing Barca and, therefore, lack the confidence to take them on. Lyon had no such worries there, having already defeated them 4-1 in the final three years ago in Budapest and at the quarter-final stage the season before.
Although Barca have many of its personnel signed up for the long haul, they will still need to integrate a new wrinkle into their play. Great teams like Lyon find a way to win when all does not go to plan, and that’s what it will take for the Spanish champions to match their European pedigree.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673Martin