Featured FemenĂ­, English Opinion


Women's tifo at the world record clĂĄsico / FC BARCELONA
Women’s tifo at the world record clĂĄsico / FC BARCELONA

A marathon, not a sprint.

Very few soccer (football) tournaments can boast the intensity and the competitiveness of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Making a final is hard as is, let alone four in a row. But lo and behold, FCB FemenĂ­ have done it. Let that sink in for a second.

The group stages were great but not flawless, considering the eight-goal thriller that saw them draw Benfica away. And the knockout stages were not much different. SK Brann and especially Chelsea WFC brought the game and even though Culés had a few breathless moments, Barça Femení was up to the task. Until reaching the final, it took patience and hardwork.

Through all those games, Barça had to make a few changes, adaptations, and yes, comebacks. It was not an easy sail. Far from uneventful. The season kicked off without winger turned left back Fridolina Rolfö who was nursing her knee surgery right after the world cup. Luckily, Ona Batlle was more than prepared to fill in. 

More alarming and probably unforeseen, was center back Mapi Leon’s season long injury picked up soon after Frankfurt. This was a painful gut punch that Barça had to swallow and work the problem. Ingrid Engen, had aced her tests as a center back, replacing Irene Paredes (injured at the time, before Mapi) earlier at the start of the season. She soon after had to switch a bit to take over Mapi’s invaluable role(s).

All the while, the players fought the good fight and CulĂ©s kept the faith. Now, all that remains is winning the race. And the final won’t be any different. Patience and hardwork. A marathon. Tomorrow in Bilbao at the San Mames.

Freedom to dream, from La teoría de dos to La teoría de tres

Dream, then make it happen, has always been the philosophy. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that phrase but at the core, that is really it. 

Last season (22/23), after an otherwise fantastic season (21/22) came to a brutal end, players and staff alike vowed to return to another UWCL final and actually win it. Most of us will recall the unhappy scenes after Turin. 

Return they did and in there, a theory was developed. La teorĂ­a de dos, represented in social media as e.g. CulĂ© ÂČ đŸ˜Š. Cute, huh?! The best part, it worked. Barça FemenĂ­ did win the second UWCL title. The theory might not harbor complex mathematical equations or anything like that but it is a way for all CulĂ©s to project and represent their collective dreams for the club. Some of the well known proponents of the theories are Nuria Rabano (now of Wolfsburg Frauen), Patri Guijarro, Cata Coll, Ana Maria (now of Atleti) just to name a few.

That said, soon after, the TeorĂ­a de tres, the new dream for the new 23/24 season was born and is still going strong. Saturday, the theory comes to test and I for one can’t wait to see if it holds. Fingers crossed 😉

OL, a real thorn. Ghosts of the past.

Although no opponent could have made the final any easier for Barça FemenĂ­, it’s hard to think of one that could have made it any harder. For those unfamiliar with the abbreviations, OL is shorthand for Olympique Lyonnais Feminin. The French giant, the soccer juggernaut, the toughest team to beat anyone can dream up.

Barça FemenĂ­ players will be among the first people to confirm that. Even having won UWCL finals before, Barça FemenĂ­ has never won a one on one match against OL. Final or otherwise. Barça’s two titles pale in comparison to OL’s eight, as OL shot stopper Christiane Endler made sure to remind everyone in her interview earlier this week, leading up to the final.

A little smug but a fact in its own right. Therefore, CulĂ©s all over the world  and Barça players especially are really hoping to change that. Part of it anyway. The fact that it’s on home soil makes the stakes on this higher but it also has its advantages. As Lucy Bronze said, it will take a whole new mentality to win against them which is an area she believes the team has improved greatly in.

The devil is in the details.

OL is a hardy opponent. They get it right in all the areas that matter. Timing, physicality, experience, conversion, speed and all that. As such, needless to say, the game will be a nail biter. Barça has their work cut out for them. But as often is, the devil will be in the details.

The first detail is the atmosphere. Although rumored to be heavy on culĂ©s, the fan section is also bound to have OL die-hards as well as other fans who just thrive on watching Barça FemenĂ­ “suffer”. But that should make the game all the more interesting. San Mames is a stadium famous for its rowdiness (in a good way), and providing an atmosphere that can only be rivaled by a handful of others. Having CulĂ©s in their tens of thousands screaming their heads off, will be as important a factor as the tactics haha.

On to the tactical nuts and bolts, Barça FemenĂ­ should first of all look to be aggressive and adequately physical, within the rules of the game of course. That’s because aside from their ball handling, OL’s midfield, presumably featuring Lindsey Horan, Danielle van De Donk and Damaris is gifted with valuable physicality. Barça’s midfield needs to match the intensity and consistency for the entire duration of the game and thrive. 

Defensive tactics will be just as important. I don’t have to remind anyone about Ada Hegerberg’s tendency to appear on the end of every cross or Cascarino’s torturous expeditions down the right wing. Diani’s prowess or Bacha’s talent for that matter. The smallest glitch in defense could be expensive.

To win the game however, goals have to be scored somehow. And there comes Barça’s problem in previous encounters with OL. The speed of progression was non-existent and/or consistently thwarted and the conversion was borderline depressing. To win games of fine margins, you’ve gotta take your chances. And well.

A few things have changed since and it’s hoped that the speed up front will be neck-breaking and the execution even better. With Graham Hansen and Salma Paralluelo, you get both. It’s just a matter of making sure they get the freedom they need.

OL‘s extreme full backs on both sides should be an easy exploit but with these kinds of games, unpredictability is key. OL certainly didn’t win eight titles by being predictable. Or lucky. Barça FemenĂ­ isn’t completely unpredictable but a good kind of predictable, where the opponent knows what needs to be done but they can’t do anything about it. They should capitalize on that nuanced sense of unpredictability. Start the game well, get the subs right and defend. 

All’s well that ends well.

Success can be a subjective topic but all CulĂ©s can and will agree that winning tomorrow is a success story that will mark an important milestone in the story of Barça FemenĂ­. Going into the game, history is not exactly on Barça Femení’s side. Only a win would wipe some of those tears that have been at the back of every  Barça fan’s mind. Those two humiliating finals in Budapest and Turin. 

The squad traveling to Bilbao has been announced and all that remains is waiting.As with all things, it could go, well, not as planned. But let us hope it doesn’t come to that.

It might feel like Barça is going into the final from a back foot, and with a little bit of a point to prove, but it’s not lost on any CulĂ© the importance of winning that match. Let’s go do that.
Vamos Barça!!!! đŸ””đŸ”Ž.