“Full of confidence”: why it’s advantage Barcelona in Champions League semi-final against PSG – tactical analysis
The UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals both still have a lot to play for, with Chelsea Women needing to recover from an away loss to Bayern Munich, but do have an away goal, whilst Barcelona Femeni also came away from Paris Saint-Germain Feminine with an away goal, giving them the advantage going into the second leg. This tactical analysis will preview all the action from PSG’s visit to the Spanish giants, looking at each side’s attacking and defensive tactics and where they can get the better of each other.
Barcelona Femeni have concerns over star forward Jennifer Hermoso, with the Spain international going off injured in the second half last weekend. However, they will be boosted by the return of Nigeria captain and striker Asisat Oshoala, who came off the bench to replace Hermoso in the first leg, having recently returned from a foot injury herself. Midfielder Patricia Guijarro also comes back in, having been suspended for last weekend’s encounter, so could start and add more quality in possession. Otherwise, Barcelona could name the same team that featured in Paris.
PSG Feminine could welcome back France forward Kadidiatou Diani, who was injured last weekend, meaning Canada international Ashley Lawrence could move to right-back from the wing, where she featured in the first leg. USA defender Alana Cook, whose first leg equaliser was her first professional goal for the French team, could make way for them, offering defensive cover instead. Otherwise, PSG have not reported any injuries in their squad, so it could be largely the same team that started in Sunday’s game.
Barcelona Femeni’s attack
Beginning with Barcelona Femeni’s attack, we know that they have a particular style of football, which they adapt to suit the way the game is going.
The role of the playmaker, usually taken by either Alexia Putellas or Aitana Bonmati, is a crucial part of their team. They dictate the tempo of the game, moving the ball into dangerous areas of the pitch and providing a pivot for the other players to play off. In this image, we see how Putellas has possession, passing the ball forwards for Norway attacker Caroline Graham Hansen, wearing number 16, to get on the end of. By doing so, she gets her team into the space behind Levante Femenino’s defence, where Hansen scores. Therefore, we can see how Putellas’ vision is important in setting up goalscoring chances.
However, what is particularly notable about the playmaker is their movement around the pitch. Often, they will play as a false nine, freeing up the striker to close the ball down in other areas of the pitch. This is something we saw a lot of in the first leg, with both Putellas and Bonmati swapping with Jennifer Hermoso, and meant that PSG Feminine had to keep concentrating on who was where at each point of the game. In the first half, this tactic was a key reason for Barcelona’s dominance.
This is highlighted even more here, in Barcelona’s game against Real Madrid Femenino. Real Madrid’s defenders have crowded together in the central areas of the pitch, allowing Hansen to break through on the nearside wing. From here, she has two choices; she can shoot at goal, or set up Asisat Oshoala, in the yellow circle, and chooses the latter. This leads to a goal for Barcelona here, and this type of attacking play, finding the spaces, is something we can expect to see a lot of against PSG, especially as the French side left gaps open like this in the first half of last weekend’s game.
Oshoala could start this game, with Hermoso an injury doubt, and the Nigerian is a different type of striker to the Spain star. Whereas Hermoso likes to drop back into midfield, as already analysed, Oshoala is more of an out-and-out striker, always showing plenty of energy and desire to close opponents down as often as possible.
In the second half last weekend, she brought more energy to Barcelona’s attack after coming on, which forced PSG to move the ball quicker than they had been up to that point. This increases the potential of PSG making a mistake, so is something Barcelona can use to put pressure on them throughout the game, taking control early on.
Barcelona Femeni’s defence
Their biggest problem in attack was giving the ball away, leading to them not converting good opportunities. However, whilst this is down to them being careless in possession at times, their defence does have some bigger problems during games, which could be what allows PSG Feminine back into the tie.
Here, we see in their quarter-final first leg game against Manchester City Women how they were strong and organised, with Manchester City unable to find a way through. Barcelona Femeni normally like to push their full-backs high up the pitch, controlling the wings and providing a source of balls into the box. However, when they lose the ball, they need to track back quickly and form a line with the two central defenders, as you can see happening here. This has kept Manchester City in front of them, and so Barcelona can stop their opponents creating chances in the space behind them.
However, in the second leg, the defence wasn’t as organised, as this image shows. The full-backs haven’t tracked back as quickly as needed, with the centre-backs now having to cover all of the open spaces around them. Manchester City have passed the ball out to the outside attacker, as the blue arrow shows, which forces the Barcelona defender in the red circle to continually change their body position, making it harder for them to get back and close the space off.
PSG can use their quick attackers to press Barcelona, winning the ball in dangerous areas and launching counter-attacks in the same fashion as Manchester City did here. This would keep the Spanish side on the back foot and starve their attackers of ball possession.
PSG Feminine’s attack
With regards to this, PSG Feminine’s attack is built on strong offensive play, with the full-backs essential to their tactics in the final third.
In this image, we see how left-back Perle Morroni has advanced into Montpellier Feminines’ final third, and is now looking to play the ball back to a teammate inside the pitch. We saw a lot of this in the first leg, allowing PSG to cause problems for Barcelona Femeni’s defenders, moving the ball into the space behind them, and is highly likely we will see it this weekend too. However, PSG’s main problem in these situations is a lack of quality with the final pass, and this let them down last weekend. When they get into these situations, they need more quality with the ball, otherwise they will struggle to take their opportunities.
The other key feature of their attack is for the midfielders to make runs forward and create passing opportunities. In a similar way to Barcelona’s setup, midfielders Sara Dabritz and Grace Geyoro make runs into and beyond the defensive line, as Geyoro is doing here against Bordeaux Feminines. This ensures that the opposing defenders have to stay back, because Geyoro would be left unmarked behind them if they came forward here.
Again, we saw this happening a lot in the second half of last weekend’s match, and it was a key reason for PSG’s improvement after half-time. Therefore, it is likely that we will see more of it this weekend, as it is another way that PSG can keep Barcelona back, as well as creating the space and passing options to score the vital away goal they need.
PSG Feminine’s defence
Defensively, PSG Feminine are susceptible to making mistakes, which is where they need to be wary against Barcelona Femeni’s attacking prowess.
One of the things they tend to do is leave gaps open at the back, which comes from poor line discipline. In this image, taken from the first leg of PSG’s quarter-final first leg against Lyon Feminin, captain Irene Paredes starts off alongside her teammates, but then moves to close down the attacker in front of her. In doing so, she leaves the gap open, which Lyon take full advantage of to score the only goal of the game.
Had Paredes stayed in line here, Lyon may not have made the pass behind, because it would have been too risky. Therefore, PSG need to be aware of leaving spaces open, especially with Barcelona constantly looking to penetrate the gaps between them with their shifting attacking setup and false nine tactics.
PSG also sometimes lack composure in possession. Here, against Le Havre, Poland defender Paulina Dudek has advanced beyond the halfway line to receive the ball, but is closed down, as the yellow arrow shows, and loses possession. Her high position allows her opponent to get into the space behind, and, like with the last image, PSG have let them run at goal from their own error.
This is something PSG need to be aware of. In the first half last weekend, when Barcelona were on top, they were given too much space to play in, allowing them to continually switch their players around and keep the pressure on PSG at the back. Therefore, better quality in these situations from the French team could help them to close Barcelona out.
This analysis has so far looked at both sides’ attacking and defensive tactics, but we will now focus on their statistics, seeing where each is stronger and where they can beat the other.
From this table, it is clear that Barcelona Femeni are stronger in most areas, albeit by small margins. In particular, it is notable that both teams have around the same number of shots on target, meaning that we can expect the play to be end-to-end in the second leg, just as it was in the first. The crossing accuracy also reflects what we saw last weekend from both teams, with Barcelona sending plenty of balls into the box from their full-backs, whilst PSG Feminine keep the ball on the ground more, choosing to play more through balls into the space from central areas.
PSG will be encouraged by the fact that Barcelona concede more goals on average per game than they do, and this is likely to be because PSG win more duels at the back, as is also shown in the table. Therefore, Barcelona will find it tough to break them down, but what we have learnt from the Spanish side is that they always find a way, and can adapt to different situations and make tactical changes where necessary.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has previewed what we can expect from the second leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final between Barcelona Femeni and PSG Feminine. Based on what has been analysed, our prediction is that Barcelona will edge the game, but both sides will score at least once. We can expect the game to be hugely tactical, with both sides trying different things to come out on top. It could well come down to the error PSG made that gave Barcelona their first leg away goal that decides who advances to the final, showing how costly mistakes like that can be at this stage in competitions.