UWCL 2021/2022 : How Lyon Women ended Barcelona Women’s European dominance thanks to effective pressing and finishing concreteness – tactical analysis
Lyon Women were able to lift the UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy last weekend by winning 3-1 against the title holders and favourites, Barcelona Women, in one of the most entertaining women’s football games in the last few seasons given the quality of both teams. In fact, Lyon made a big surprise to many followers of the game in this final and the way with which they won was even more impressive.
Knowing the current excellent form of Barcelona players and the fact that they became almost unbeatable this season, it was a great accomplishment for Lyon to be still able to win with three goals while conceding just one against a giant of the European football, relying mainly on the talent of their players as well as their European experience. This experience includes winning against this same Barcelona side in the final of 2019’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Therefore, repeating the accomplishment twice in a short period and despite Barcelona’s great run form was huge for Lyon. And the fact that this Lyon team was in a transition phase during this season adds a lot more value to their win. Lyon’s recent unstable run of form of last season costed them the qualification to the UWCL’s semi-finals against their rivals PSG and that helped them work better this season and have more motivation to reach the last stages of the competition.
Also, succeeding in lifting the trophy against a tough team like Barcelona proves that Lyon’s players have got a lot of character and that they can’t be underestimated. The team believed in their abilities to win and showed that immediately on the pitch, and that’s what enabled them to score three goals in a single half while creating some other dangerous goalscoring chances.
In this tactical analysis article, we will focus on Lyon’s attacking plans and how they were able to score three goals while at the same time exploring Barcelona’s defensive mistakes and identifying the reasons that led to their “downfall” in terms of tactics. Moreover, it will be important to look at Barcelona’s attacking performance and see what went wrong for them despite having some of the best attacking players in the world.
Sonia Bompastor preferred to start this game using the 4-2-3-1 formation and relying on Christiane Endler as a goalkeeper, Ellie Carpenter, Griedge Mbock Bathy, Wendie Renard and Selma Bacha in defence, Lindsey Horan and Amandine Henry as central midfielders, Delphine Cascarino and Melvine Malard on the wings while Catarina Macario played as an advanced playmaker in support of Ada Hegerberg.
On the other side, Jonatan Giráldez started the match according to the usual 4-3-3 formation with Sandra Paños as a goalkeeper, Marta Torrejón, Irene Paredes, former Atlético Madrid’s Mapi León and former Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg’s Fridolina Rolfö in defence, Aitana Bonmatí, Patricia Guijarro and Alexia Putellas as central midfielders, Caroline Graham Hansen and Mariona Caldentey on the wings and Jennifer Hermoso as a striker.
Lyon started this match in an excellent and efficient manner and most of all, they were very dynamic on the ball and especially when out of possession, which enabled them to disturb Barcelona’s build-up from the back and make their passing more complicated. This was possible only through continuous high pressing from Lyon players and most of all, it needed intelligent movements and not just pressing for the sake of it, otherwise, Lyon wouldn’t have benefited from their pressing.
This means that the team studied Barcelona very well and were aware of their passing systems and plans especially when building up, and that’s why Lyon players looked aggressive on the ball and predicted Barcelona’s passes better than most if not all previous Barcelona’s opponents. What helped the team in winning the ball upfront as well is the number with which Lyon pressed high on Barcelona defenders. You can see here how five Lyon players were in Barcelona’s own third and marked most players.
Moreover, being able to stop Barcelona’s overlaps on the wings was key to reducing the efficiency of Barcelona’s attacks, knowing that they rely a lot on Rolfö and Torrejón’s advancements. Barcelona were obliged to opt from crosses due to Lyon’s pressing especially during the first-half but these crosses were often anticipated by Lyon’s midfielders who were prepared for such a solution.
Lyon showed great confidence and desire as soon as the match kicked-off and what highlights this great level of confidence is not the pressing but Henry’s goal which took place at the fifth minute thanks to an excellent effort from the French international. In fact, Henry received a pass from Hegerberg but had to make a sliding tackle to avoid Putellas’ interception attempt. As soon as she did that, she advanced a little bit, saw the goal and launched a powerful and a very angled shot that went inside the net beautifully, giving Lyon a deserved early lead thanks mainly to their high pressing and their belief in their abilities, unlike many other teams who faced Barcelona with fear and indecision especially at the final third.
Soon after this goal, Barcelona tried to make a reaction but Lyon’s defence remained solid thanks to the experience of Renard and the attention of Mbock. Plus, Lyon didn’t want to retreat and defend in their own half because against a team like Barcelona, doing that would mean that they gave up since Barcelona can be fatal when given some space and time.
Lyon were really planning on adding a second goal and Hegerberg’s movements inside the box with and without the ball created many difficulties for Barcelona’s two centre-backs. Hegerberg’s dynamism was rewarded with a great cross from Bacha following a one-two combination with Malard that enabled them to avoid Barcelona’s defending on the left-wing. As you can see in the following picture, Lyon scored their second goal thanks to Bacha’s great effort on the wing and, most of all, her excellent crossing quality despite being under pressure and crossing when running.
The credit also goes to Hegerberg who was outstanding in demarking herself and placing herself in a position that allowed her to execute her header successfully despite facing some tough defenders like León and Paredes. In fact, Hegerberg was unpredictable inside the box and created lots of problems for Barcelona’s defence, and this goal just confirms that idea.
Lyon were able to make 46 interceptions in this match and win 57 out of 76 defensive duels. And thanks to their continuous pressing on the wings and especially on Rolfö to not let her advance a lot and oblige her to stay in her team’s own half, the team benefited from numerous counterattacking opportunities that they were able to exploit well despite missing some of them like the following one.
After successfully intercepting the ball from the right-wing, Hegerberg received a pass that put her in a very suitable shooting/passing position. She advanced with the ball and waited for Malard’s movement before making a decision. Malard tried to advance towards the box between two Barcelona players while hoping to get a through pass from Hegerberg. However, the latter had other plans in mind since she tried to shoot from distance using her left foot, which was not really the best decision to make since her shot went away from goal. Hegerberg’s decision making in this opportunity could have been better since she had the chance to put her teammate in a decisive position with the ball. Otherwise, she could have feinted to pass before advancing until finding a better shooting position.
Lyon were able to add their third goal in the 33rd minute, exploiting the confusion created within Barcelona’s defence and continuing their great attacking match thanks to Macario’s excellent positioning and Hegerberg’s great vision and assist, given that she was quick enough to spot Macario’s excellent position and the fact that she was being totally unmarked.
Hegerberg herself was about to score a fourth goal for her team just two minutes after their third goal. She received a pass into space at the edge of the box after a great advancement from Macario, fixed her opponent and aimed for a curved shot towards the far post but her shot was saved by Paños. It is true that Hegerberg had the option of crossing the ball to Cascarino, yet, she can’t be blamed for not doing so because she was in a very suitable shooting position, as you can see below.
Lyon had few other opportunities as well but did not add more goals. Those three goals were already more than enough for a final match against a team like Barcelona. The team shot 13 times in this game with five being on target. It is true that the possession, as well as the passing accuracy rates, are in favour of Barcelona. However, Lyon have just proved that these two aspects don’t mean a lot if not accompanied with decisive finishing and continuous chance creation.
Barcelona’s performance and errors
Barcelona were unable to start the game well due to Lyon’s instant high pressing and dynamism. The players looked a little bit shocked and were lacking concentration in their own half, especially in terms of passing, which gave even more confidence to Lyon and more worry and indecision for Barcelona whose players were probably thinking about their last painful UWCL final against Lyon and were not able to get over it. Even when they tried to advance in the early minutes of the match, Barcelona players were faced with organised defending led by Renard and Mbock who made numerous decisive anticipations like the following one against Bonmatí.
Barcelona were also unable to use their full-backs’ weapon since Lyon were attacking very high throughout the match, which made things complicated for the Blaugrana as Caldentey and Hansen lacked support on the wings and were often marked and isolated. It is true that Caldentey started the match to provide more defensive support, yet, the attacking impact was lacking on both wings, mainly thanks to Lyon’s defending but also due to Barcelona’s lack of concentration in this match.
In one of the few times where Rolfö was able to advance and cut inside, she was successful in creating some sort of danger. And in the same action, Torrejón received the ball on the right-wing and crossed it accurately for Putellas who was coming from behind and who scored Barcelona’s single goal of the match. This supports the idea that Barcelona’s use of full-backs was extremely important and that their goal was only possible by passing through one or two of them.
It should also be said that Lyon did not permit any penetrations from the middle and marked Hermoso very tight and the same applies for Asisat Oshoala as soon as she was subbed on. Therefore, Barcelona continued relying mainly on crosses and we saw Rolfö advancing more often in the second-half and attempting those crosses since they aware that they didn’t have anything to lose and that it was a “now or never” situation for Barcelona. Rolfö was able to create some danger with her crosses but Oshoala failed to direct her header accurately in the following occasion for instance, in addition to being in an offside position.
Barcelona lacked the final touch in attack and most of all, they were unable to finish the actions well, unlike in previous occasions. This has to do with many factors but most of all, it was due to the heavy pressure put on the players to win this trophy since they were the favourites throughout the season.
Moreover, Lyon’s defence was very organised and the players blocked numerous Barcelona shots, which explains how attentive they were on most occasions. And in the few chances in which Barcelona had the chance to score and where Lyon failed to intercept the ball, Barcelona’s finishing was not good enough, and that cost them the match. On top of this, making some big defensive mistakes was not allowed in such a match. It is true that during the first goal action, Barcelona can’t be blamed because it was an excellent individual and unpredictable effort from Henry. However, the team should have defended a lot better to prevent the second and the third goal.
For the second goal, Hegerberg should not have been left alone inside the box, even if it was only one meter. And when it comes to the third goal, Barcelona did a crucial mistake by letting Macario alone inside the box while four Barcelona players were not marking anyone, just like you can see below. It is true that Lyon’s passing was confusing in this action, yet the players could have been more attentive and reactive. Moreover, they should have defended with their back towards the goal in order to look at Lyon’s players and be able to anticipate passes and movements, not the contrary.
This was a huge triumph for Lyon who proved once again that they are one of the best teams in the World despite being in a transition phase and most of all, despite playing against the European team that shined the most during this season and during last season as well. Lyon played with a lot of passion, confidence and determination and that was clear on the pitch. Scoring three goals in a single half helped them a lot for the rest of the game, knowing that they were also outstanding in terms of defending.
For Barcelona, the team needs to get past this loss and start focusing on next season after finishing their Copa de la Reina fixtures. This loss can serve as a valuable lesson for the team in order to reflect on their journey and especially to identify their mistakes and try to fix them in training. Such a loss however should not delete the amazing season of this team knowing that Barcelona played great football throughout the season and were successful on every aspect prior to this final.