Barcelona Femení: Which striker should replace Jennifer Hermoso in their starting XI? – scout report
Barcelona Femení may be one of the most feared teams in global women’s football, but they, like anyone, are susceptible to their biggest talents moving elsewhere after being offered attractive deals by rival sides. This summer, they have seen Spain left-back Leila Ouahabi join Manchester City Women, Netherlands winger Lieke Martens move to PSG Féminine and Spain forward Jennifer Hermoso, their all-time top scorer, depart for Mexican side Pachuca Femenil, whilst another left-back, Melanie Serrano, has retired.
This has left Barcelona with a number of gaps to fill in their team, the biggest of which is in their forward line, with questions already being asked about which player might be the best option to take Hermoso’s place as the figurehead of their attack. In order to find a solution, this tactical analysis will identify three likely candidates and assess their chances of appearing in the starting XI. The scout report will break down what each currently brings or would bring to the team’s tactics and will reach a final judgement on which is the best replacement and why.
The first player to consider is Nigeria captain Asisat Oshoala, who has been at Barcelona Femení since 2019 and has generally been Hermoso’s understudy. However, she is a high-quality striker in her own right and is widely regarded as one of the greatest African female players of all time, so she has a good chance of stepping up and taking over from her former teammate.
When analysing her and Hermoso’s styles of play, there are notable differences. Hermoso tended to drop back much more, drawing opposing defenders out of position and allowing Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí to move forward (as was the case against Chelsea Women in the 2021 Champions League final), and this made the Spanish side more unpredictable and harder to defend against.
In contrast, former Liverpool Women and Arsenal Women player Oshoala tends to stay further forward and lead the line, meaning that she opens up spaces behind her and allows Putellas and Bonmatí, as the team’s key attacking midfielders, to operate much more as creative playmakers. As a result, this situation shows Putellas simply sending the ball through for Oshoala here, with the latter already between the Atlético Madrid Femenino defensive line and providing the 2021 Ballon d’Or Féminin recipient with a simple pass into the space behind.
Therefore, Oshoala’s ability and natural tendency to stay forwards and play amongst the opposing defenders has been of huge benefit to Barcelona, as it has allowed them to vary their attacks and play with different styles, dropping back in some games and pressing forwards in others. The fact that Oshoala got 61.5% of her shots on target last season, compared to Hermoso’s 52.6%, again highlights how she likes to get forward and is more suited to a high press, which is why alternating between her and Hermoso worked so well at Johan Cruyff Stadium.
The fact that she leads the line so well also means that Barcelona can make deliveries into dangerous areas much earlier, with Norway winger Caroline Graham Hansen crossing the ball in here and Oshoala’s speed and direct running preventing Sevilla Femenino from reacting in time.
The fact that the Nigeria striker begins her run before the cross is made is significant, because it means that Hansen can aim for the gap between the goalkeeper and defenders, known as the “corridor of uncertainty”, and Oshoala will meet it on more occasions than not, as highlighted by the Nigerian finishing as the league’s joint top scorer last season, with 20 goals. This time, Oshoala did miss the ball, but only just, so the intent was still there and Sevilla were let off after giving their opponents the space to attack into.
The problem that Oshoala does have at times is that she gets into open areas and then either hesitates or becomes caught in two minds with the ball. This situation is a good example of that, with the striker able to shoot at goal or pass to her teammate in the yellow circle, but isn’t decisive enough and ends up attempting both, with the ball going across goal and out of play as a result.
For Barcelona, this isn’t generally a major issue, given that they scored 159 goals and won all 30 league games last season, whilst Oshoala’s 70.8% passing accuracy indicates that she is normally very tidy with the ball. However, the fact that it has happened in a few matches does mean that some wins are less comfortable and require more work, so it needs to be brought into the debate as a possible reason for the Nigerian to not be Hermoso’s replacement. We also can’t escape from the fact that, as stated earlier, they have different styles and she won’t be a like-for-like replacement, and that is something else that needs to be thrown into the equation.
Given this, it might be wise to look at another option, in the shape of Clàudia Pina. The first point to make about the Spanish forward is that, whilst Oshoala is 27 years old and experienced, Pina is still just 20 and so, in comparison, remains in development. However, Barcelona Femení might give her the nod ahead of others in the squad, seeing this as an opportunity to give one of their academy graduates a firmer role in the first team.
Pina also differs from Oshoala in that she tends to drop back into deeper spaces, so plays more like Hermoso than the Nigerian does. This is illustrated clearly in this situation, with Oshoala in the yellow circle and leading the attack whilst Pina is in the red circle and in a position further back.
Getting into open spaces between opponents is Pina’s biggest strength, and it comes from her desire to have the ball at every opportunity. As a result, she is much more inclined to work with her teammates to build attacks and not just stay further forward and wait for the ball to come to her. In this example, Pina moving back has enabled Barcelona to probe any small holes that they find in Lyon Féminin’s defence, testing the French giants and seeing if there is any way into their goal area.
Pina did score 13 times in the league last season but also registered nine assists in all competitions for the team, whilst Oshoala only picked up two assists (in all competitions). Therefore, Pina is the more well-rounded option and would fit the profile of a player who contributes in other ways and doesn’t simply score goals, if that is what Jonatan Giráldez is looking for.
The advantage of Pina moving into these gaps with this amount of ease is that she can be part of the second phase of Barcelona’s attacks, just as Hermoso was on plenty of occasions. Here, she has dropped behind Bonmatí, who has moved forward to shoot at goal in a congested area of the pitch, and when the midfielder’s effort is blocked by Real Madrid Femenino captain Ivana Andrés, Pina has time and space to control the loose ball and score before any of the defenders can react and clear their lines.
This is another reason that Barcelona’s tactic of dropping their striker back has worked so well for them because, as well as the unpredictability for opponents, it allows them to be as efficient as possible in opposing goal areas. With Pina able to fill this role, it again shows how she is in the Hermoso mould and would be a good replacement for her in the Spanish champions’ starting XI.
However, as with Oshoala, there is a slight issue with Pina that might hinder her chances of becoming Hermoso’s successor, and it is that she is not the best at keeping possession when in tight spaces. This section has so far shown that she can drop into spaces and help to build play, but both of those situations were in more open areas where she had time to control the ball. In this case, Real Madrid defender Babett Peter and midfielders Maite Oroz and Claudia Zornoza have closed her down and limited her options, with Pina losing possession as a result.
However, there was potential for her to play the ball out of danger here before being completely closed off, so what Pina perhaps needs to work on still is her decision-making around the pitch. This will improve as she continues to develop each season, but it might be what prevents her from being seen as Hermoso’s replacement at this stage in her career.
Therefore, perhaps a third choice is required, and it comes in the shape of one of Barcelona Femení’s summer recruits, Brazil striker Geyse Ferreira, who has joined after netting 20 times for fellow Primera División club Madrid CF Femenino. That goal tally made her the league’s joint top scorer in 2021/2022, alongside her new clubmate Oshoala, so there is huge potential for the 24-year-old to thrive in her new surroundings.
However, what makes her a strong contender to replace Hermoso is that there is more to her game than simply scoring goals, as this section of the analysis will now go into.
One quality that she shares with her Nigerian teammate is her speed around the field, which allows her to anticipate play and always be one step ahead of her opponents. In this case, the timing of her run is particularly important, as she waits until Real Sociedad Femenino defender Nuria Rábano makes the pass towards Ane Etxezarreta before closing the latter player down, with Etxezarreta having no choice but to receive the ball under pressure and concede possession to the Brazilian, who ends up putting the ball in the back of the net.
Therefore, her pace and ability to close players down is one reason that she could start for Barcelona, and the fact that Oshoala is used so often proves that Jonatan Giráldez likes having a pacey attacker who can lead the line. However, with Ferreira adding an ability to win the ball in advanced positions, as indicated by her 40.4% success rate in offensive duels (compared to Oshoala’s 28.6% and Pina’s 36.5%), it is clear that she will give them an ability to win the ball and press with more purpose, which might be what Giráldez is looking for.
Ferreira is not just an out-and-out striker though and has also been known to bring others into the game. In this situation, she would have been able to take on her Villarreal Femenino opponent in a 1-v-1 duel with a good chance of winning, but she instead looked up and saw the movement of midfielder Estela into the space between the two Villarreal lines. Therefore, given that there is a good amount of space open for Estela to exploit, she puts the ball into the middle and sets up a shot on goal for her teammate.
On this occasion, the shot goes just wide of the target, but the point still stands that Ferreira is capable of working with others to create opportunities and shoot at goal from the best angles around the pitch. At Barcelona, with the likes of Putellas and Bonmatí performing similar attacking roles to Estela and getting up the field to support play, this is a critical quality to have and is another reason that Ferreira could be Hermoso’s replacement in the starting XI.
Her ability to work with opponents also helps when the team are looking to move the ball into spaces behind opponents, rather than simply into the gaps between them. In this situation, Ferreira is on the nearside wing with Estela again close by, and the presence of both means that Real Sociedad are drawn slightly out of position and a potential pass behind is opened up. Ferreira’s pace comes into play once more, with the Brazil striker getting on the front foot and attacking the space, although the pass from Estela is hit too hard and goes beyond her, with Serbia forward Allegra Poljak tidying up for Real Sociedad.
However, again, Ferreira is central to the chance being created. What is perhaps most important to note here is that she is on the wing this time and not looking to play through the middle, which gives Jonatan Giráldez options in the team as he will also need a new left winger following Martens’ departure. He is known for liking players who can operate in multiple roles and positions, so this furthers Ferreira’s case to be in the starting XI.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has identified three likely replacements who could all start for Barcelona Femení in the centre forward role, now that Spain star Jennifer Hermoso has joined Mexican side Pachuca. All three of Oshoala, Pina and Ferreira would be excellent choices for different reasons, with Oshoala having been her natural understudy, Pina playing in the same style and Ferreira being a serial goalscorer who can operate in numerous roles.
This is not to say that there aren’t other solutions, with Sweden star Fridolina Rolfö and another young Spanish forward, Bruna Vilamala, both capable of operating as central strikers. However, Rolfö is more likely to be kept in a wider role, having featured as a winger or a left-back during 2021/2022, whilst Vilamala missed much of the last season with a long-term injury.
Oshoala is perhaps the most likely to start, given that, as mentioned at the beginning of the analysis, she has been Hermoso’s backup for the last three years. Pina, meanwhile, has featured plenty of times but is still just 20 and is therefore still developing, whilst Ferreira will need time to grow into the expectations of being at one of the world’s leading women’s football clubs. However, on balance and given the points made throughout this scout report, the best option would be the Brazilian, because she can drop short and lead the line and play both centrally and in wide areas, so would offer the full package and is almost a hybrid of Oshoala’s and Pina’s key qualities. Therefore, Ferreira gets our backing.