Competition Focus

Barcelona 2 Lyon 0: With their third Women’s Champions League in four years, is this a changing of the guard?

Barcelona beat Lyon 2-0 in the Women’s Champions League final, roared on by 40,000 fans in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, to complete a magnificent 2023-24 quadruple and win this competition for the third time in four years. 

Aitana Bonmati put them ahead in the 63rd minute after linking brilliantly with Mariona Caldentey, and Lyon could find no way past goalkeeper Cata Coll. Ada Hegerberg, who has only just returned from two months lost to injury, had a chance to draw Lyon level in the closing stages but the top-scoring player in tournament history could only head Selma Bacha’s excellent cross over the crossbar. And then up stepped Alexia Putellas, a 92nd-minute substitute, to put the result beyond doubt with a powerful finish from close range.

Charlotte Harpur, Michael Cox and Laia Cervello Herrero analyse the key talking points from the San Mames stadium…

A changing of the guard?

Barcelona had never beaten Lyon, ever. This victory also means they have now won three of the past four Women’s Champions League finals. There is no denying Lyon’s dominance on the European stage, eight Champions League titles since 2011 is frankly ridiculous and Barca’s total of three pales in comparison.

From 2016 to 2020, Lyon won five in a row but it was Barcelona who dethroned them, with their 4-0 win over Chelsea. Since then, Barcelona have made every final, only losing to Lyon in 2022.

When asked before today’s game if this was the changing of the guard Lyon manager Sonia Bompastor disagreed, pointing to Lyon’s serial winning record. She said they would be the “best club in the world”, regardless of Saturday’s result.

But the tide is turning and Barcelona are here to stay.

Charlotte Harpur

Bonmati’s goal — should we have seen it coming?

In the 37th minute of the game, Mariona Caldentey, starting on the left of Barcelona’s attack, dropped deep and drifted inside into midfield, as she often does. Her direct opponent, Ellie Carpenter, tracked her all the way when Caldentey received possession, forcing her to retreat and play a backwards pass. Nothing came from the move.

But that small incident proved crucial in the game’s decisive moment.

Midway through the second half, Caldentey again received possession in that pocket, and Carpenter darted up towards her. Aitana Bonmati clearly spotted Carpenter getting sucked out of position, darted into that space, and Caldentey slipped her in.

What came next was a little fortunate.

Bonmati’s quick change of direction forced her onto her weaker left foot, but her shot deflected up off Lyon’s Vanessa Gilles and into the net. It was a scruffy finish. But, as so often from Barcelona, it was a well-crafted move.

(David Ramos/Getty Images)

And perhaps we should have suspected the goal would come from there.

Few are better than Caldentey at dragging opponents out of position. Carpenter, good physically and in terms of carrying the ball forward, does make defensive mistakes — as proved crucial in co-hosts Australia’s World Cup semi-finals exit against England last year.

In matches like this, one lapse can prove decisive.

Michael Cox

Barcelona take over Bilbao

Nearly 40,000 Barcelona fans made the 290-mile (465km) trip to Bilbao’s San Mames stadium, with tickets provided by the club selling out in half an hour. UEFA found that at least 39,000 of the 50,000 tickets sold had been bought by people living in Spain.

They came by plane, by train, by car, or in one of the 22 buses that travelled to the Basque city. The mode of transport didn’t matter. On Saturday, Bilbao’s streets were filled with the ‘blaugrana’ colours of Barcelona.

The Barcelona fanzone was buzzing throughout the morning and, with two hours to go until the match, the fans gathered with blue and red flares to form a corridor to welcome the coach taking the players to the ground. There were thousands of people with banners and flags, chanting their support to their team. They welcomed their players for the final battle in their quest for a quadruple.

Barcelona shirts, most of them with the numbers and names of female players, not male ones, on the back conquered Bilbao and made sure that there was clearly a “home” team in the final.

The manner in which the Catalan fans were cheering before the match, it almost felt like they were celebrating retaining their European title before a ball had been kicked.

The city was flooded with banners sponsored by a Dutch beer brand and the message was clear: “On 25 May, women in football have something to say”.

And so did the Barcelona fans.

Laia Cervello Herrero

Let’s have some appreciation for Bacha

Players who can operate at both left-back and left-winger are, on the whole, frustrated attackers. They reluctantly play full-back, and the defensive side of the game is something of an afterthought. In Fridolina Rolfo of Barcelona and Lyon’s Selma Bacha, this final featured two players who would probably prefer to play on the wing rather than in defence.

So let’s have some appreciation, then, for Bacha’s tackle on Caroline Graham Hansen with 15 minutes remaining.

The Norwegian, probably the best winger in Europe in the women’s game this season, had dribbled through the defence and was about to shoot from right in front of goal before Bacha showed great speed to make up ground, good awareness to spot the danger, and brilliant timing to nip in and deny Barcelona a goal.

In a game short on clear chances, many of its most impressive moments came from defenders.

Michael Cox

Was it just meant to be for Putellas?

Having suffered an ACL knee injury on the eve of the 2022 European Championship, Putellas has had a torrid time returning to the field, suffering setback after setback.

Some questioned whether the Barcelona forward would ever get back to the levels she showed before the injury. That lengthy lay-off also impacted negotiations to renew her contract, but this week Putellas extended her deal until 2026.

A lifelong Barcelona fan, she wrote her own fairytale today by slamming the ball into the back of the net to seal the deal in second-half stoppage time.

Charlotte Harpur

What did Jonatan Giraldez say?

“Eight Champions League titles is a lot (for the French), but I like to live in the present and last year we had a magnificent season and this year we have improved on that with another title. We have to live in the present and last year we were the best and this year too.

“We have to enjoy the successes and history will tell who is the best. But today was a great game and we were a little bit better and we won. We did a lot of things well today. As a team we played very good football. They all did what had to be done to win.”

What did Sonia Bompastor say?

“We have a great disappointment. We have lost a final and it’s tough now. In these moments you have to recognise that Barcelona had a great match and deserved to be the winners, although it’s hard to accept it.

“I am disappointed for my players because we worked really hard and wanted to finish this season with a new title and a new Champions League.”

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(Top photo: Alex Caparros – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

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