Barcelona and Lyon Competing in Uwcl Over Europe

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Three years ago, FC Barcelona and Olympique Lyon took to the field in Budapest, Hungary, to play the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Back then, Lyon were the firm favourites, looking to add a seventh Champions League title to their trophy cabinet. Barcelona, who were playing the final for the first time, were the favorites and that is exactly what unfolded that night in the Groupama area. The European power swept away the newcomers with ease.

Lyon, as Barcelona would a few years after, got off to a quick start thanks to Dzsenifer Marozsán, who impressed against his hometown. After that goal by Marozsán in the fifth minute, Lyon picked up the pace and Barcelona could not match it. Despite the players in their ranks even then, Barcelona was only one step behind, a heartbeat slower than the French champion and could not prevent Lyon from exploiting them again and again.

Ada Hegerberg scored a hat trick to make the victory even sweeter for Lyon, while Asisat Oshoala got a consolation goal for Barcelona on a night the Catalans have never forgotten. They learned a hard lesson that day about the levels they needed to reach to be at the top and it was a lesson they readily accepted and proceeded to learn from.

When you look at that version of Barcelona and the version we see today, some of the players may be the same, but the level of football has increased considerably for the Blaugranas. Tomorrow’s final sees Barcelona as favourites, albeit slight, as Lyon can never be ruled out, however, being the bookmakers’ favourite is something Barcelona have earned due to their dominance in Spain and in Europe since that night in Budapest. When these two teams meet at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, we will see a team in Barcelona, looking to avenge its defeat and another in Lyon, looking to reaffirm itself as the best team in Europe.

Barcelona come to this match after defeating all those who preceded them in the group stage (against Arsenal, HB Køge and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim), bypassing their Spanish rivals Real Madrid CF, and using a strong performance in the first leg to see them overcome VfL Wolfsburg in the semifinal. If you only looked at the scoreboards, you would think that Barcelona was as dominant in the Champions League as it has been in the First Iberdrola, which in some matters it was. However, against HB Køge, in matches against Real Madrid and in the second leg against Wolfsburg, there were defensive weaknesses that were exposed and more noticeable than ever in this Barça team, especially in this most recent Barcelona team. If Wolfsburg, especially, had been a little sharper in front of goal, we could be talking about that they would be in the final instead of Barcelona. That’s how bad Barcelona played in that second leg

Barcelona can be an irresistible force on their day Photo by Xavi Urgeles/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
However, the fact is that Barcelona have been so good in the last two years that those performances in the run-up to the final feel more like failures than real problems. There is a force in depth in this Barcelona team that should be able to change the game if their defense is again poorly exposed against Lyon and has game changes in strike that could unnerve any backline in the world. They improved drastically after being humiliated by Lyon in 2019 and will want to show the French team how different this Barcelona team is from the one they faced in Budapest. After back-to-back titles in Spain and a landslide win against Chelsea in last season’s Champions League final, you can see why one would think their form against Wolfsburg in Wolfsburg was an anomaly and not a sign of weakness.

Lyon itself has undergone changes since that final. After being eliminated at the quarter-final stage last year by Paris Saint-Germain and losing the league title to the same team, Lyon fired coach Jean-Luc Vasseur and brought in Sonia Bompastor to bring them back to glory. Another key change has been the return to form and fitness of Ada Hegerberg, who is finding the back of the net almost as regularly as before suffering that terrible injury.

In 2019, Hegerberg was surrounded at the top by Shanice van de Sanden and Eugénie Le Sommer, but in 2022, she has Melvine Malard, Delphine Cascarino and Catarina Macario. Macario, in particular, has been a revelation for Lyon this season. Her ability to thread a pass, appear with goals and also link up with Hegerberg have made her a bright star not only in France, but also on the Champions League stage. If Lyon is going to add another Champions League trophy to his cabinet, it will be through the connection Hegerberg and Macario have formed.

Unlike Barcelona, Lyon have not been as dominant throughout the competition. They have shown moments when their midfield has been outplayed and their backline has made more mistakes than any club affiliate would like to see. They have tried to address that by adding Lindsey Horan in January to give their midfield a little more bodily, but the inconsistency that plagued them during Vassuer’s tenure has not gone away and if their striking prowess had not been as efficient as it has been during the season, they would not have reached this final either and would be on the verge of retaining the women’s Division 1 title again. They found enough in them to defeat Juventus and PSG in the knockout stages, but both draws were not as easy as Lyon would have liked. They will have to take their performance to another level if they want to avoid defeat in the final against Barcelona.

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