History beckons in clash of titans Champions League final
Barça Femení have the chance to retain their European crown but face seven-time winners Lyon in what will be an epic showdown on Saturday
The weight of history looms large over this season’s Champions League final when FC Barcelona take on Lyon. The game kicks off on Saturday, May 21, at 19:00 CEST.
It’s a repeat of the 2019 showpiece event when the French side won the 4th of their imperious five-in-a-row. That game in Budapest was Barcelona’s first ever Champions League final and also the last to have fans in attendance.
This game pits the current champions against the team that won the previous five editions of the tournament, and a total of seven: one of the strongest dynasties in women’s football history, against the side hoping to emulate their success and permanently replace them at the top.
Barça Femení’s objectives have long ago moved beyond searching for success and proving they’re a good team; now they are fighting for historic records in the magnitude of their success and proving they are an all-time great team.
The league title was wrapped up weeks ago with many games to spare, and they’ve added the cherry on top of that title by winning all 30 of their games to register the perfect season. In doing so, they scored 159 goals – a rate of 5.3 goals per game – and conceded only 11.
Lyon meanwhile are looking at a campaign of slaying their challengers and holding on to their position as the long-established best team on the continent. Last year was something of an anomaly for them as they neither picked up the Champions League nor the domestic title. They were beaten by PSG in both competitions, bowing out at the quarter-final stage in Europe.
In 2019, Lyon raced to a 4-0 lead against Barcelona only half an hour into the game. Goalkeeper Sandra Paños admits that the team were “overwhelmed” that day, but also points out that the team have learned a lot since then, and that every game is its own “world.” “We had our game plan but within 20 minutes, everything had changed,” she explains, before adding that Barcelona are “a different team” now.
“The step forward the team has taken [since 2019] is evident,” forward Mariona Caldentey believes. “The same core is still in place and I think this is very positive because we’ve improved and grown together.”
For the Catalan striker, the team is now “much better prepared physically” for this final compared to the last time they met Lyon. “We are much better prepared on a tactical and technical level.”
Sandra Paños is certain of the same point. She believes that Lyon have for years been physically ahead of the rest of European women’s football, but now Barça have managed to close that gap thanks to the work put in over recent years.
Paños also points to the experience that the blaugrana have gained over these seasons, winning titles in record fashion, and picking up their first Champions League after going through the bitter disappointment of falling to Lyon in 2019. “Going through these things will help you [in the future] to do things better, or make better decisions.”
Dealing with pressure
“It’s just another game, but everything that surrounds it is different,” Mariona says. She’s got friends and family with her in the week building up to the game, and admits that there’s a certain level of “excitement” among everybody ahead of the big game. However, Barça are a team that can “cope well” with the nerves and pressure that comes naturally ahead of such an important fixture.
Ahead of such an exceptional game, Mariona tries to have as “normal” a week as possible. Calm, relaxed, eat well, “You might think about going out for dinner with friends, but this week maybe it’s best to just wait a few days.”
Training in the morning, before eating together at Barça’s training ground, and then watching a television series or some football game in the evening – this is how Mariona Caldentey’s week looks before a Champions League final.
Fridolina Rolfö, the Swedish attacker-turned-left-back, joined Barcelona last summer, and has not won the Champions League in her career to date, after losing finals to Lyon before in the past. Her preparation this week will also be to maintain things as normal as possible, although “when it gets closer to the game I’ll do things a little bit different.” Until then, it’s nice to just “relax and hang out with friends, it’s the way I feel happy and relaxed before the game,” she explains.
Supporters: world records and travelling to Turin
Barça Femení have made headlines this season for breaking the world record for the highest attendance at an official women’s football match not once, but in fact twice. It’s expected that a large crowd of around 15,000 will be following the team to Turin this weekend to spur the blaugrana on, and Mariona says the crowd can help the team “a lot.”
She remembers when barely anybody showed up to watch Barça Femení home matches, but now she says it’s a “precious” feeling to see so many people excited to see the women’s team perform. “We have to take advantage of this social movement to continue attracting big crowds.”
“I get motivated by seeing people in the stands, it gives me more energy and more motivation,” Rolfö says. “I’m really excited and it’s so cool that there are so many Barça fans coming to the game,” the Swedish star added.
Goalkeeper Paños is happy for the fact that people can travel to this final and enjoy it in person, after last year’s showpiece event was played behind closed doors due to the pandemic. “Without them, all of this is impossible. Ultimately, playing football is for the fans,” she said.
Big screen in Barcelona
For fans unable to travel to Turin to witness the game in person, the council are mounting a big screen in the city center for culés to enjoy the final in an atmospheric setting.
Mayor Ada Colau confirmed the move on radion station RAC1 on Thursday morning, and suggested the location could be Plaça Catalunya.
Additionally, should Barça bring the trophy home, Colau hinted at there possibly being a parade organized for the team to celebrate with the local fans.
An open-top bus ride through the city would let fans have a chance at seeing their favourite stars celebrating with the European trophy, if Barcelona win.