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Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Barcelona 3-1 Brann

UEFA Technical Observer Joe Montemurro puts Barcelona's quarter-final second-leg victory under the microscope.

Barcelona celebrate victory after the final whistle
Barcelona celebrate victory after the final whistle Getty Images

UEFA Technical Observer Joe Montemurro analyses Barcelona's 3-1 victory over Brann in the second leg of their UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-final tie.

The match as it happened

The title holders were made to work hard for victory against well-structured quarter-final debutants Brann, who bravely remained loyal to their short-passing game in the Catalan capital and impressed Technical Observer Joe Montemurro with the density of their defensive set-up and the rapidity of their transition play.

As Brann head coach Martin Ho remarked after the 3-1 defeat: "My players have broken barriers down, I couldn't have asked more of them. They've reached levels that perhaps they didn't know they had. We've stepped up against the best in the world and we've given them a game – pushed them all the way. Players and fans have let Norwegian football come away from here with heads held high."

Former Arsenal and Juventus head coach Montemurro linked up with UEFA's analysis unit to highlight some of the key hallmarks of a tactically fascinating match featuring more than 1,000 passes. Barça, perhaps predictably, enjoyed a huge slice of possession (61%), had the lion's share of goal attempts (25 to 7) and, as a gauge of the home team's use of wide areas, delivered 28 crosses compared to the visitors' eight.

Highlights: Barcelona 3-1 Brann

However, the scoreline was decided by moments of individual magic by Aitana Bonmatí and Player of the Match in both legs of the tie, Caroline Graham Hansen. "Her positioning in wide areas was very good," Montemurro commented. "Her decision-making in and around the area was excellent and integral to creating goalscoring opportunities. Her all-round game also showcased her defensive abilities.”

A series of video clips illustrate these and other aspects of an intriguing game at the Estadi Johan Cruyff in Barcelona.

Brann bravely play out of Barça's high press

The first series of clips focuses on three Brann goal kicks, where the art of retreating to receive the ball is a key ingredient in the Norwegian team's ability to play through their opponent's high press. As the first clip shows, they do this even with all ten Barça outfield players in the Brann half.

Justine Kielland is the player who runs back into a central area to make a one-touch lay-off to one of the two defenders in the box. Another backward run from midfield and another one-touch lay-off (to the right-back) are followed by a forward pass, which is intercepted on this occasion. However, Brann had found a route through Barça's two front lines of defence.

Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Brann play out of Barça's high press

The second goal kick shows Brann with two attackers supported by a duo in deeper positions, tempting Lucy Bronze to venture forward and leave a 2v2 at the back. When the ball is played to one of the two deeper players, Bronze sets off on a crossfield pursuit. The ball is played to the right-back and then to a player in the unoccupied midfield area, prompting a penetrating solo run, a pass to the left and the goal scored by Tomine Svendheim, which capped a successful end-to-end build-up.

The third example shows Brann set up with four players spread wide at the back, with the full-backs retreating as the ball is played. Once again, a backward run in midfield draws a Barça marker forward, creating a cameo where three home-team players attack the ball but leave one opponent free to receive and break forward with a 4v3 situation ahead of her.

Brann's play is showcased when eight players are up for a move that generates a cross from the right into a penalty area where the visitors maintain their 4v3 advantage. Fortunately for Barça, Cata Coll comes off her line to make the catch.

Brann challenge Barça's build-up play

As Montemurro remarked: "Both teams found it difficult to build through central areas from the goalkeeper or players in the defensive third. Brann's density in midfield stopped Barcelona playing through them and often isolated their single playmaker, Keira Walsh. Therefore, outlets in wide areas were the key to their progression into the final third.”

Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Brann challenge Barça's build-up play

Brann's strategy is apparent in the first video clip in this section. They have seven players forward at a Barça goal kick, with the central areas so well protected that only the home team's full-backs are potential receivers. Coll opts for the long clearance. Brann win the header and attack immediately via a cross from the left into the box, where two attackers and three defenders are in a flat line.

At another goal kick (the following clip), Brann's outfield players are distributed in a narrow 3-3-1-3, each player with clear marking duties. Coll's long ball is won by an attacker on this occasion, but Brann rapidly transition as Barça break on the right, congregating seven players in line with or behind the ball – and the low cross is dealt with.

The final clip shows Brann pressing 4v3 in the vicinity of a Barça throw-in. When the ball is played back to the keeper, six visitors move up, each closing in on an opponent. On this occasion, Alexia Putellas cleverly drops deep to receive the ball and earns a free-kick which relieves the pressure.

The impact of individuals

While Brann impressed with their collective virtues, the match was decided by individual skills. "A moment of magic by Aitana [Bonmatí] broke the deadlock," Montemurro remarked, "and the Bronze-Graham Hansen combination on the right caused Brann a lot of problems. On the left, Mariona Caldentey would move inside, opening space for Fridolina Rolfö and creating central overloads. So, when there was a switch of play or the point of attack was changed, Graham Hansen found the 1v1 situations in which she excels."

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The second clip shows a situation where Brann have the entire team set up within 20m of their own goal. For Graham Hansen, finding a route to goal is not mission impossible. "She can be unstoppable, whether it's 1v1, 1v2 or 1v3." said her coach Jonatan Giráldez after the match. This was one of three occasions when she was able to round off a solo run with a shot at goal.

The third clip again illustrates an organised Brann defensive block with all ten outfield players back, five of them holding a line just outside the box. Graham Hansen produces a run to the byline and, even though Brann are marking in numbers, sets up Rolfö's tap-in that doubled Barça's advantage.

Finally, the Norwegian winger showcased her strength in 1v1 situations with another run to the byline which created the copy-and-paste, close-range tap-in by substitute Patri Guijarro that sealed the 3-1 win and a place in the semi-finals.

Victory for Barcelona was allied with praise for Brann's performance – and the team's contribution to the competition as a whole. As Barça captain Alexia Putellas graciously commented after the game: “Brann played just like our coaching staff warned they would. Personally, I liked their ideas and their attitude. Everything that they did made sense and had purpose, and both legs of this tie have been complicated for our team."

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