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Women's Champions League final tactical analysis: Barcelona 2-0 Lyon

UEFA's analysis unit takes a look at how Barcelona won another Women's Champions League title with victory over Lyon.

Barcelona won their third UEFA Women's Champions League title with a 2-0 victory over Lyon
Barcelona won their third UEFA Women's Champions League title with a 2-0 victory over Lyon UEFA via Getty Images

UEFA's analysis unit looks at the way, in a final of more than a thousand passes, Barcelona were able to defeat Olympique Lyonnais for the first time and keep the European crown for another year.

As it happened: Barcelona 2-0 Lyon

"Barça are beautiful to watch and they demonstrated that they are the best team in Europe on the ball," said Alexander Straus, one of UEFA's technical observers in Bilbao. Lyon's trademark high- and mid-block pressing restricted Jonatan Giráldez’s team to 63% of possession – the lowest percentage of their season – and the adjustments to their midfield structure allowed Sonia Bompastor's side to earn a 41% share of the ball during the second half.

The key, however, was not so much the quantity as the quality of Barça's possession play and, as Straus put it, "the ability to play from tight areas into open spaces."

Barça’s patient possession play

Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Barcelona's short-passing game

"Barcelona have players with technique to retain possession in tight situations," added fellow technical observer Katrine Pedersen. "But it's also about positional sense – understanding where the spaces are." This is illustrated by the first video clip showing how a forward pass by Lyon is the cue for a 17-pass phase of Barcelona possession, ending with a cross into the opponents' box. Barça play out with the two centre-backs in parallel; the two full-backs in more advanced positions with more than 60m between them; and Mariona Caldentey to form a midfield diamond with multiple passing options – and then appearing on the left touchline to play the pass that creates the crossing opportunity.

The following clip – a 24-pass move – shows Barça's ability to switch the point of attack and tempt opponents to lose their defensive shape. Build-up starts with the outfielders in a deep 4-3-3 formation offering angles for passing, with right-winger Caroline Graham Hansen deep enough for left-back Selma Bacha to ask herself "should I stay or should I go?" They play out of the OL press with two short-passing triangles and, with seven opponents drawn to their left flank, switch to full-back Fridolina Rolfö in an uninhabited area and, when Lyon rapidly transition into a re-positioned 4-4-1-1 unit, play back across to the right, where Lucy Bronze combines with Hansen in more passing triangles.

In the third clip, centre-back Ingrid Engen takes a goal kick with, again, her team in a 4-3-3 shape with the full-backs spread more than 50m apart. All Lyon's outfielders are in Barcelona territory, six of them ready to pounce on attempts to build from the back. But, as OL race into a collective high press, Caldentey makes a run to receive on the left and combine with Salma Paralluelo. Suddenly, play is switched to the right and Lyon's speed of transition finally aborts a dangerous situation in their penalty area.

The long and short of Lyon's approach

Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Lyon's mix of passing

While only 6% of Barcelona's 639 passes were of 30m or more, Lyon doubled that percentage. "You could often see a huge difference between the two teams' spacing between players," Straus pointed out. "The longer passing distances with players more spaced out," Pedersen added, "made losses of possession potentially more costly." Yet Lyon were occasionally able to hunt in packs, especially when Daniëlle van de Donk and Lindsey Horan pushed higher in midfield during the second half.

The first video provides an illustration. Lyon's outfielders are initially spread wide in a 3-4-3 structure but end with a move on the left involving four players closely grouped within a 14m-diameter circle. Aware of their opponents' successes from crosses (OL delivered 242 in open play during their 11 games), Barça rapidly transitioned to deep defending with only Paralluelo remaining higher as an outlet.

The second clip shows Lyon's effective use of more direct attacking, with a long right-footed diagonal switch of play from left to right setting up a dangerous cross which was taken by Barça keeper Cata Coll. And the third sequence starts with a rare long clearance from the Barça defence which, comfortably intercepted in midfield, leads to a 3v3 scenario in a small area wide on the right; a short-passing interchange that breaks Barça's back line; and three players rushing in to attack the ensuing cross.

The teamwork of individuals

Women's Champions League tactical analysis: The impact of individuals

Although the final showcased the importance of coordinated teamwork, there was no doubt that individuals made an impact. During a cautious first half when Giráldez's team were aware that, during defeats by Lyon in the 2019 and 2022 finals, Barcelona had conceded an aggregate of seven goals in the opening 33 minutes, Graham Hansen was responsible for providing most of her team's attacking sparks.

The first clip illustrates the right-winger's intriguing duel with left-back Bacha – which had the effect of subduing one of Lyon's main suppliers of crosses. The Barça No10 drops deep to receive in space when Bronze is building from the back and, with Bacha in close attendance, turns neatly away from her at pace and embarks on a fast solo run that takes her into the Lyon box, where, although crowded by five opponents, she sets up Paralluelo for a shot that is gathered by goalkeeper Christiane Endler.

The second clip shows how, when Lyon deliver a long diagonal into the box from their right, Graham Hansen has tucked into a central midfield position. Receiving the ball, she immediately embarks on another exceptional 67m solo run, but after a one-two with Paralluelo has put her through on goal, she is ultimately thwarted by a last-ditch tackle from Bacha.

And then there was Aitana Bonmatí, named Player of the Match as she had been in the second leg of the semi-final against Chelsea. "I'm a player who doesn't stop running around the pitch," Aitana commented afterwards, "and who makes passes on both sides of the defence. But today I interpreted the game in a different way, understanding that I would find a moment – especially in the second half when opponents start to tire – to find the spaces that I like." She did. With Horan and Van de Donk pushing higher, Barça began to investigate the spaces alongside the single controlling midfielder, Damaris Egurrola.

The first clip shows Caldentey offering to receive in a left-midfield channel. When Rolfö gives her the ball, Bonmatí is some 20m behind her. A neat interchange buys time for her to advance and, when Caldentey is in possession again, she clips a delightful pass into the path of the Ballon d’Or winner that leaves her 1v1 against the centre-back, who can only deflect the shot past her own goalkeeper.

The final clip shows her sense of anticipation when a Barça attack breaks down on the edge of the box. Although she has three team-mates in the vicinity, she makes an 18m sprint to regain possession and sets off on a run of just under 80m that earns her side a corner. As technical observer Gemma Grainger commented, "She was outstanding for her out-of-possession counter-pressing and her attitude to work."