When Barcelona stepped out onto the pitch on the Groupama Enviornment three years in the past in Budapest for his or her first UEFA Ladies’s Champions League closing, they had been the unfavoured group, anticipated to be no match for Olympique Lyonnais. The narrative was set: the European juggernaut (Lyon) was clashing with the brand new child on the block (Barcelona) who needed to study from their errors. The match performed out as if it had been following the identical script.
Star Lyon midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán opened the rating simply 5 minutes in, delighting the group within the metropolis of her start, and from there Barcelona started to fold into themselves with every subsequent objective. The Catalans had been no slouches, however Lyon’s precision play made them appear like amateurs as, time and time once more that night, the Barcelona defence was ripped broad open.
Then-manager Lluís Cortés later urged that merely reaching the ultimate was Barcelona’s reward on the finish of the Champions League gauntlet, a remark that appears to assist clarify Barcelona’s poor efficiency, a 4-1 loss to Lyon that by no means actually felt doubtful.
That was then. The sensation round Barcelona now couldn’t be extra totally different as they embark on Saturday’s Champions League closing in a really totally different place. Seven-time champions Lyon stay a powerhouse and never a facet to low cost, however since Barcelona’s loss in 2019, the Catalan facet has cast its manner and upset the facility steadiness in Europe. The trail for both sides to Turin’s closing this weekend was markedly totally different, however each will really feel they’ve one thing to show in securing the European title.
The 2 years following Barcelona’s 2019 humiliation had been maybe a very powerful but for the Blaugranes. Propelled by the frustration of that loss to Lyon, they strengthened each on and off the pitch to lastly regain the Spanish title within the truncated 2019-20 season after 5 years with out the trophy. A successive title adopted as Barcelona actually started to flex their muscular tissues, and their rise to the highest of the European elite confirmed with their maiden Champions League title final season.
In the meantime, the previous two years for Lyon, who had been so imperious in Hungary, had been punctuated by uncharacteristic wobbles. Supervisor Reynald Pedros departed following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, his substitute Jean-Luc Vasseur lasting lower than two seasons regardless of profitable the home treble and yet one more Champions League title in his solely full marketing campaign with the membership. But there was one thing lacking. The league title was awarded after the season was wrapped up early because of the pandemic, however the race felt removed from over when the Fédération Française de Soccer declared Les Fenottes champions.
Whereas Lyon had confirmed their overwhelming dominance as a group in Budapest, Ada Hegerberg had shone that bit brighter than her teammates — the jewel within the Lyon crown, her efficiency a show of an attacker on the very prime of her recreation. The match was determined by her objectives, however even past that, the Norwegian placed on a clinic for 90 minutes and reminded everybody that she was nonetheless among the finest on the planet. When Lyon misplaced Hegerberg to an ACL damage initially of 2020, nobody may have foreseen that she’d be out of the sport for 20 months, however her absence was solely a part of OL’s wobbles.
The group nonetheless discovered methods to win, however regularly appeared disjointed below Vasseur, and even when he was changed by Sonia Bompastor, it might take time earlier than the darlings of European soccer started to appear like their previous selves once more extra not too long ago.
Barcelona’s convincing 4-0 win over Chelsea within the Champions League closing final yr cemented them as the brand new queens of Europe within the minds of these across the sport, however the path to this season’s closing was much less resounding and has required some cautious navigation. Typically this Champions League season, Barcelona have been pressured to depend on moments of particular person brilliance to assist them by way of tough video games, most notably once they got here from behind to win their quarterfinal first leg in opposition to Actual Madrid.
Final outing within the competitors, away to Wolfsburg, Barcelona put of their worst efficiency for the reason that closing in 2019. The group was unable to cope with the She Wolves’ press, and a tie that ought to by no means have been in query started to get slightly uncomfortable on the Volkswagen Enviornment. Alas, Wolfsburg’s personal poor ending denied the followers a grandstand end.
The defensive errors have not simply been restricted to at least one facet of the draw, with Lyon nonetheless figuring themselves out below Bompastor initially of the season. The saving grace has been the return of Hegerberg in addition to the emphatic performances of rising American star Catarina Macario. Having already suffered a gaggle stage loss to Bayern Munich, Lyon had been handed their second defeat of the season by Juventus within the quarterfinals and wanted to show the tie at dwelling the next week. Towards PSG within the semifinals, the bitter rivals battled away in opposition to one another, the 2 90-minute matches affected by unforced errors and uncharacteristic errors.
If the Champions League closing three years in the past was about Lyon’s brilliance versus Barcelona’s naivety, the errors each have made in European competitors this season go someway to night the enjoying discipline. Regardless of their extremely beneficial historical past within the Champions League, for the primary time in a really very long time, Lyon aren’t heading right into a closing because the outright favourites. Likewise, Barcelona’s weak historical past in opposition to Lyon cease them from claiming the favourites tag.
Saturday’s closing is more likely to be received by the group that may possess the ball higher, and inflict essentially the most harm when the probabilities are introduced to them. Allowed to run riot in Budapest with no marker capable of get near her, Hegerberg shall be on the lookout for one other five-star efficiency to cement her return to her pre-injury greatest, simply as Barcelona’s star, Alexia Putellas, shall be seeking to run the present for her facet. To that finish, the flexibility of the Catalan midfield — Putellas, together with Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro — to maintain the ball from Lyon shall be key if they’re to lastly get the higher of the French giants.
Even with two totally different managers within the dugouts on Saturday, together with a handful of various faces throughout each squads, Barcelona’s expertise for the reason that 2019 closing stands out as the most important distinction coming into the conflict, and it is unlikely to be determined by halftime as that one was. Each Barcelona and Lyon enter this conflict as reliable contenders, regardless of every weathering their very own struggles alongside the way in which.
It would not be the primary Champions League trophy for both facet — Barcelona has one to Lyon’s seven — however for Lyon, it might show they continue to be the powerhouse they’ve at all times been, whereas for Barcelona it might additional show their rise to the highest since disappointment three years in the past is for the lengthy haul.