How long do you get before Lyon start attacking you? How fast can they force a turn-over? Seconds, or a full minute if you’re lucky. Football is all about balance, attack weighted against defence whether it be your own squad teeter-tottering or your defence balanced to push back against an attack.
One of Lyon’s greatest strengths is the ability to disturb that equilibrium, to press high and hard, to flummox and overrun the defence. To have professional footballers shaking in their boots, the sight of Ada Hegerberg bearing down on them or Dzsenifer Marozsán and Shanice van de Sanden flanking is a terrifying sight. In those moments your mind goes blank, you forget the basics, fear takes over.
How long does it take to score a goal, what about three? How long does it take to concede three in the biggest game of your career? If you’re Barcelona, just shy of 20 minutes.
Left hook, right hook, haymaker
Lyon don’t attack like a football team, they attack like a boxer, fists flying at speed, blurring in front of your face as punch after punch lands. Some will knock your head back and forth dazing you, others will be to your torso knocking the wind out of your lungs. You’ll pray for the bell, your ears ringing from the pummelling, but there’s no end to the beating. Hanging off of the ropes you’ll appeal to the referee, body bruised, pride shattered, your reprieve will come. But it’s only halftime. You’ve conceded four times and with each goal your body has screamed for an end to your suffering, at 4-0 down everything hurts, everything aches.
You’ve been suffocated, trapped in your own half for the majority of the first 45, the dressing room affords you space to breathe, eyes on the floor, your heads never having hung lower.
This is Lyon, this is what they can do. The team in white pressing you, squeezing the fight from your body. There’s no space, no time for the opposition to think; league winners, champions in their own right are made to look like children still learning to play.
The defending from Barcelona was lax, the Catalans let themselves panic in midfield, they showed their weaknesses to Lyon over the first half. Ruthless and blood-hungry, the all-conquering champions of champions smelled blood and fear; eyes shining, they bared teeth and went to dinner. The goals, from a defensive standpoint, were avoidable; the defence left themselves exposed, they didn’t get tight; instead they offered up spaces for Lyon to attack. Sandra Paños got close but remained so, so far from preventing the second and fourth goals. Yet if you look at Lyon’s goals from their attack, each was smartly taken. The moves flowed with an ease of understanding between the players and the finishes left their opposition no chance.
One team was very, very good and the other was falling apart at the seams.
Some water, a stern word or two, and Barca were back at for the second half, the team managing to keep Lyon at bay, Les Fenottes having taken their foot off of the gas. Maybe it was the effects of a long season, maybe it was knowing the World Cup was around the corner, maybe it was simple humility or subconscious switch-off. The match had been won; the title was theirs again. Lyon continued to create chances, but their finishing was weak, Paños was kept busy but not overwhelmed.
Finally, with seconds left of normal time, Barca got their goal, substitutes Andressa Alves and Asisat Oshoala combined for a conciliation. The Catalans with their chances, a goal no more than they deserved, but it was scored against a relaxed Lyon, a Lyon already thinking about the afterparty and then the World Cup.
Barcelona aren’t flyweights but they were in the ring against a team that deserve their own weight class; heavyweight doesn’t quite cutting it to describe the six-time Champions League winners. Putting up your dukes and attempting to avoid serious injury seems to be all most teams can hope for when they put themselves between the ropes with Lyon (UberHeavyweights?). If you attempt to take on a team that floats like a butterfly and stings like an armoured truck, you best have your own haymaker.