FC Barcelona Femení had not won a European Cup in their history and the odds were not in their favour leading up to the 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Their opponents, Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, showed exactly why they are Europe’s greatest team as they made Barcelona’s experienced and talented team look ineffectual for most of the match.
After finishing sixteen points behind Atlético Madrid Femenino in the Primera Iberdrola, Barcelona came into this final knowing that they faced an uphill battle and they needed to be at their very best to even post a nominal threat to Olympique Lyonnais that day in Budapest. Instead, Ada Hegerberg came to the fore, scoring her first Champions League final hat-trick as the cream of Europe rose to the top once again. The only time Lyon were truly threatened was when the speed of Asisat Oshoala was employed but by then, the game had well and truly gone. The French side could have easily scored more than the four that they had accomplished by half-time and in the second half, played in second gear as they cruised to a sixth European title.
Barcelona had probably their strongest team available but even with their best players out there, they could not match up with Lyon’s speed, technicality and efficiency in all phases of the game. Barcelona may have been a stronger opponent for the French champions had they started with Oshoala but even with her in the starting eleven, Lyon looked a class above Barcelona throughout. Lyon were so dominant that they could afford to pass the ball around in the second half and best Barcelona at their own game, something which would have irritated any and all Barcelona fans watching that day. This match showed just how far Barcelona were from being a dominant European force and how much more they would have to do to catch up to the likes of Lyon, despite making it to the final over teams like Chelsea F.C. Women, VfL Wolfsburg Frauen or Paris Saint-Germain Féminine.
Barcelona started off brightly enough, with their main plan being to press Lyon into mistakes and then use their pace off the ball to trouble the backline made up of Lucy Bronze, Griedge Mbock-Bathy, Wendie Renard and Amel Majri. It seemed to be working as in the fourth minute, Mariona dispossessed Majri in transition and found Toni Duggan unmarked at the edge of the area. Duggan went for goal after steadying herself but was off the mark. It was a warning sign for Lyon and one that they heeded.
Up until the first goal went in, Hegerberg had looked to combine with Dzsenifer Marozsán to try and unlock Barcelona’s defense. Even with that interplay, Barcelona’s center backs did not follow Hegerberg if she went deeper in midfield and stayed as compact as possible when the Norwegian striker was closer to goal. That plan did not last long as Lyon’s wide forwards, especially Shanice van de Sanden, started to stretch the Barcelona backline. It was she who found a way to bypass the center backs and play a telling ball that led to the first goal of the game in the fifth minute. With Leila Ouahabi caught out with a deep ball by Mbock-Bathy, leaving María León to chase after van de Sanden and thus, leaving her partner Andrea Pereira to deal with both Hegerberg and Marozsán inside the penalty area. Hegerberg went far post and Marozsán went towards the center, meeting van de Sanden’s cross on the volley and giving Lyon the lead very early in the game.
Barcelona had to steady themselves after going down so early but they were almost two-nil down two minutes later. Majri ghosted past Marta Torrejón and played in a ball that Hegerberg held up long enough for Majri to take a shot on goal. Sandra Paños made a great save from close range and Ouhabi was on hand to clear van de Sanden’s following header off the line. Lyon’s plan was to keep Barcelona in front of them and then play the ball out wide whenever they could to keep the Spanish outfit on the back foot as much as possible. It worked to a tee. Lyon peppered the Barcelona goal throughout the first half and found three more goals to add to their tally before half-time had arrived.
Van de Sanden continued to pull León away from the center with her runs which gave Hegerberg the chance to find space inside the penalty area. In the 14th minute, the same sequence that led to the first goal allowed Hegerberg to score the second of the day. Van de Sanden broke away on the right and with León back-tracking, swung in a low cross that Hegerberg controlled and finished low past Paños. Lyon’s tactic of pulling a center back wide with each attack continued to show its effectiveness on both sides and Barcelona did not adjust their own tactics enough to stop the isolation of the center backs. Majri was the next to turn provider in the 19th minute as she picked out Hegerberg who had found separation from León and finished cleanly with her side foot. Bronze supplied the cross for Hegerberg’s third in the 30th minute as this time, Pereira could not keep up with the Norwegian, who slammed the cross home from close range. No matter what Barcelona did in that first half, they could not breach Sarah Bouhaddi’s goal while Lyon had no problem finding the back of the net almost at will. Alexia Putellas could have put a goal on board for Barcelona in the 45th minute but she put her header over the crossbar from less than six yards away. So the half-time whistle blew and the two teams went into the break knowing it would take a collapse never seen before for Barcelona to have any chance in this final.
The second half came and again, Barcelona allowed Lyon to spread them out before attacking the middle. Nothing had changed form the first half as Eugénie Le Sommer, Mbock-Bathy and others found themselves in front of goal but unable to add to the scoreboard. Lyon had stepped off a little, allowing Barcelona to come into the game a little more and they had their first good chance in the 68th minute but Lieke Martens could not find the target with only Bouhaddi to beat. Oshoala’s introduction gave Barcelona a much-needed edge in front of goal and after taking time to find her footing in the game, the Nigerian scored Barcelona’s solitary goal. Martens broke away from two challenges in her own half before striding forward towards Lyon’s goal. She picked out Oshoala’s run, who beat Renard to the ball before finishing well past Bouhaddi. That type of pass and run had been missing from Barcelona’s game from the very beginning, and although they may have still lost the game, one wonders if not starting Oshoala made things much more easier for Lyon’s center backs. Renard and Mbock-Bathy are very good passers of the ball and can pick out a diagonal like not many can. Having Oshoala in there to constantly threaten behind may have stopped Lyon’s game plan of targeting the flanks and made their midfield drop a little deeper to help out their defense. Instead, Oshoala started on the bench and Lyon ended the game as a contest by half-time.
The Catalans were well and truly out-classed from start to finish and Hegerberg’s hat-trick was the exclamation point on a truly top class performance by Lyon.