A tale of two halves.
Never has a statement been more accurate in football than in today’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final. After a showing well before their own standards in the first half, Barcelona found their quality during the break and came back to blow away Wolfsburg in the second half; winning their second Champions League trophy in three years.
Ewa Pajor was determined to show in the first half just how much she could change a game through her own individual talent. Wolfsburg decided to put her out wide on the left to contest against Lucy Bronze, while having Alex Popp up top instead of deeper as Barcelona would have expected. That slight tactical tweak by Wolfsburg allowed Pajor to pick up great spaces throughout the first half which ultimately made the difference.
The first goal of the game came in the third minute as Pajor looked to steal the ball off of Lucy Bronze. The first time, the Barcelona defender kept possession but the second time, Pajor was stronger and she had a free look at goal with no one but Sandra Paños to beat. Ewa Pajor didn’t need to be asked twice to shoot and she produced an absolutely brilliant finish to puts Wolfsburg up early in the game.
Pajor wasn’t done. She continued to make Barcelona’s life difficult, picking up space in and around Bronze that the Catalan side were not adjusting to. With Popp winning the aerial battle against Irene Paredes and Mapi León, Pajor stayed close to her teammate to be able to run on to the second ball.
For Wolfsburg’s second, the German side won the ball high once again and with Bronze caught out of position, Pajor picked up her head and spotted Alex Popp running into the box unseen. Pajor then produced a great cross that Popp met with accuracy and it was two for Wolfsburg before half time.
Barcelona had their chances in the first half, a missed header at the back post by Paredes and another chance missed by Caroline Graham Hansen right in front of goal, but the usual composure we’re used to seeing from La Blaugrana was missing and they couldn’t make all of their possession count in front of goal.
The second half however, was all about Barcelona and Patri Guijarro. With two goals in two minutes, the Barcelona midfielder showed exactly what Barcelona’s intent would be for the next 45 minutes.
Caroline Graham Hansen must’ve been urged by her manager during the break to go after the Wolfsburg backline and it proved to be exactly what they needed as the Norwegian winger continued to cause Wolfsburg all sorts of problems. Both of those early goals came from her ingenuity and technique. Patri was the happy recipient of Graham Hansen’s new found lease on life in the second half. With no one in the Wolfsburg midfield picking up her runs, on both occasions Patri was on the end of both of Graham Hansen’s crosses into the box.
The half time break had been the perfect tonic for Barcelona and seemingly the worst thing possible for Wolfsburg.
With the speed of how the second half started, you could sense that there was more drama to come before the final whistle blew. It was just a question of which team would find the telling touch to win the game. With Wolfsburg teetering, it turned out that Barcelona would be the ones to make the most of the momentum.
As Barcelona prepared to make a substitution, Wolfsburg switched off and couldn’t clear their lines at all. Fridolina Rolfö was there to make the most of some hapless defending from Wolfsburg to complete a fantastic second half turnaround by Barcelona.
The tactical tweaks that Barcelona made during half time were all that were needed to expose Wolfsburg’s defensive frailties, something that had been a consistent thing for them in the second half of the season. Unlike in the first half, Barcelona took the game to Wolfsburg and their opponents just could not cope with the uptick in intensity. Graham Hansen was more advanced, Patri was more advanced, Rolfö was even more advanced than normal and it all paid off for Barcelona. Wolfsburg couldn’t match their overall quality in the second half and despite creating a few half chances, couldn’t swing the game back into their hands.
Usually, cup finals tend to be tight, tense affairs but the last couple of UWCL finals have changed that narrative and today’s wasn’t any different. Wolfsburg had this game in their hands but unlike last year, Barcelona did not wilt and came back even stronger to win the game. As Wolfsburg tired, Barcelona grew more energised and showed why they are considered the best team in Europe.
In the end, a great day out for the Barcelona fans was capped with an appearance by their superstar, Alexia Putellas with a few minutes to go in the match. It couldn’t have gone any better for them this time around and they’ll remember this performance from their team for a long, long time.