I write this having seen how utterly ridiculous this Barcelona team are live in the flesh.
Having had the opportunity to witness the magic of the Barcelona Femeni team at the Emirates last week in the Women’s Champions League, I can honestly say that they’re like no other team.
Their style of play is clear and apparent from the offset and their system relies on one thing – the fact that everybody in the side is so technically secure.
This is something that is true both in and out of possession and is at the basis of their dominance on the field. It’s why the team constantly look as though they’re suffocating opposition teams no matter the level.
Barcelona Femeni have been hit with lots of injuries over the past 4-6 weeks and so we’ve seen drastic changes in both the line-up and in their formations. If anything, the volatility in their line-ups have epitomised the fact that their philosophy is clear and defined.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen midfielders playing out of position and starting on the wing, as well as forwards like Fridolina Rolfo being used as full-backs. The changes however have been seamless because on the ball, each player is so comfortable in playing a possession-based game, meaning that in high pressure areas they’re all comfortable playing their way out of trouble.
In this year’s Ballon d’Or, there were three players ranked within the top five from this Barcelona team, showing their dominance in the sport over the past 12 months. The winner was none other than Alexia Putellas, who epitomises everything about what the club is about.
Due to injuries, we’ve seen the Barcelona captain play in every single position in midfield; both as the deepest in the pivot as well as the most advanced in a midfield trio. She’s able to slot into these roles without looking out of place because of her understanding of the game, but also because of how her technical ability manifests itself on the pitch.
Her range of passing, as well as her control of the ball and flow of the game when in and out of pressure is immeasurable in actual terms.
It means that the team is able to manoeuvre through games and tournaments based on what the team needs for that specific game as opposed to being rigid and predictable. This can only be done because of the fact the technical level of the individuals in the squad is of a supreme level.
There were sequences that they played on the edge of Arsenal’s box at the Emirates where I think every single outfield player touched the ball at least once. Where they distinguish themselves from other teams in the world is the fact that under pressure, they retain and look after the ball so well, allowing them to build attacks even when pressed.
Arsenal are actually a very well drilled side and are a team that also like to press high, but the difference between how they were on the ball when faced with Barcelona’s press and how Barcelona reacted to being pressed was night and day.
From a coaching perspective, having people so composed on the ball gives them the option of experimenting. There were situations when the midfield of Barcelona would be pressed both in the Arsenal game, but also against HB Koge by multiple people.
Whilst saying this, the feeling was always that they would escape this pressure – either through dribbling out from the back or from passing out from the danger. Having this unpredictable nature means that not only is it difficult for opposition to plan ahead of time what their means of containment are, but also creates uncertainty and unsettles their players into making mistakes during games.
Having a squad full of players of this ilk brings such stability to the side and is a huge reason as to why they look so difficult to beat. The model of what they’re looking for in players is evident, and they also have a great pipeline of young players coming through their academy.
Aitana Bonmati is the perfect embodiment of someone who has come through their youth ranks and has now found herself with well over 100 appearances for the club at the age of 23.
Not only is she playing in games, but she’s pivotal to everything they’re doing in an attacking sense as well as contributing crucial goals to the side. She had the base of being technically secure, and with the experience that being at Barcelona is giving her, she’s well on her way to being one of the best at executing the Barca way.