In this tie of the Round of 32 in the Women’s UEFA Champions League, Barcelona Femini came into the second leg with a two-goal advantage. The dominant performance away from home in their 2-0 win set them up very well to progress to the next round. Off the back of a 6-1 win against league rivals Atletico Madrid, they looked to continue in this vein.
Juventus Women meanwhile, have begun their Serie A title defence with two wins from two since the first leg. They rebounded with strong performances against Empoli and Sassuolo. Coach Rita Guarino leads her side into the match in a very different way than in the first leg.
In this tactical analysis, we will dissect the main tactical points from the match. Both sides presented key tactical changes from the first leg that we will cover in this analysis, which led to Barcelona winning 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate.
Both teams made changes to their starting eleven for this match. Juventus had an unchanged backline but brought in Junge-Pedersen in place of Caruso in midfield. Girelli also started up top for the visitors, with Aluko brought in to take her place on the right-wing.
Juventus were forced to show their hand in this match. Being 2-0 down already away from home, the same defensive approach shown in the first leg was not going to work. They started this match in an attacking 4-3-3.
For Barcelona, a host of changes were made. Due to Mapi’s suspension in the first leg, Andrea Pereira was brought into the heart of the defence. On the left side of the pitch, Ouahabi was introduced at left-back and Mariona started at left-wing. Lastly, Patricia Guijarro made room for Bonmati in midfield in what proved to be a tactical switch to strengthen the defence.
Barcelona could approach this game in the opposite way Juventus had to. While their philosophy of controlling the game and keeping possession did not change, the Spanish side deployed a more defensive approach to achieve it. The 4-2-1-3 formation gave them more solidity at the back than the 4-1-4-1 deployed in the first leg. However, in possession higher up the pitch, Barcelona would revert to this more attacking structure.
Juventus Women’s style of attack
Juventus gave themselves a difficult task in this second leg following their poor performance at home in the first. Goalkeeper Laura Giuliani spoke before the match on the topic, saying that Juventus waited for Barcelona with a low defensive line. Now, chasing the tie, they would be forced to play with a lot of aggression.
This is exactly how they began the match. Within the opening minutes, the Italian’s plan was evident: press high up the pitch and attempt to cause a turnover that could give them a chance for a quick counter.
Above you can see the aggressiveness of Juventus’ high press. The initial pass comes from the Barcelona keeper to Ouahabi. The press forces the left-back into making the pass into Bonmati by blocking off the other passing lanes. Once the ball is played, the Juventus players swarm the midfielder and win back possession for a counter-attack high up the pitch.
In possession, Juventus normally played in a 2-3-2-3. The full-backs pressed up the pitch and stayed wide. Galli, Juventus’ lone holding midfielder, dropped to help with the initial phase of the build-up.
Juventus tried attacking Barcelona down the wings. The midfield three of the Spanish side made it difficult for Guarino’s squad to play centrally, so they had to attempt to bypass this area. To achieve this, they would look to create out wide. The near-sided central midfielder would join the full-back and wide midfielder in trying to break down Barcelona in the wide areas. In the example below, you can see four Juventus players combining down the left-hand side.
When the opportunity came, one of these players would look to play a through ball down the line. Girelli would look to make a run into the space between the centre-half and full-back to get onto the end of this pass.
Juventus scored their only goal of the game using a through ball down the channel. Eniola Aluko did well to drive down the line and hold possession once she arrived at the box. This gave Lisa Boattin enough time to make an overlapping run and get a cross in for the goal. Most of these moves did not result in opportunities, however. Barcelona did very well to make sure that Juventus struggled to craft these kinds of chances throughout the match.
Barcelona’s defensive plan
As we touched on earlier in the lineup section, Barcelona set up to be defensively sound while continuing to control the match through possession. They did an almost perfect job at protecting the lead they brought into the second leg while also creating opportunities to add to it. We will take a look at the tactics Barcelona used to counteract Juventus’ attacking approach.
Manager Lluis Cortes decided before the match to deploy a more defensive midfield structure. Bonmati was brought into the midfield in place of Patricia Guijjarro. When Barcelona gained possession in their half, Alexia Putellas or Bonmati would drop in line with Kheira Hamraoui to form a double pivot. An example of this is shown below.
This created more options for the defensive players. Due to Juventus’ high press, this was essential to avoid turning the ball over. From here, Barcelona would look for a winger in space or the striker to hold the ball up until the central midfielders could move up the pitch.
In their defensive shape, Barcelona held in a mid-block. When Juventus had possession in their defensive third, the Spanish side remained in their 4-1-4-1 shape, as shown above. Once the ball was moved into the middle third, the striker and one central midfielder stepped forward to put pressure on the ball carrier, changing the shape into a 4-4-2.
However, Barcelona refrained from falling into a low block to stop Juventus from finding passes into the channels. The defensive line remained disciplined and kept the formation tight together. In the example from earlier where we discussed Juventus’ attempts to build out wide and look for the striker’s run into the channel, you can see that the defensive line forced Girelli to stray offside. This was a crucial tactical plan that kept Juventus from getting a foothold in the match.
Barcelona’s use of wide areas
In the attacking phase of Barcelona’s game, they focused mainly on using the wide space. This area was often left vacant due to Juventus pushing their wingers and number eights forward to press and attack. In the image below you can see the positioning of the Italian side’s attackers as Barcelona maintain possession.
Once this first line of press is bypassed, Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen has the entire field open in front of her. This space was consistently exploited by the attacking players of the Catalonian side.
The first goal of the match came from using the wide space to find crossing opportunities. Barcelona gained possession high up the pitch on the left side of the field. Once in possession, the player shows great awareness to recognise how compact this side of the field is.
She got her head up and found Hamraoui open on the edge of the middle circle. The Juventus defence shifted over to try and prevent the centre of pitch from being exposed. However, at this point, the Barcelona midfielder has already laid the ball off to Alexia Putellas for a first-time pass to Torrejon.
Aluko has been caught out as you can see above. When possession was initially gained and given to Hamraoui, she attempted to track back and apply pressure from behind. In turn, this left Barcelona’s Torrejon all alone.
With space and time provided due to this error, she has plenty of time to pick the best option. The Juventus defence fail to pick up Alexia Putellas after her pass out wide. She makes an unmarked run into the box and is easily found with a beautiful cross to put Barcelona up 3-0 on aggregate.
After the two legs, the 4-1 aggregate score was a fair representation of the tie. Barcelona were a class above Juventus and showed it during the 180 minutes. This second leg showcased a more defensive approach to this Barcelona side that could continue to prove crucial as they reach the latter stages of the competition.
Barcelona will certainly have been a team most would be looking to avoid in the draw for the round of 16. This performance will put even more emphasis on this fact.
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