By Kieran Yap (22/5/22).
Above: Olympique Lyonnais celebrate their win over Barcelona in Turin last night. Photo: OL Feminin
Barcelona had scored 148 goals and conceded just 11 this season. They were the holders of the trophy, having dismantled a star-studded Chelsea side last time. The Ballon D’or winning Alexia Putellas was in the line-up and in form. The Nou Camp had packed out to watch them repeatedly and public perception was that they were unstoppable.
Nobody told Olympique Lyonnais.
This fixture was infused with recent history. It was a defeat to the French power club in the 2019 final that promoted Barcelona to create one of the most frightening teams in modern football.
Lyon themselves, so long the benchmark, had been overtaken by Paris Saint Germain domestically in 2021. Yet Lyon still had a team of world-class players, a coach with winning experience as a player, and a Ballon D’or recipient of their own in Ada Hegerberg.
This was Lyon’s eighth Champions League triumph. Players as talented as Wendie Renard and Catarina Macario do not like to be written off, and Amandine Henry took only five minutes to set the tone for the game.
After winning a 50/50 ball with Putellas, the field seemed to stop. On both sides, for a few seconds, everybody waited. Perhaps in disbelief that Putellas had been beaten, perhaps in anticipation of what Henry would produce next.
Her opening goal was scored from almost 30 yards. It was a truly vicious strike of the ball into the top right corner of the net. Barcelona were suddenly in the unfamiliar position of being a goal down.
Lyon did not try and beat Barcelona at their own game, they beat them on their terms. The defence stayed deep, and absorbed pressure. Getting caught too high up the field in a press would have given the Barcelona forwards the space to exploit. This was the patient, controlled performance of a well-drilled team that are comfortable on the big stage.
When Lyon did win the ball, they rarely cleared it hurriedly. They moved it quickly or carried it out to relieve pressure and put the opposition on the defensive. They found space between Barcelona’s midfield and back four.
A counterattack resulted in a second goal in the 23rd minute. Hegerberg was somehow left unmarked at the back post and the record scorer for the competition gave Lyon some breathing room. They would need it, Barcelona are never kept goalless.
Crucially, Lyon did not attack with numbers committed forward. They have the talent to do that, not many teams do.
Hegerberg turned provider in the 33rd minute. Her initial shot was blocked but she curled a pass to the far post where Macario was on hand to tap into the bet.
Barcelona played the way they usually do, what reason would they have to change? They have been so dominant for so long that altering tactics would have looked like panic. Caroline Graham Hansen got on the ball consistently on the right flank, but was closed down quickly. She does not need much room to accelerate, but she was given none. Her delightful quick feet were nullified.
Putellas delivered as she always does. On the occasion that Graham Hansen did not try to dribble and crossed the ball early, Putellas ghosted in from outside of the box and met the ball with a stunning low volley. It was 3-1 at half time.
Bareclona had opportunities in the second half, but Lyon’s defence, marshalled by 100 game Champions League veteran Renard remained solid. Their closest opportunity came from a spectacular effort from near half-way. Guijarro’s amazing display of technique and vision deserved a goal and only the woodwork would stop her.
A cagey second half ended with the same score line as the first. 3-1, Lyon are champions of Europe.
In a strange way, this eighth Champions League victory signals a slight equalisation of the competition. Barcelona are not unbeatable. Significantly, neither are Lyon. These two teams may still be the benchmark but at this level, both have challengers, and Lyon are not guaranteed a domestic title this season. Expect the English sides to work hard to close the gap and the professionalisation of Italy will increase the opportunity for teams like Juventus to perform.
This competition will grow, DAZN has built a worldwide viewership online and stadiums are beginning to be filled as a matter of routine.
The Champions League, like the men’s competition is growing into the pinnacle of club football. These two teams delivered campaigns and a final worthy of it.
The Australian view
For a second year in a row, Aussie football fans had a reason to wake up at 3am. Last year Sam Kerr started for the defeated Chelsea. This time, it was Ellie Carpenter in Lyon’s colours. The results were different, this time there was a winning medal for a Matilda, but this was a sadder occasion.
In the 12th minute, Carpenter had to be subbed out with what looked to be a serious injury. 13 months out from a home World Cup now means a nervous race against time for one of the world’s best fullbacks.
We know nothing about the injury at the time of writing. But it was non-contact and she celebrated on crutches then by being piggy backed around the ground. What we do know is that Carpenter is a consummate professional, with the mental strength to overcome. She will do everything she can to be fit again.
From a national team perspective, this loss is huge. She can play in a back four, five or three. Carpenter offers attacking impetus and defensive flexibility.
What this does do is show that Tony Gustavsson was correct in exploring options and giving opportunities to young players in the Matildas. Charli Grant and Charlize Rule have both spent time in the national team setup. Grant in particular is well suited as support to Carpenter or Steph Catley. She has all the physical and technical gifts, but not the experience yet.
There are potentially tough times ahead for The Matildas and for Ellie Carpenter. If it is a long-term injury, she has the silver lining of being a European Champion. She deserves it, Australia is proud of her.