September 4, 2021 will see the return of the reigning UEFA Women’s Champions League; Primera Iberdrola and Copa de la Reina champions FC Barcelona Femení. Much has changed since they last played an official match at the end of June. That includes the introduction of new signings, loan deals, injuries, and the replacement of a treble-winning head coach. Here we discuss the team’s player movements, goals, and players to watch for the coming season.
Summer arrivals, departures, and loan deals
Barcelona had three major departures this summer- Vicky Losada, Kheira Hamraoui, and coach Lluís Cortés. Vicky Losada, the former first-captain, was vocally unhappy with her role and announced her departure in June of 2021. The midfielder was benched for the better part of two years. Moreover, she suffered a half-season-long injury in 2019, and never managed to earn a place back in the starting XI.
Kheira Hamraoui returned to her former club PSG upon the expiration of her contract. Kheira had a successful three seasons at the club and was a pivotal part in each season’s trophy hunts. That is despite mainly being used as a rotation player. Lluís Cortés stepped down on the final day of the 2020-21 league season. That occured after weeks of speculation about his future at the club. His controversial departure was fuelled by unrest within the squad. Mostly due to exhaustion brought on by lack of rotation and the increased prevalence of injuries.
This summer transfer window saw the arrival of three highly-talented players; Fridolina Rolfö and Ingrid Engen from VfL Wolfsburg and Irene Paredes from PSG. Rolfö is a Swedish international who had a career-defining Olympics this summer, collecting a silver medal. Engen is a Norwegian international who has been one of Norway and Wolfsburg’s defining players at center midfield for the better part of two years. The latter, Irene Paredes, is Spain’s first-captain. At the national team level, she has maintained a center back pairing with her now club teammate, Mapi León, since 2018. Lastly, the club has promoted Jonatan Giráldez to head coach. He was Lluís Cortés’ assistant for two and a half years. Giráldez has no experience as the head manager of a top side. Therefore, Barcelona’s performances these coming months will be critical in determining his longevity.
Of the three players loaned last year, only Clàudia Pina has returned. As expected, Pina has had an outstanding preseason after being Sevilla’s best player in the 2020-21 campaign. Barcelona’s other Sevilla loanee, Carla Armengol, failed to impress after being played out of position at fullback. So she left Barcelona to go to newly-promoted Deportivo Alavés. Barcelona’s third and final loanee, Candela Andújar, will remain on loan at Valencia through this season. Last season she did well there as a central attacking midfielder.
Barcelona has loaned out three players- Candela Andújar, Laia Codina and Emma Ramírez. Laia Codina is one of Barcelona’s brightest defensive talents and has been sent on a season-long loan to AC Milan to get more consistent playing time. Emma Ramírez is also a defender, and will be spending the season with Natalia Arroyo’s Real Sociedad.
Season goals and expectations:
Barcelona has had two consecutive seasons of near-perfect competitions, with just four total losses over two years. Over those two years, the club has earned two league titles, two Copas de la Reina, one Supercopa Femenina and one UEFA Women’s Champions League. It is expected that Barcelona will continue to win and dominate in the same way they have been since 2019.
In the league, Barcelona accumulated a goal difference of +152. That was a new league record for wins in one season (33) and points accumulated in one season (99). Their direct rivals Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid have only gotten stronger. So it isn’t a safe bet that Barcelona will improve upon these records. Regardless, the league is expected to be a clean sweep of Barcelona. However, there is some potential for defeats from their two Madrid-based rivals and Levante UD. Those teams are also their biggest competition in the two domestic cup competitions, the Copa de-la Reina and the Supercopa-Femenina.
On the European stage, Barcelona automatically qualified for the group-stage of the Champions League after sweeping the league last season. This will be the first year that the UEFA Women’s Champions League will have a group stage. But Barcelona should have minimal problems in advancing to the knockouts. There is a chance that Barcelona could be the lone Spanish team in the tournament. That is due to Levante and Real Madrid’s difficult qualification draws and their inexperience in the competition.
Barcelona’s biggest challengers in repeating last year’s triumph will again be Chelsea and Lyon. Chelsea have had a fairly uneventful transfer season and made zero defensive signings, which is easily their biggest area of weakness. Lyon have re-emerged over the summer and have taken some world class players away from their domestic rivals PSG, including leftback Perle Morroni and goalkeeper Tiane Endler. Other potential challengers include Manchester City and Bayern Munich, two underrated sides who still pose a threat when they play at their best.
Players to watch:
Alexia Putellas, also known as the best player in Europe (as per UEFA), is Barcelona’s main woman this coming season. In the previous campaign, Putellas was the face of some of Barcelona’s most all-time iconic moments, such as her Camp Nou goal, her UWCL final goal, and her Copa de la Reina 2021 final performance. Following the departure of Vicky Losada, she has been upgraded to the team’s first captain and will be carrying the team’s responsibilities for the distant future.
After an injury riddled tenure at Wolfsburg, Fridolina Rolfö stormed back onto the footballing scene with an incredible 2020 Olympics campaign. The Swede scored two game-winning goals against Australia in the group stages and the semifinals as her country finished with a silver medal. Rolfö’s injuries had her written off by many culés as her numbers from the previous season were subpar, but she comes to the club as a transformed player who is hungry for success. Rolfö is a big physical presence who is more than capable of performing in big matches. If she performs well, she has a chance to unseat injury-prone Lieke Martens as a starter on the left-wing.
Paredes arrived this summer from captaining PSG to their first ever league title that snapped Lyon’s 14-season-long streak of league wins. Originally, she seemed prepared to unseat Andrea Pereira for her starting spot, but has had a shaky preseason where she has struggled to integrate into Barcelona’s tactical setup. Paredes is one of the world’s best center backs, but has a dominant, aggressive player profile unlike most Barcelona defenders. The fight for a spot in the XI between Paredes and Pereira will surely be a team dynamic to pay attention to this season.
Caroline Graham Hansen
Caroline Graham Hansen was Barcelona’s standout player in preseason as she bossed the defenses of Juventus, Lyon and the Houston Dash. After having two straight seasons of playmaking excellence, Hansen continues to be in the best form out of any other Barcelona player. If she continues to avoid injury, she is likely to have yet another incredible campaign with the blaugrana.
This season will be a huge test, especially for the many new players the new coach the club has brought in. Barcelona have a lot of big expectations after their historic season, but they certainly have the personnel and the mentality to meet the challenge.