How Barcelona put Real Madrid to shame as they prepare for the first Champions League clash

With her first Ballon d’Or, presented to her moments earlier by Kylian Mbappe, Alexia Putellas marked a special moment on Barcelona‘s 122 year anniversary by thanking “all the coaches who have believed in me ”.

Putellas, who grew up as a basketball fanatic, realized that the odds of her journey to becoming the world’s best footballer had been small, the opportunities that Barcelona Femeni gave her far from a transition ritual. It was actually only at the age of 21 that her club became professional; it would be another six years before Barcelona’s famous La Masia Academy welcomed its first girls.

It’s pretty much a similar timeline for many of the best women’s clubs in all of Europe, but it does make Barcelona a shining example for their neighbors, Real Madridas they prepare for the first Clasico in women’s history Champions League.

Over two matches, it will be the most historic match in the history of the women’s match in Spain, the second match at the Nou Camp – which is sold out – is expected to break spectator records. Not only will it be the first time that Barca Femeni, who normally play at Johan Cruyff Stadium with seating for 6,000, show up on the club’s historic grounds in front of spectators (their last match at the Nou Camp was held behind closed doors), it’s another all-Spanish quarter-final, which at least on paper suggests that Real are closing ground.

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Not quite; Barcelona have won all five previous meetings, conceding just two goals along the way and scoring 17. Since October 2020, this has been a budding rivalry that made it even sweeter when Barcelona just fourteen days ago finished their third in a row. the title with a 5-0 Clasico victory, their seventh La Liga crown totaled with six games to spare. It was achieved in front of 5,430 by their own fans, the greatest competing attendance on their own ground.

Aside from that result, Real have been competitive, reinforced by Kosovare Asllani’s return from a knee injury and winning the other eight of their last nine matches. But to talk about competitiveness is to overlook Barcelona’s record of 100 percent in all tournaments this season. It is by no means a sign of a well-balanced state.

It is hardly any surprise, as Real Madrid, behind the curve as long and as late as 2017 still in internal conflict over whether to take over an existing women’s team or start from scratch, eventually went after the former.

In 2019, they bought CD Tacon, renamed them Real Madrid Femenino, and only thanks to an already existing status as one of the continent’s superclubs were they able to make waves relatively quickly; they are only the second team in Champions League history to reach the quarter-finals in the first season they had qualified.

This is despite its own goals, disguised as investment prospects, such as reported talks with Qiddiya about a lucrative sponsorship deal for the women’s team. The Qiddiya project is state-owned – in Saudi Arabia, where high-profile women’s rights activists are arrested, laws restrict women’s choice of clothing and make-up, and the “male guardianship” scheme prohibits women from marrying without a man’s consent.

Draw quarter final

  • Real Madrid vs Barcelona
  • Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain
  • Juventus vs Lyon
  • Arsenal vs Wolfsburg

Real Madrid have not reached a Champions League quarter-final through visions or a well-thought-out approach. They have played catch-up, and are in knockouts mainly due to a combination of two things; the leadership of head coach Alberto Toril and a generation of Spanish talents who place them among the favorites for Euro 2022. Esther Gonzalez will try to surpass her international team-mate and Spain’s record-breaking goal scorer, Barcelona’s Jennifer Hermoso, on Tuesday.

That seems unlikely, given Real’s conservative approach in the competition so far, with just 12 goals in the group stage; of the teams that qualified for the last eight, only Juventus scored so few. Barcelona was characteristically dominant, with twice as many.

Both have benefited from a revolutionary Champions League the format fell the old system with its qualifying tournaments and knockout bands in favor of a more familiar home-and-away lineup with 16 teams. Early indicators show that it was also a hit – 14 million fans tuned in, and the group games, which were shown for free on DAZN and YouTube, were seen in 210 countries around the world.

As reigning European champions and heading for yet another treble (they are still in the Copa de la Reina), it is a strange time for Barcelona Femeni to thrive when, on the other hand, there has been an era of almost economic ruin. Barcelona’s men’s team is crumbling.

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The secret is, as always, investment, and it’s all relative. The women’s side may be run on a fraction of what it takes to turn the men’s set-up back into a superpower, but that’s all it takes. However, it is also about politics; large parts of the “sold” tickets for the second stage have been taken up by Barcelona’s “socios”, members can claim them for free.

Barcelona has discovered a power in becoming flag bearers capable of dismantling Chelsea with such a grace in a wake-up call to English football in last year’s finals. Manchester City’s exit from Real Madrid this season had a similar effect.

Thus this Clasico has become much more than a historical rivalry largely played out in the men’s similar struggles; here the battle lines are drawn between how these European giants work and whether Barcelona’s pace-setters in the women’s game can be stopped in their tracks.

Quarter final details

All times GMT

First leg:

  • Date – Tuesday, March 22nd
  • Kick-off – 20.00
  • Meeting point – Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano

Second leg:

  • Date – Wednesday, March 30th
  • Kick-off – 17.45
  • Meeting point: Camp Nou

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