Champions League final: Barcelona Femenino and Lyon Féminines battle for status as Europe’s powerhouse

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Barcelona were the underdogs in their inaugural UEFA Women’s Champions League final three years ago at the Groupama Arena in Budapest, where they were considered to be no match for Olympique Lyonnais.

Champions League final: Barcelona Femenino and Lyon Féminines battle for status as Europe's powerhouse

The plot was set: a European juggernaut (Lyon) was pitted against a newcomer (Barcelona), who had to learn from their mistakes. The game proceeded as if it were following a script.

Dzsenifer Marozsán, a Lyon’s star midfielder, scored barely five minutes in, exciting the crowd in her hometown, and Barcelona fought back with two successive goals.

The Catalans were no slouches, but Lyon’s exquisite play made them seem like amateurs as the Barcelona defense was ripped open time and time again that evening.

Later, then-manager Llus Cortés said that reaching the final was Barcelona’s prize for completing the Champions League marathon, a remark that seemed to explain Barcelona’s dismal performance, a 4-1 loss to Lyon that never seemed in doubt.

That was back then. The atmosphere around Barcelona has changed dramatically as they prepare for Saturday’s Champions League final in a new location. Lyon, a seven-time champion, is still a force to be reckoned with, but since Lyon’s victory over Barca in 2019, the Catalan team has cut its path and upended Europe’s power structure.

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Each team’s road to this weekend’s Turin final was significantly different, but both will feel they have much to show in winning the European championship.

The two years following Barcelona’s humiliation in 2019 were possibly the most crucial in the club’s history. Following the disappointment of that loss to Lyon, they improved on and off the field to win the Spanish crown in the shortened 2019-20 season for the first time in five years.

Barcelona began to exercise their muscles with successive titles, and their elevation to the top of the European elite was reinforced with their first Champions League win last season.

Champions League final: Barcelona Femenino and Lyon Féminines battle for status as Europe's powerhouse

Meanwhile, Lyon’s dominance in Hungary over the last two years has been marred by unusual stumbles. Following the completion of the 2018-19 season, manager Reynald Pedros departed, and his replacement, Jean-Luc Vasseur, lasted less than two seasons despite winning the domestic triple and yet another Champions League trophy in his only full season with the club.

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However, something was missing. The league title was granted when the season was called off early due to the epidemic, but the race was far from over when Les Fenottes were crowned winners by the Fédération Française de Football.

While Lyon had demonstrated their overwhelming superiority as a team in Budapest, Ada Hegerberg stood out as the diamond in the Lyon crown.

Her goals decided the game, but she also put on a beautiful performance for 90 minutes, reminding everyone that she was still one of the best players in the world. No one could have predicted Hegerberg’s 20-month absence when she suffered an ACL injury at the start of 2020, but her absence was only one of OL’s wobbles.

Even after Vasseur was replaced by Sonia Bompastor, it took time for the European darlings to look like themselves again.

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Last year’s 4-0 success over Chelsea in the Champions League final solidified Barcelona’s status as the new European champions in the minds of those who follow the sport, but the road to this season’s final was less resounding and took some cautious navigation.

Barcelona has been forced to rely on moments of individual brilliance to carry them through difficult games in Champions League season, most notably when they recovered from behind to win their quarterfinal first leg against Real Madrid.

Champions League final: Barcelona Femenino and Lyon Féminines battle for status as Europe's powerhouse

Sonia Bompastor, Lyon’s manager, believes her team will give Barcelona a “run for their money” in Saturday’s Women’s Champions League final.

After losing out on last year’s final, which was won by Barcelona, Lyon is hoping to recapture the crown.

“Barcelona is the current champion, so they are the favorites,” Bompastor said.

“Not to mention Lyon’s extensive experience. This helps us figure out how to approach it, but the outcome is 50-50.”

“A magician never reveals his tricks,” she continued, “but our staff is talented and has the skill set necessary to give them a run for their money, which is exactly what we’ll do.”

Bompastor would become the first woman to win the Champions League as both a player and a manager if Lyon wins, as she did with Lyon in 2011 and 2012.

Champions League final: Barcelona v Lyon
Venue: Juventus Stadium Date: 21 May, 18:00 BST

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