Barcelona will go into their Champions League clash against Manchester City with an unbeaten record in their domestic league. The side have won 20 matches in the Primera Iberdrola so far and have done so in style, scoring 99 goals and only conceding three.
Barcelona last lost in January, crashing out of the Spanish Women’s Super Cup at the semi-final stage following a penalty shoot-out defeat to Atlético Madrid. They will be a fierce challenge for Manchester City, who have now hit their stride in the Women’s Super League but revealed a number of fragilities at the start of the season.
But how much of a challenge will Barcelona be? How much of their dominance can be attributed to their talent and ability, and how much is down to disparities in the Primera División?
Barcelona have a star-studded squad which is the envy of many teams around Europe. Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso has been leading the attack, scoring 16 goals in as many games in the Primera División. She is joined on the team by Dutch midfielder Lieke Martens, winner of the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year in 2017.
Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen is another standout player for Barcelona, while Asisat Oshoala has been inconsistent at times but has still hit the back of the net 13 times in 17 Primera División matches this season. The Nigerian is well-known to WSL fans, having spent a season at both Liverpool and Arsenal.
Barcelona also have a strong back-bone of Spanish internationals, including María León, Patri Guijarro, Marta Torrejón and captain Vicky Losada, yet another ex-Arsenal player.
There is no doubt this Barcelona side is full of talent and their recent results have been a reflection of this. But their superiority in the Primera Iberdrola is also a product of disparity between teams.
Gulf in teams
The lack of investment in the Primera Iberdrola was highlighted by the players themselves when they went on strike in November 2019. Negotiations over a collective agreement with clubs had broken down over minimum salary and part-time contracts.
A historic collective bargaining agreement was reached in February 2020, giving players a minimum full-time wage of €16,000 (£13,800) and a part-time wage of €12,000 (£10,300). Both include maternity leave, injury pay and paid holiday. The top two tiers of women’s football in Spain were then granted professional status last June.
Despite these landmark moments, many of the teams in the Primera Iberdrola still suffer from a significant lack of investment. Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Levante all have close ties with the men’s teams, which means more money, better facilities and high-quality player recruitment. The same can be said for Real Madrid, who were formerly CD Tacon before they were purchased by the men’s club in 2019.
The remainder of the 18 teams in the league are more disadvantaged, however. ESPN reported that Martens is paid €200,000 (£172,200) a year, while average salaries at clubs outside of Barcelona, Levante and Real Madrid are €17,000 (£14,600) a year.
This disparity is reflected in the current league standings. Barcelona are currently flying high in first, with Levante second. Real Madrid are third in their debut season.
Struggling Atlético Madrid
Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have dominated the past decade of the Primera Iberdrola, clinching eight of the last nine league titles between them.
In recent years, Atlético Madrid have been the superior team. They topped the table in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This year, however, they are struggling. Atleti are currently fifth in the Primera Iberdrola, two places adrift of the Champions League spots.
Barcelona are normally challenged each year by their main rival, but have been left unencumbered this season due to Atlético Madrid’s downturn in form. The side packed with star players have also dispatched the likes of Levante and Real Madrid with ease.
The Champions League is likely to be a more suitable test for La Blaugrana, beginning with the quarter-final clash against Manchester City. All eyes will be on the hotly-anticipated tie to see how Barcelona fare.