2022/2023 Season Review: Barcelona’s excellence in defense – The Defenders (Part 1)

2022/2023 Season Review: Barcelona's excellence in defense - The Defenders
Photo: Sara Gordon – FC Barcelona

In the recently concluded 2022/2023 football season, FC Barcelona Femeni showcased their defensive prowess, solidifying their position as one of the most formidable teams in women’s football. The team had the best defensive record across all major leagues in Europe, and the second-best in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Led by a cohesive backline, disciplined organization, and exceptional individual performances, Barcelona’s defense played a pivotal role in their success throughout the season.

FC Barcelona Femeni’s defensive record in the 2022/2023 season speaks volumes about their ability to shut down opposition attacks. Their stingy defense conceded an impressively low number of goals, frustrating even the most potent offensive units. The team’s ability to neutralize opposing forwards, deny them space, and break up their rhythm highlighted their defensive prowess. The players’ relentless work ethic, determination, and concentration were key factors in their ability to maintain clean sheets and limit the opposition’s goal-scoring opportunities.

In an earlier article, we took a look at the role of the goalkeepers in this dominant and resilient Barcelona defense. Their qualities and performances, as well as a brief statistical look at their contributions to the team’s almost impenetrable defense.

Now, we will delve into the indomitable spirit and exceptional defensive display of the defenders.

A Resolute Backline

Barcelona’s defensive line, comprising a blend of experienced campaigners and emerging talents, worked in perfect harmony to thwart opposition attacks. With a resolute backline led by stalwart defenders such as Mapi Leon, and Irene Paredes, Barcelona’s backline exhibited remarkable understanding and solidarity. Their ability to read the game, communicate effectively, and anticipate opponents’ moves ensured a formidable defensive wall that proved difficult to breach all through the season.

Solidified by proper collaboration with the full-backs, Lucy Bronze, and Fridolina Rolfo, the backline demonstrated an exceptional understanding of their roles and responsibilities, maintaining compactness and denying opponents space in critical areas. The team’s commitment to defensive work rate, along with their tactical discipline, allowed them to maintain defensive solidity throughout the season.

Individual Excellence

While a strong defensive unit relies on collective efforts, Barcelona Femeni’s defensive stars shone brightly in their individual performances. Mapi Leon emerged as a linchpin of the defense, with her impeccable reading of the game, ability to make crucial interceptions, and excellent distribution, she became a vital cog in Barcelona’s backline. Pairing the Barcelona fan favorite with partner Irene Paredes, who at every occasion showcases her leadership qualities, aerial dominance, and composure under pressure. Fridolina Rolfo’s attacking prowess and Lucy Bronze’s tenacity made both players dependable options at both full-back positions.

However, the listed players are not the only options in the Barcelona defense. With the likes of Jana Fernandez, Laia Codina, Nuria Rabano, and Marta Torrejon all being exceptional when called upon, Barcelona showcased a rich depth of amazing defenders in their squad.

The Center Backs: Mapi Leon & Irene Paredes

Maria Pilar Leon

A very popular figure among Barcelona fans, Mapi Leon is Barcelona’s first choice left center back. Leon, who is famous not only for her defensive prowess and ball-playing ability but even more for her ability to strike the ball, especially with set-pieces made quite the contribution to the Blaugrana’s beautiful run in the recently concluded season. 

Strength and Physicality

Mapi Leon’s defensive abilities are rooted in her incredible strength and physical presence on the pitch. Her exceptional upper body strength enables her to outmuscle opponents and hold her ground against even the most physical forwards. Leon’s physical attributes make her a daunting presence for any attacker attempting to breach her defensive line.

Tactical Awareness and Positioning:

Beyond her physical attributes, Mapi Leon demonstrates exceptional tactical awareness and positioning, which are essential qualities for a top-class defender. She has an innate understanding of the game, enabling her to anticipate opponents’ moves and position herself effectively to intercept passes or make crucial tackles. Her timing in making tackles and interceptions is impeccable, often disrupting opposition attacks before they gain momentum. Leon’s exceptional one-on-one defending skills allow her to shut down even the most skillful attackers. Her ability to stay composed under pressure and make crucial challenges without resorting to reckless tackles is a testament to her technical proficiency. Leon’s ability to read the game allows her to nullify attacking threats and cut off passing lanes, frustrating opposing teams’ attempts to break through the defense.

Ball-playing Ability and Distribution:

In addition to her defensive skills, Mapi Leon possesses excellent ball-playing ability, allowing her to contribute to the team’s buildup from the back. She is comfortable in possession and possesses accurate passing skills, enabling her to initiate attacks from deep positions. With long diagonal passes that float from one end of the field to another, Leon’s ability to distribute the ball effectively allows Barcelona to maintain possession and launch quick counter-attacks, adding another dimension to her defensive prowess.

Leadership and Mentality:

Mapi Leon’s leadership qualities and winning mentality further elevate her defensive abilities. She exudes confidence and composure on the pitch, rallying her teammates and providing a sense of stability at the back. Her vocal presence and ability to organize the defensive line contribute to Barcelona’s overall defensive solidity. Leon’s strong character and determination make her a natural leader, inspiring those around her to raise their game.

Attacking Prowess

Her amazing defensive performance at the back helped Barcelona reduce the number of goals conceded this season, just as much as her ability to strike the ball has helped Barcelona score some incredible goals. 

With 3 goals and 6 assists to her name in Liga F this season, and 2 goals in the UWCL, Leon has contributed to 11 Barcelona goals despite being a central defender.

With her imposing physicality, tactical awareness, solid fundamentals, ball-playing skills, and leadership qualities, Leon epitomizes the modern-day defender. Her consistent performances and ability to neutralize top-class attackers have rightfully earned her a reputation as a defensive wall in women’s football. As she continues to evolve and make her mark on the game, Mapi Leon’s contributions to Barcelona’s defense this season remain invaluable.

Irene Paredes

The first choice pairing with Mapi Leon, the center back, is known for her defensive prowess and ball-playing abilities. With her exceptional defensive prowess, leadership qualities, and unwavering commitment, Paredes has firmly established herself as a defensive maestro for the Catalan giants. 

Aerial Dominance and Physicality

One of Irene Paredes’s standout attributes is her aerial dominance. Paredes possesses an imposing presence, allowing her to win aerial duels against even the tallest opponents. Her impeccable timing and strong leaping ability make her a formidable force in the air, both in defensive situations and during set-pieces. The defender is not one who’s scared of sliding into tackles, which enables her to clear the ball in situations where she is being beaten for pace or strength by the opposition attackers. Her tackling technique is impeccable, allowing her to dispossess opponents cleanly and efficiently. She possesses exceptional timing in her challenges, rarely resorting to reckless tackles. Paredes’s disciplined approach to defending is further evident in her ability to maintain her composure under pressure, making her a reliable and consistent presence in the backline.

Tactical Intelligence and Positioning:

In a similar fashion to her partner, Paredes’s defensive prowess is amplified by her exceptional tactical intelligence and positioning. She possesses an innate understanding of the game, which allows her to anticipate plays, read the movements of opposing attackers, and intercept passes effectively. Paredes’s ability to position herself optimally ensures that she is always in the right place at the right time to make crucial interventions and deny the opposition scoring opportunities.

Attacking Prowess

And as much as she contributes to defense, she also poses a lot of threats in attacking positions. Whenever Barcelona is taking a corner, Paredes is always proving herself to be a threat in the opposition box. Her height and strong physique, coupled with the fact that she is a beautiful header of the ball is always a problem for the opposition.

With 2 goals and 1 assist in the Liga F, and 2 goals in the Champions League, Paredes has contributed to 5 of Barcelona’s goals this season. 

Paredes is a complete defensive package. Her commanding presence, physicality, and ability to read the game make her a formidable obstacle for opposing attackers. Whether it’s intercepting passes, making crucial tackles, or marshaling the defensive line, Paredes’s contributions to Barcelona’s backline are indispensable.

In subsequent posts, we will take a look at the defensive performances of other members of the Barcelona backline.

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