Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Barcelona pushing England duo to greater heights

Must read

Bronze (left) and Walsh joined Barcelona in 2022 after leaving Manchester City

“Having the best players in the world makes it easier to win games.”

It may seem like an obvious statement but for England stars Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh, it became even more evident after they joined one of the best teams in the world.

The duo – part of Sarina Wiegman’s Euro 2022-winning side – had already placed themselves among the world’s best players before they moved to Barcelona.

Bronze agreed to join the Catalan club in June after her contract with Manchester City expired while Walsh signed from City in a women’s world-record £400,000 deal in September.

Both players are now thriving for the Spanish side, who are 10 points clear at the top of the Primera Division and on course for a fourth consecutive league title.

The club are also hoping to add a second Champions League trophy to the silverware collection as they prepare to take on Roma in the first leg of the quarter-finals on Tuesday.

‘Massive improvement’

Bronze, 31, had experience of playing football abroad with Lyon between 2017 and 2020, but it was a new experience for Walsh, who left her childhood club in England eight years after making her debut.

As well as seeing improvements in her footballing ability, Walsh believes she has become a better team player since her move to Spain.

“Attempting to learn a new language and experiencing a new culture and seeing things differently, it has made me a better team-mate,” the 25-year-old said.

“Then on the pitch, I’m definitely seeing massive improvement. The way I move and how fast I think and that is from playing with the best players in the world.”

For Man City, Walsh played in the traditional number six role, screening the defence and spraying passes out wide for the wingers to attack.

However, for Barcelona, her responsibilities as a defensive midfielder have changed dramatically.

“The biggest change between here and City is the number six would be told to stand still and just hold space and let other players come into the game,” Walsh said.

“In England, it’s about getting the ball wide and letting the wingers go one versus one, whereas here it is short passes and trying to find pockets of space.

“It’s a lot more technical and you are always on the move.”

Bronze, who joined the Catalan side two months before Walsh, also said she had to “learn a lot of things” when she arrived at Barcelona but being uncomfortable in a new environment has made her a better footballer.

“I’m comfortable being uncomfortable and I want to be pushed and challenged,” Bronze said.

“You feel uncomfortable a little bit but when you learn and understand the styles of play, your game goes to another level.”

‘Champions League is the pinnacle’

Barcelona are among the favourites to win this year’s Champions League, being the only team other than Lyon to win the tournament in the past seven years.

The Spanish side lifted the trophy in 2021 when they thrashed Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side 4-0 in the final.

Bronze believes the Champions League is the “pinnacle” for Barcelona.

“We are one of the favourites in the competition and we know we are capable of winning it and beating the teams left in it,” she said.

“There are a couple teams who will think the same and rightly so.

“We are doing well in the league and we are coming into the business end of the season and we will be fully focused on the Roma game when it comes and getting through to the semi-final.”

‘No fanbase like it’

The further Barcelona get in the Champions League, the more opportunities Bronze and Walsh will have to play at the Nou Camp.

In November, the England pair got their first taste of Champions League nights at the iconic stadium when they beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in front of 46,967 fans.

They became the first English players to represent Barcelona at the Nou Camp since Gary Lineker in 1989.

“I have never played in front of a fanbase like Barca’s,” Walsh said.

“It’s not just about women’s football, it’s about good football and Barca fans appreciate that. It’s not promoting it as two separate sports but just female players who are technical and tactical.”

Latest article