Barçelona defend Champions League title, banish Lyon demons

BILBAO, Spain — Reigning champions Barçelona overcame eight-time winners Lyon 2-0 on Saturday to defend their UEFA Women’s Champions League title, in front of a record 50,827 fans.

Having lost to Lyon in the finals of 2019 and 2022, Barça banished their French demons as second-half goals from Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas sealed the win in Bilbao in front of tens of thousands of their vociferous supporters.

Sophie Lawson and Emily Keogh were at San Mames to break down what that result means for both sides.

Stream on ESPN+: NWSL, LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)


Barçelona reign supreme with quadruple success

Barçelona have, for some time, been the best women’s team in Europe, yet there was one side that lorded over them. They had never beaten Lyon before, having fallen short against the eight-time champions in the 2019 and 2022 finals.

But in defeating their greatest adversary in Bilbao, Barçelona ensured that no-one can question their place as the best team in Europe now. Back-to-back Champions League titles and three-time winners of the competition, the Catalans reign supreme. For the first time, Barçelona are also quadruple winners after also landing the Liga F, Copa del Reina and Spanish Super Cup trophies.

The 2019 defeat to Lyon was a wake-up call; the 2022 failure, after the French side’s fast start, ignited a fire in Barçelona. It was a goal for them to bid farewell to legendary manager Jonatan Giraldez — who is departing the club to become the head coach of NWSL team Washington Spirit — with four trophies. And they can send him to America with everything they promised.

Barçelona wanted to start the game fast, but Lyon’s control and assertiveness meant they had to wait to take their chances. And when they did it was Barçelona’s two poster children, Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí, who netted the goals to settle the tie.

Bonmatí is inevitable, talismanic, and superior. Of course, it was going to be the world’s best player to open the scoring — the Ballon d’Or holder certainly made her case for a consecutive sweep of the crown with a stellar performance in the final — and she deserved the luck that send her deflected shot over Christiane Endler’s left glove in the 63rd minute.

Putellas also deserved her place in the spotlight, having been out for so long through injury. Now back to something approaching her best, the Spain midfielder scored three minutes after being substituted on to put the game to bed in the final stages, celebrating wildly after becoming only the fifth women’s player to have scored in three Champions League finals. Having only signed a new contract last week, Putellas put on a show for the final few minutes — dazzling in front of the thousands of fans who adore her — and received an electric reception at the end.

Lyon are mentality monsters who seldom crumble under pressure; Barçelona were dominant in pulling them apart. In defending their title, the Catalans showed why they are once again champions and just how big a task it will be for someone to dethrone them. — Emily Keogh

Lyon cede control, but don’t rule them out

For just the third time in their history, Lyon are Champions League runners-up. But a loss in Bilbao was never going to undo their history in women’s football and won’t detract from their eight European crowns. As departing manager Sonia Bompastor said the day before the final: “We are the best team in the world and will continue to be no matter what happens tomorrow.”

Ever since the 2020-21 tournament ended with a second meeting between Lyon and Barça in a Champions League final, the conversation has been about a possible changing of the guard. That day it was a 3-1 win for a dominant Lyon; now things have changed.

At half-time in Bilbao, the stats were all in Barçelona’s favour. Yet it was Lyon who had struck the woodwork twice, it was Lyon who caused unrest in Cata Coll’s box whenever they had a corner, and it was Lyon who continued to create chances — one of which should have given them the lead as veteran defender Wendie Renard headed over when unmarked.

The game didn’t change for the French powerhouses after Bonmati had opened the scoring in the second half; nor did it when Renard missed again, or when Bompastor threw on the Champions League’s all-time top scorer, Ada Hegerberg, for the last 10 minutes. It wasn’t until Putellas had hammered home her stoppage-time goal that Lyon’s dreams of a nineth title were crushed. For this season at least.

The rise of Barçelona has coincided with more investment across women’s football and more fan interest … as evidenced by an incredible number of supporters in Bilbao. It was only a matter of time before Lyon lost their place at the top of the game and the idea was something that frustrated and motivated them in equal measure to claim the title in 2021.

But though they managed to carve out 13 shots to Barçelona’s 14, they could not do enough this time around. Just as there is no denying Lyon’s history, there is also no denying Barçelona’s virtuosity with the ball. Over these 90 minute, it was finally time for the Catalans to best Lyon.

Les Fenottes are losing their manager (likely to Chelsea) and have a squad in need of a summer overhaul. But only a fool would write them off. Lyon have made a habit out of winning the finals they reach. They may not have done so this time, but there is still plenty of room for optimism about what the future may bring for Europe’s most successful women’s team. — Sophie Lawson.