Patri Guijarro has unfinished business in the Champions League. In 2019, the first female player to graduate from Barcelona’s La Masia academy was injured and could only watch as her team suffered a 4-1 defeat to French champions, Lyon, in the final. The following year, in a pandemic-stunted mini-tournament, they were eliminated by Wolfsburg in the semi-finals. Close but not close enough.
This week Barcelona step up their attempts to go all the way as they take on Manchester City in the first leg of their quarter-final. The game has been moved from Barcelona to Monza in Italy because of Covid restrictions but it offers the team a chance to prove how far they have come since the defeat two years ago.
A 16-minute first-half hat-trick from the competition’s record goalscorer, Ada Hegerberg, condemned Barcelona to second place but it also helped the club gauge their level and assess what they needed to do to challenge Lyon’s stranglehold on the tournament.
This season Barça are a different beast. They have played 20 league games and won all of them. They have scored 99 goals and conceded only three. This is a club that have taken a leaf out of Lyon’s ruthless playbook.
“In recent years we’ve been taking that step,” the 22-year-old midfielder says. “Obviously we’d have loved to have won that final but it’s very difficult to win a Champions League final at the first attempt, especially against a team like Lyon. We’re moving forward, we’re on the right track and I think we need to keep going, improving and correcting things as we go on, and we’ll get there – hopefully sooner rather than later.
“You always have to give 100%, plus a bit more. It’s a shame that we can’t play the first leg here in Barcelona, but I still think it’ll be an entertaining and interesting tie to watch.”
Against City, the Mallorca-born Guijarro will face the England player she likes the most, the Fifa player of the year, Lucy Bronze. “I think she’s spectacular,” says Guijarro. “That’s maybe a bit odd because, though she has played in midfield a few times for the national team, she’s a full‑back, a defender.
“That’s not my position and I’ve always been drawn much more to those who play in midfield, like me, but with Bronze her way of playing is so eye-catching, the way she gets forward, how well she defends … She’s such an impressive player.”
There is a wealth of talent across the Barça squad but in Guijarro the Catalan club have a player who has the potential to illicit similar praise from opponents. The Spain coach, Jorge Vilda, says Guijarro has an “extraordinary footballing intelligence”, adding: “She’s shown on so many occasions, on and off the pitch, that she can be a leader, particularly at youth level, when she was a true driving force in a squad that did great things.”
She won the European Under‑17 Championship in 2015, the golden ball and golden boot at the European Under-19 Championship two years later and the golden ball and golden boot (beating City’s Georgia Stanway) at the Under-20 World Cup in 2018 as Spain finished second to Japan.
“It was frustrating not to have won the cup [in 2018] because I’d have swapped those individual awards for the world title in a second but I’m really proud of what that generation achieved,” she says. “I’ve got lovely memories of my time with the youth national teams. At U17 and U19 level we had a generation of players that gelled so well and shared a common idea of how to play football, which I think was key to us going as far as we did.”
Guijarro scores goals but Vilda has also helped her hone her skills as a custodia defensiva, a defensive midfielder. “Jorge spent a lot of time with me and Virginia Torrecilla showing us a lot of videos of defensive holding players, particularly Sergio Busquets,” she says.
“He wanted to show us how teams tried to win the ball back as quickly as possible after losing possession and how important that was to the team because, as we all know, Spain are a team that are most comfortable with the ball: the more we have it, the better. That starts by winning the ball back quickly, using intense pressing, and the No 6 position, the holding player, is very important for that.”
Her slick passing game is critical to Barcelona and Spain and no doubt played a role in her re-entry into the Guardian’s list of the Top 100 Female Footballers for 2020. “It surprised me a bit when I was included in the 2018 list and this year it has too,” she says. “It’s a real privilege. It makes you say to yourself: ‘This is an incentive to keep on working, keep learning and improving.’ And hopefully I can stay on and move up the list, and my teammates too, of course.”
Beating City and setting up a Champions League semi-final encounter with one of the remaining French teams will certainly help that goal.