When Alexia Putellas suffered an ACL injury in the build-up to UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, the year’s most high-profile event in women’s football had lost one of its biggest stars. But the news was bad for her club side, too. Barcelona faced the prospect of being without the player who had led them to three of the previous four Women’s Champions League finals for much if not all of the 2022/23 season.
Barcelona are a team full of world-class footballers, though, and in Clàudia Pina they have an emerging talent who looks set to light up the Catalan club for years to come. An attacking midfielder who can play almost anywhere across the front two lines, Pina became the youngest player ever to have represented a senior Barça team when making her debut at 16 years and five months in January 2018. She made a limited number of appearances across the next three seasons, before gaining valuable first-team experience in a successful loan spell at Sevilla in the 2020/21 season.
That time away from Barcelona sadly coincided with the club’s historic first Women’s Champions League victory. Pina returned to great effect in 2021/22, though, scoring 19 goals in 37 appearances across all competitions as Barcelona completed the domestic double. She carried on where she left off in 2022/23, scoring three goals in the Champions League group stage – including a glorious strike in a 3-0 win over Bayern Munich. She has also featured in the UEFA’s new Recognise Game series, focusing on players in the Women’s Champions League.
Recognise Game is UEFA’s new UEFA Women's Champions League series, giving exclusive insights into the planning, skill and athleticism of the athletes on the pitch
Pina is an extremely versatile and attack-minded footballer who has experience both in central midfield and in the front line. A talented operator between the lines, she is capable of connecting the back line with midfield, but also of finding teammates moving in behind (below). She can slide runners in beyond opposition back lines with clever through balls off either foot.
She manipulates the ball away from pressure in central spaces very well, using both feet to receive against pressure before then breaking at least one opposing line. This allows her to connect into a variety of teammates in different positions, such as narrowing wingers, direct runs from central forwards or wide movements from overlapping full-backs.
Pina’s scanning and awareness of space are also impressive, especially in central areas. Her ability to position just off the shoulder of her closest opponent enables her to take more of her first touches forward, from where she is agile against secondary pressure. She also has a strong change of speed and the balance to change direction both with and without the ball. If gaps to play forward then close, Pina is technically strong enough to work the ball away from pressure while still creating chances for forward runners.
If central spaces are too congested, Pina will look to connect with wider runners. From here, she demonstrates her goalscoring mentality to get into the penalty area, often timing her runs to arrive later than the first wave of the attack but still before her direct marker. The experience she has gained playing in the front line has improved her penalty area movements when latching on to low crosses from out wide.
When playing as part of a front line, Pina will move inside from the left, often taking up similar positions to those she does when starting in central midfield. She may dribble more from this advanced role, often inside from a wider starting position. Barcelona dominate the Primera División for crosses, but Pina doesn’t deliver as many as her teammates. Instead, she looks for combinations and penetrative forward passes.
Whether operating in midfield or in the front line, Pina carries a significant goal threat. On top of the previously mentioned late runs into the box, she can outplay opponents in one-on-one situations and can shoot off both feet. She times her runs well to attack key spaces just as the ball arrives, and can then adjust her body shape to finish first time or with her second touch. When receiving between the lines, she also has the technique and power to shoot accurately from distance (above).
Pina has spent most of her career to date in midfield, usually as one of a midfield three. During a season on loan with Sevilla in the 2020/21 season, however, she mostly played as a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Here, she acted as the focal point between the lines and linked effectively with the single centre-forward. She had the flexibility to move either side, mirroring the ball, or make her own runs in behind as a key central threat.
With Barcelona, she often occupies one of the number-eight spots in the team’s preferred 4-3-3 structure. Here, she will drop and connect with the back line as much as she moves forward. When she does push on, though, she will look to rotate with the winger moving inside (below) and penetrate the box with the late runs from which a good number of her goals come. These movements also allow Pina to provide key passes in the final third, including assists from the inside channels.
As mentioned earlier, Pina has also operated wide on the left for Barcelona, from where she likes to move inside both with and without the ball. Here, she rotates to allow the full-back to overlap and provide attacking width, with the number eight moving out to cover. This latter movement also creates more room for Pina to find space to operate within the inside channel (below).
After moving inside from a wide position, Pina looks to combine with one-twos and quick passing, often following the ball into a more central position. This enables her to penetrate with quick forward passes into runners beyond while also working the ball away from pressure and, if needed, into switches of play through the single pivot. Inside movements also enable her to offer the same runs into the box she performs as a number eight.
Although rarer, Pina has played as a centre-forward – both when on loan at Sevilla and, more briefly, for Barcelona. Her qualities in this position still allow her to link with runners and combine with the central midfielders. From a high, central position, Pina will drop towards the ball in the manner of a false nine, often dragging her centre-back marker with her (below). This creates space for inside runs from wide teammates, with Pina’s agility, balance and co-ordination allowing her to deal with pressure from behind as she receives.
She also becomes an additional central midfielder with this dropping movement, helping overload opposing units in this part of the pitch. She can also rotate with one of the eights if needed, allowing her to operate in the inside channels and again play the clever forward passes she excels in. No matter what her starting position, Pina will always look to operate within the inside channel and between the lines if possible – it is there that this potential star does her best work.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice