Barcelona and England star Keira Walsh talks Women’s Clasico

When Barcelona got here knocking, Keira Walsh may have chosen the acquainted path, one among certainty and consolation.

It occurred a number of days after England had received the 2022 European Championship. She was settled at Manchester City, the group she and her father had supported all their lives. Regarded as one of many world’s finest gamers, the atmosphere she’d established was all attuned to her enhancing her upward trajectory.

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But that is not her approach. The lure of the Champions League proved an excessive amount of, and as she mentioned: when Barcelona comes knocking, it is powerful to show them down. Especially while you’re a ball-playing No. 6, the core of a group’s possession and motion between defence and assault.

“Every midfielder wants to play for Barcelona,” Walsh tells ESPN. “You grow up watching Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta and [Sergio] Busquets, and to be part of this club is amazing. And then you look at who I’d be playing with: Patri [Guijarro], Aitana [Bonmati] and Alexia [Putellas.] So the chance to learn off them, see how they play and improve my game, yeah, I’m really happy to be here.”

Walsh is talking on the Barcelona coaching floor. At that stage, the membership was trying towards the primary leg of their Champions League quarterfinal with Roma, a match they’d go on to win 1-0 in Italy.

Barcelona, the game’s most dominant ladies’s membership group, is flying in Liga F this season. They’re 10 factors away from Real Madrid with a frankly ridiculous file: 22 wins from 22, 98 objectives scored and simply 5 conceded. It begs the query: if their path to the highest of the league and their fourth consecutive league title seems a foregone conclusion, is it simple for them to enter cruise management?

In quick: no. When Walsh will get into coaching, she sees the opposite gamers within the membership and the lengths they go to get higher, and she’s out of her consolation zone, away from house, and focusing day-after-day on enhancing and dwell as much as the well-known membership crest.

The tipping level for Walsh was Manchester City falling quick within the Champions League. When she lined up in opposition to Real Madrid of their qualifier in August 2022, it was lower than a month after she’d received the Euros. Her City teammate Lucy Bronze had already introduced her transfer to Barca, whereas Georgia Stanway, her England midfield associate, had agreed to hitch Bayern Munich. City would lose the qualifier to Real Madrid at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano 1-0, with former City star Caroline Weir scoring the one objective. It was at that second Walsh knew she wanted a brand new problem.

“It was probably not reaching those end stages of the Champions League and not even qualifying for the tournament [which did it],” Walsh says. “When a club like Barcelona comes in, it was very difficult to say no. Man City is my home club: it wasn’t an easy decision. But the chance to play Champions League football and win trophies meant it was something I couldn’t say no to.”

Though Women’s Super League (WSL) in England is universally admired, Walsh remembered these afternoons watching Barcelona play on the TV; she recollects how she was so enthralled, and that curiosity pushed her in favour of the transfer.

“Why I was younger, my dad made me watch Spanish football, but that all made me appreciate the style,” she says. “When I was younger, English teams tended to kick the ball longer, but we always appreciated the way Barcelona played and the way Spanish teams play. That had an influence on me. So even though he’s a City fan as well, it was a no-brainer for both of us.”

Barcelona paid a reported world-record switch charge for Walsh and with that comes a way of expectation, however Walsh says it is nothing in comparison with the expectations inside this group of gamers. That’s what retains all of them sincere. “Playing for Barcelona does carry its pressure,” she says. “It’s such a prestigious club, and wearing the shirt it does come with pressure. But the more you play in those games and get used to it, it does get a little bit easier.”

Walsh has loved taking part in alongside Bonmati and Guijarro in midfield, however she’s eagerly ready for her likelihood to play alongside the world’s finest participant, Putellas, who suffered an ACL damage in July 2022. “We really do miss her on the pitch, and I think even when she’s in the gym and in and around the physio room, you can see what a special presence she has,” Walsh says. “I think all the girls look up to her, but for me, it wasn’t really a surprise to see that because we have so many world-class players.

“I do speak about Patri a lot, but I think she does a lot of work that people don’t notice and for me, she glues the team together. She keeps the team ticking over and creating chances and assisting. She does all the little jobs that I think people don’t notice sometimes. It wasn’t a surprise that she’s moved a little bit higher up, and Barcelona are still winning. For me, it makes perfect sense.”

It’s these kinds of tactical tweaks and want for adaptability that push Walsh on. She’s inspired to assume on the sector about her positioning and function in an analogous option to how coach Sarina Wiegman has developed the England group. Instead of sitting deep and taking part in the ball broad to the flanks like Walsh did at City, she’s inspired by each Barca boss Jonatan Giraldez and Wiegman to look ahead, whereas additionally searching for area and quick passes.

“Here in Spain it’s a lot more tiki taka, and it took me a little bit of time to get used to. Although City want to keep the ball, here you have to be constantly on the move and everything goes through their midfield.”

Walsh pushing herself out of her consolation zone is symptomatic of the atmosphere created by Wiegman, and the advantages her England teammates have loved. Bronze has spoken beforehand about how her time at Lyon (2017-20) made her a greater participant. Like Walsh, she swapped City for Barcelona within the offseason.

“I know that coming to Barça can help improve me again,” Bronze mentioned. “When I had the chance to leave last summer, it was always going to be abroad. Keira is similar, you feel uncomfortable for a little bit and then once you get to grips with languages and different styles of play, your game just goes to another level.”

All of which brings us to El Clasico, the marquee match within the Spanish season, as Saturday brings the second conflict between Barcelona and Real in Liga F.

Walsh has skilled it twice already this season. Her first encounter with Real was on Nov. 6 as Barca received 4-0 within the capital. They then met once more within the semifinals of the Copa de la Reina in January, a match Barcelona managed to win 3-1 regardless of Irene Paredes being despatched off. Heading into Saturday’s match at Estadi Johan Cruyff, Barca are overwhelming favourites to increase that 10-point lead on the high of the league in opposition to their outdated rivals.

“It definitely is spicy. The atmosphere in the changing room before is different, you can see the fight and the passion the girls have for this game,” Walsh says. “Just to play in these games is unbelievable. I’ve grown up watching them on TV and to be able to feature in them is incredible.”

In the top, these video games are the events that inspired her to depart behind all the pieces she knew to expertise one thing new and, within the course of, enhance as a participant.

“These are the sorts of games you want to be playing as a professional,” Walsh says. “Being here and seeing the mentality of the staff and the players and the club, I think they’ve reached the Champions League finals time after time, but they don’t rest on that. They keep going and they want to win more trophies. And that’s something I wanted to be part of.”

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