UWCL PREVIEW: The Road to Eindhoven

With just days until the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final in Eindhoven, fans are already beginning to bustle with excitement ahead of their trips to the Netherlands. PSV’s Philips Stadion has sold out for this fixture, with over 30,000 fans expected to pour through the turnstiles on Saturday.

We’ve looked back through both Barcelona and VfL Wolfsburg’s respective journeys to get to the final, identifying key players that could be the gamechangers and write their name amongst the stars by lifting the silverware.

Barça Femení

The Journey

MD1: Barça Femení (9 – 0) Benfica

An utterly dominant performance Estadi Johan Cruyff saw Barça put nine goals past their Portuguese opponents to kickstart their UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign. Patri opened the scoring after just a minute, and Aitana Bonmatí added the second in the 14th minute. Just twenty minutes later, Asisat Oshoala bagged the Blaugrana’s third goal of the game with a long-range strike.

Jonatan Giráldez’s side didn’t ease the pressure at all in the second half – and seemed to actually add further intensity to their attacking forays. Mariona Caldentey got herself on the scoresheet five minutes after the break, before registering an assist with a lovely cross towards Ana-Maria Crnogorčević who headed home to make it 5-0, with 25 minutes still to play.

The sixth goal came courtesy of Geyse, who slotted home following a lovely passing move – and the forward then set up Clàudia Pina for Barça’s seventh of the evening. Asisat Oshoala bagged her second of the match after capitalising on a defensive mistake from Benfica, and Geyse completed her brace too with a headed effort in the final minutes.

MD2: Rosengärd (1 – 4) Barça Femení

While the scoreline may not be as flattering as the nine-goal demolition of Benfica, Barça put out another dominant performance in Sweden to cruise to another three points. With thirty minutes on the clock, Aitana Bonmatí opened the scoring – and the Catalan star completed her brace before half-time with a lovely curling effort. Olivia Holdt was able to get one back for the hosts though, halving the deficit just before the interval.

Mariona Caldentey wanted in on the goalscoring action too, and opened her account with a phenomenal strike from inside the centre circle that sailed over the top of the Rosengärd ‘keeper. She bagged her second in injury time, firing home a rebounded effort after a half-cleared free-kick.

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MD3: Barça Femení (3 – 0) Bayern Munich

49,697 fans descended on the Spotify Camp Nou for the third game of Barça’s UWCL campaign – setting a new record for the highest group stage attendance in the competition. They were treated to a spectacular match, despite the game remaining goalless at half-time. It was in the second period that Barcelona’s dominance shone through, as Geyse opened the scoring just minutes after the interval with a headed effort. Twelve minutes later, Aitana Bonmatí doubled the lead with a composed finish – and Clàudia Pina topped off the scoring with an unstoppable strike from outside the box.

MD4: Bayern Munich (3 – 1) Barça Femení

Unfortunately for Jonatan Giráldez, his side weren’t able to maintain their winning record as they travelled to the Allianz Arena. Klara Bühl opened the scoring for Bayern with just four minutes on the clock, and Lina Magull doubled that advantage in the tenth minute following a blistering counterattack. Lea Schüller added the hosts’ third goal of the game on the hour mark with a headed effort past Sandra Paños, though Geyse was able to find a consolation goal five minutes later to give the travelling support something to cheer.

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MD5: Benfica (2 – 6) Barça Femení

Barça returned to winning ways with a dominant performance against Benfica on Matchday 5. With just seven minutes played, Irene Paredes was able to convert a cross from Aitana Bonmatí to open the scoring – and Clàudia Pina was able to double Barça’s lead on the stroke of half-time.

The goal-fest truly began in the second half though, as Aitana Bonmatí got herself on the scoresheet just minutes after play resumed. Ana Crnogorčević added a fourth for the Blaugrana before the hour mark, but Benfica began to grow back into the game despite all hopes of a comeback having been killed off. Jéssica Silva was able to net a consolation goal for Benfica, but an own goal from Ana Rita Silva Seiça restored Barcelona’s four-goal lead. Cloé Lacasse netted a second goal for the hosts, but Mariona Caldentey was able to clinch Barcelona’s sixth goal of the game deep in stoppage time.

MD6: Barça Femení (6 – 0) Rosengärd

Having already qualified for the quarterfinals with their win against Benfica, Barça hosted Rosengärd at the Spotify Camp Nou to round off their group stage appearance. Asisat Oshoala opened the scoring after ten minutes with a rebounded effort off the crossbar, and the forward was perfectly positioned to head home her second goal of the game just five minutes later. Mapi León made it 3-0 before half-time with a sweetly-struck free-kick.

Fridolina Rolfö added Barcelona’s fourth mere minutes after the resumption of play, and Marta Torrejón was able to pounce on a goalkeeping error to make it 5-0 in the fiftieth minute. Irene Paredes made it six in the 69th minute, as Barcelona cruised through to the quarterfinals in style – and as group winners.

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MD7: Roma Femminile (0 – 1) Barça Femení

A fiercely contested encounter at the Stadio Olimpico saw Barça edge out a slender victory. Jonatan Giráldez’s side took control of the match early on and dominated possession, but it took 34 minutes for the first goal to arrive courtesy of Salma Paralluelo. The Blaugrana looked to add to their lead in the second half, but found themselves defending resolutely against an inspired Roma side as the clock wound down.

MD8: Barça Femení (5 – 1) Roma Femminile

54,667 fans were in attendance at the Spotify Camp Nou, as Barça delivered a clinical performance to set up a dramatic semifinal encounter against Chelsea. The scoring was opened by Fridolina Rolfö, who did well to smash a half-volleyed effort past Ceasar after just eleven minutes. The goals didn’t stop there though, as Mapi León doubled the lead from outside the box before Rolfö completed her brace in stoppage time.

A three-goal lead at the break would surely be enough to progress, but Jonatan Giráldez was taking no risks – and his side continued to mount attack after attack on the Roma goal. Asisat Oshoala bagged the fourth of the game just seconds after half-time, and Patri was able to add the fifth in the 53rd minute. Annamaria Serturini was able to find a consolation goal for the visitors, as the Italian side bowed out of the tournament.

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MD9: Chelsea Women (0 – 1) Barça Femení

A trip to Stamford Bridge was up next for Barça – and they’d face arguably their toughest opponent yet. In front of more than 25,000 fans, it was the Blaugrana that took the lead courtesy of a stunning strike from Caroline Graham Hansen. An end-to-end half saw chances for both sides, including a disallowed leveller for Sam Kerr, who was found to be offside as she darted through the defence. The second half lacked intensity, with an injury to Lucy Bronze being the major defining moment.

MD10: Barça Femení (1 – 1) Chelsea Women

The atmosphere ahead of this second leg was genuinely incredible, with fans flocking around the Spotify Camp Nou several hours before kickoff to welcome the team coaches. That carried across into the ground, and despite Emma Hayes’ Chelsea showing signs of promise, they were promptly pounced upon by Barça – although Caroline Graham Hansen’s effort was ruled out for handball.

Having had that first-half strike disallowed, Graham Hansen was determined to work her way onto the scoresheet and that’s exactly what she did in the 63rd minute. Chelsea were able to bring themselves back into the game just four minutes later, as Sam Kerr forced a save from Sandra Paños – allowing Guro Reiten to slam home the rebound. Erin Cuthbert and Lauren James both had late chances, but the hosts were able to hold on and seal their spot in Eindhoven.

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The Stars

The return of Alexia Putellas is huge for Barcelona, but it’s Aitana Bonmatí that has stolen the spotlights throughout her absence. Bonmatí has bagged a very respectable five goals during this season’s tournament, in addition to an incredible seven assists. There really isn’t a weak spot in Jonatan Giráldez’s side. Sandra Paños also deserves the credit for her ability to make crucial saves – including from the penalty spot, which could be crucial should the final remain level after 120 minutes.

The Numbers

Barça have scored an astonishing 37 goals across their ten UWCL matches so far this season, conceding just eight times. As we’ve just mentioned, Aitana Bonmatí has been directly involved in 12 of those 37 goals. In the ten games they’ve played, Barça have held an incredible 61.7% possession and with a very respectable passing accuracy of 86.3%, it’s fair to say that they thrive on the ball.

VfL Wolfsburg Frauen

The Journey

MD1: VfL Wolfsburg (4 – 0) St. Pölten

The German side started their UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign with a comprehensive 4-0 drubbing of St. Pölten at the AOK Stadion. Ewa Pajor bagged a brace within fifteen minutes, before Lena Lattwein added Wolfsburg’s third just ten minutes after the break. An utterly dominant performance was rounded off with a killer blow, as Jill Roord struck from outside the box to net the fourth goal of the game.

MD2: Slavia Praha (0 – 2) VfL Wolfsburg

A trip to Slavic Praha’s Fortuna-Arena followed, as did another three points for Tommy Stroot’s side. Jule Brand opened the scoring with eleven minutes on the clock, firing home from a precision cross courtesy of Svenja Huth – who was involved once more in the second goal. With just under fifteen minutes left to play in Prague, the German provided a lovely assist for Ewa Pajor – bagging her third goal of the tournament to ensure Wolfsburg flew home with another win.

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MD3: Roma Femminile (1 -1) VfL Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg’s dominance looked to stutter at the Stadio Comunale Domenico Francioni, as they were held to a hard-fought 1-1 draw by Roma Femminile. Valentina Giacinti gave the Italians an early lead after three minutes, but Ewa Pajor was there to bring the visitors back into the game with a sublime strike thirty minutes later.

MD4: VfL Wolfsburg (4 – 2) Roma Femminile

Tommy Stroot’s side looked to make amends for those dropped points, as they welcomed the Italian side to the AOK Stadion two weeks later. A thrilling game saw six goals – and it was the Germans that took victory once more. Goals from Ewa Pajor and Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir saw Wolfsburg possess a two-goal lead just minutes before half-time, but Andressa Alves clawed one back in the 42nd minute to spark hopes of a comeback. Two goals in two minutes after the break saw Wolfsburg cruise through the second half, as Ewa Pajor netted just seconds after Lena Lattwein. Sophie Roman Haug bagged a consolation for Roma with fifteen minutes still to play.

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MD5: VfL Wolfsburg (0 – 0) Slavia Praha

Despite their best efforts, VfL Wolfsburg were forced to drop more points as the group stages started to draw to a close. Tommy Stroot’s side managed to produce thirteen shots on target, though Olivie Lukášová was able to keep a clean sheet and was deservedly named as player of the match.

MD6: St. Pölten (2 – 8) VfL Wolfsburg

Having put four unanswered goals past the Austrian side on Matchday 1, Tommy Stroot’s side organised yet another thrashing – this time subjecting forcing Carina Schlüter to concede eight goals. Lena Lattwein opened the scoring after just five minutes, with Marina Hegering and and Svenja Huth ensuring that Wolfsburg held a three-goal lead at the interval.

Ewa Pajor and Tabea Waßmuth added a further two goals, before Pia-Sophie Wolter bagged a brace in three minutes. Mateja Zver found a consolation goal for the hosts with little over ten minutes remaining, though Pauline Bremer was able to notch Wolfsburg’s eighth goal as the clock ticked down. Rita Schumacher ensured that the game finished 2-8.

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MD7: Paris Saint-Germain (0 – 1) VfL Wolfsburg

A trip to PSG’s infamous Parc des Princes saw Wolfsburg clinch a crucial lead in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie. As predicted, the match was incredibly tight and it looked as if the spoils would be shared – until a penalty was awarded just after the hour mark for a handball offence by Elisa De Almeida. Dominique Janssen stepped up to convert, putting the power in Tommy Stroot’s hands ahead of the return fixture a week later.

MD8: VfL Wolfsburg (1 – 1) Paris Saint-Germain

With a draw enough to qualify for the semifinals, Wolfsburg welcomed PSG to the Volkswagen Arena. An end-to-end encounter forced a defensive masterclass from Tommy Stroot’s side, who took the lead with their first shot on goal as Alexandra Popp rifled an effort into the top-right corner. Less than ten minutes later though, Kadidiatou Diani levelled the scoring with a sublime header. Ultimately, the hosts were able to hold on and progress to the final four.

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MD9: VfL Wolfsburg (2 – 2) Arsenal Women

Another game at the Volkswagen Arena saw a bumper crowd – with 22,617 fans heading through the turnstiles for what would be an incredibly entertaining fixture. Ewa Pajor did well to surge past the defence and open the scoring in the 19th minute with a composed finish, and Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir added the second goal just five minutes later after a misplaced pass from Rafaelle.

With the German side looking to cruise to a comfortable victory, Rafaelle made amends for her earlier error on the stroke of half-time – rising higher than Lena Oberdorf to head home and halve the deficit. Stina Blackstenius completed the comeback in the 69th minute, firing past Frohms from close range to set up an enthralling tie at the Emirates Stadium.

MD10: Arsenal Women (2 – 3) VfL Wolfsburg AET

This will go down as one of the greatest fixtures of the season, as a sellout crowd packed out the Emirates Stadium in the hopes that they’d see Arsenal reach the final of a European competition once more. The Gunners were by far the better side in the early stages, and Stina Blackstenius pounced on a defensive error in the 11th minute to put Jonas Eidevall’s side ahead. Moments before half-time, Jill Roord levelled the tie with a well-placed strike from the edge of the box.

Alexandra Popp put Wolfsburg ahead just before the hour mark, rising highest inside the box to nod a corner past Manuela Zinsberger. Jen Beattie produced a sublime header of her own to bring Arsenal level once more, sending the game to thirty nerve-wracking minutes of extra time. With both sides looking to prepare for penalties, it was Wolfsburg that took advantage of a switched-off Arsenal defence – as Jule Brand forced an error before sliding the ball across the box to Pauline Bremer who kept her composure to send the German side to Eindhoven.

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The Stars

Ewa Pajor is arguably Wolfsburg’s biggest threat – and she’s got the goal tally to back that up. The Polish forward will be looking to add to her eight goals so far, and Barcelona won’t want to allow her an inch of space as they know she’ll make them pay the price. Alexandra Popp is also key to the Germans’ success, and she knows how to ‘Popp’ up with a goal or two!

The Numbers

Wolfsburg’s goalscoring numbers aren’t quite as impressive as those of their Eindhoven opposition – scoring 26 goals across their ten UWCL matches and conceding 10. They’re still very respectable numbers, and it just goes to show the quality that the current Barça team possess. Wolfsburg boast 57.3% possession on average, with a passing accuracy of 83.2%.

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