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UEFA Women's Champions League

From Chelsea's problematic defence to USWNT star Macario's excellence: Five things we learned from the Women's Champions League

8:31 pm AEDT 17/12/21
Chelsea Women 2021-22
This week saw Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Wolfsburg confirmed as the quarter-final line-up

The sixth and final matchday in the Women’s Champions League group stages was certainly not without its drama.

Arsenal were all-but-through to the quarter-finals, yet were dealt an incredible scare, while Chelsea and Wolfsburg faced off for what was effectively a winner-takes-all showdown.

Here is what we learned from the latest round of action in this season's UWCL...

Wolfsburg show teams how to expose Chelsea’s defence

The shock of the week saw Chelsea, last season’s runners-up, crash out in the group stages of this year’s competition, with Wolfsburg hammering them 4-0 in Germany.

All four goals were extremely poor from the Blues’ perspective, with the Wolves getting into the channels either side of the opposing centre-backs to cause serious problems.

With manager Emma Hayes unable to address the lack of full-back options in the transfer window – despite going after targets – players are out of position in those areas, which certainly brings issues.

Wolfsburg took full advantage on Thursday and others in the Women’s Super League will have taken note.

Macario is a star – wherever she plays

Catarina Macario has played in plenty of different positions – in a playmaking midfield role, a little deeper sometimes, and leading the line in a front three.

"I'd say my preferred position would be a false nine,” she told GOAL on All of US: The U.S. Soccer Show, before adding: “[But] I'll try to do my best in whatever position.”

Where the U.S. women’s national team star is best is up for debate, but one thing is for sure – she can light up a game from absolutely anywhere.

On Wednesday, as Lyon secured top spot in their UWCL group with a 4-0 win over Hacken, nobody shone brighter than the 22-year-old, who was back in midfield.

In her first full season with the seven-time European champions, Macario is certainly looking at home wherever she’s deployed. With 11 goals in all competitions already, she’s showing every sign of fulfilling her huge potential.

Hoffenheim’s future is very bright

To progress to the quarter-finals on Wednesday, Hoffenheim, the UWCL debutantes who are not a full-time team, needed to beat Arsenal, a professional outfit top of the Women’s Super League, by five goals.

With 30 minutes to play, it was 4-1 to the German side. They were putting on an incredible show. Unfortunately for them, the Gunners recomposed themselves and didn't concede any more goals.

But the result was still huge.

Hoffenheim’s starting XI had just two players in it over the age of 24. Teenage winger Jule Brand shone, scoring the opener, while another 19-year-old, Gia Corley, was electric in midfield.

They may not have made it out of the group, but this experience of the group stages – where they won three out of six games and played the reigning European champions, Barcelona, twice – will stand them in good stead for the future.

Given how they look right now, that’s incredibly exciting.

Arsenal need to find an answer to Williamson's absence

When Leah Williamson was diagnosed with a "significant" hamstring injury last month, everyone knew it would have an impact on Arsenal, such is her quality.

A centre-back who rarely makes mistakes, adds pace to the defence and has a cool head, her presence has been missed massively in the six games the Gunners have played since, most notably in the Women’s FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea earlier this month.

That was highlighted again on Wednesday against Hoffenheim.

While there were other factors in their defeat, and Williamson’s presence wouldn’t have solved all their problems, Arsenal need to find a new formula to cope with her absence if they are to maintain pole position in the WSL title race.

Even Europe's elite will take time to adapt to new UWCL format

The group-stage format has been something for all fans to enjoy. For the clubs involved, it's been a welcome change, too, but it is demanding, in terms of extra games and more travel.

The fixture pile-up has certainly had an impact domestically, even though many big clubs boast large squads.

Chelsea rotated their team at the weekend and were beaten 1-0 by Reading. Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim all dropped points, while PSG and Lyon both won by narrow one-goal margins.

"Three games a week and the travel – that does something to teams," Wolfsburg CEO Ralf Kellerman said.

"It was to be expected that the new Champions League format would make things a bit tighter in domestic leagues."

Maybe this new format, then, will generate more excitement across the board.