With 25 goals scored across eight games, the Women’s Champions League came back with a bang this week.
The competition has been reformed this season to include group stages and it hasn’t disappointed, with Arsenal’s trip to holders Barcelona the headline fixture on matchday one, and games such as PSG vs Real Madrid and Chelsea vs Juventus to come.
With a game in the bank now for all 16 participating clubs – seasoned teams and complete newcomers among them – here are five things we learned...
Barcelona still the best team in the world
What more is there to say about Barcelona? After beating Chelsea 4-0 in the Women’s Champions League final in May, they were crowned the best team in Europe. When they took to the pitch to start their title defence on Tuesday, they showed that absolutely nothing has changed.
The free-flowing, mesmerising football that captivated everyone last year, and in the years leading up to their triumph, was in full flow against an Arsenal side that has started the Women’s Super League season with aplomb.
Caroline Graham Hansen was her usual menacing self out wide, with Asisat Oshoala on song leading the line, while Mariona showed, again, that she’s one of the most intelligent players on the planet.
They absolutely remain the team to beat and it will take something incredible to topple them.
Portuguese women’s football on the rise
It was an historic night in Portugal on Tuesday as Benfica participated in the group stages of the competition. In just their fourth ever season, they took on last season’s semi-finalists Bayern Munich – and they showed why people should be excited about the club’s project.
In a goalless draw with the German champions, they didn’t just sit back and park the bus. They created opportunities on the counterattack with a dynamic forward line, particularly through Canadian winger Cloe Lacasse.
Their performances in this group stage could secure a second Champions League spot for the Portuguese league. It would be another exciting step forward for the country – even if the coverage of what’s going on doesn’t do the potential justice.
Huge result for Benfica in the #UWCL last night. The team with the lowest coefficient in the entire group stage draws with Bayern Munich, who are third in that respect and a semi-finalist from last year.— Ameé Ruszkai (@ameeruszkai) October 6, 2021
Shame not to see any meaningful coverage in Portugal's main sports papers. https://t.co/ckbMw0cwrv
Chelsea’s lack of defensive recruitment could hurt them
Wednesday’s most mouth-watering match-up saw last year’s finalists, Chelsea, face two-time winners Wolfsburg – and it lived up to its billing. The 3-3 draw left us with a lot to unpack.
Wolfsburg were clinical despite the absence of star striker Ewa Pajor, out with a knee injury, and the Blues’ fighting spirit saw them come back from 3-1 down to draw in stoppage time, with Pernille Harder scoring against her old team.
But one of the stand-out features was Chelsea’s defending, as all three of the visitors’ goals came from defensive errors. The team has been playing with a back three so far this season, which covers up for a lack of depth at full-back.
This game showed that the lack of recruitment in those wide defensive areas – with players deployed in unnatural positions – could come back to haunt them, particularly when they come up against elite opposition.
Lyon might be back
Last season was an unusual one for Lyon. The former champions ended the campaign trophyless, knocked out in the quarter-finals in Europe and pipped to the league title by rivals Paris Saint-Germain.
This year, though, they’ve welcomed back centre-back Griedge Mbock Bathy, while striker Ada Hegerberg, the first ever Ballon d’Or Feminin winner and the Women’s Champions League’s all-time topscorer, made her comeback in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Hacken.
In that game, Lyon looked like their old, ruthless self. They were tenacious in their play in the final third and clinical when the chances presented themselves. That is exactly what you expect from Lyon. It’s what won them seven titles in Europe.
The new format & DAZN are gamechangers
The overall takeaway from this whole week was how exciting a move to this new format will be not only for the Women’s Champions League, but the game in general.
The one-sided two-legged knockout ties, often hitting double figures until the quarter-finals, that have characterised past seasons are now gone.
That everyone can watch the action unfold for free across DAZN and its YouTube channel is an even bigger bonus, bringing much-needed visibility to what is shaping up to be another absolutely thrilling season of UWCL football.