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UEFA Women's Champions League

A new UWCL dynasty or an unlikely throwback? Barcelona vs Wolfsburg highlights women's football's ever-changing landscape

08:00 BST 22/04/2022
Alexia Putellas Ewa Pajor Barcelona Wolfsburg UWCL GFX
The reigning European champions will host the 2013 and 2014 winners on Friday night, in front of another sold-out Camp Nou crowd

One club has become synonymous with the UEFA Women's Champions League. That club is seven-time winners Lyon.

The French giants have set the standard for women’s football for the last decade, but several teams have threatened that dynasty in different ways.

On Friday evening, at a sold-out Camp Nou, two of those sides will meet in the UWCL semi-finals.

Visitors Wolfsburg have been Lyon’s biggest rival in Europe for many years, while Barcelona are the reigning champions and the team so many are backing to create a similar legacy.

That prediction is bold, there’s no doubt about that. After all, Lyon’s success is unrepeatable. But that it is considered to be under threat is a testament to just how good Barcelona are right now.

It’s not just the undeniable quality of the players on the pitch that make it possible, either. Everything is in place at the club to ensure this success endures long after the current squad.

Female players are living at La Masia as the youth set-up constantly grows, the club's scouting is fantastic and the commitment to this project is another big factor, too.

The first leg of the Women's Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Wolfsburg can be watched exclusively live on DAZN.

“When I see the games of our team, I don't need to think if we have won, or we have lost,” Barcelona’s general manager, Markel Zubizarreta, said last month. “What I think is if we have played the game as we want.

“Right now, it's easy, because we are winning more than losing. But four years ago, we were losing and, four years ago, we also had, for example, Patri [Guijarro], Aitana [Bonmati] and Alexia. The three of them were in the team.

"So, at that moment, it was, 'Okay, we need to invest more in them. We are losing, yes, but we think that this is the correct way.'

“And the level of the three of them right now is maybe, to play our style, the best midfielders that we can find – and not only these, because if you see players like Claudia Pina, who is coming from the academy, they also can play.

"You see Ingrid Engen who has come from Norway, that is coming from another style, but she's adapting and she can also play.

“The process, the style – we review, but we think that this is the correct way. That is something that is not under discussion.”

Can all of that help lead to a Lyon-esque dynasty?

“That's nothing we talk about, but I have to say that I think it's something that is possible,” forward Fridolina Rolfo said.

“If you see the quality of the team and what the club is doing, I think it's possible, but we have to be humble because if you look around, you see the European clubs, they are on a really high level.

"There are great clubs out there, so I'm not sure that it will be like that, but it's possible.”

Facing Barca on Friday is the only team that has been able to keep up with Lyon in the last decade. Wolfsburg won the UWCL in 2013 and 2014 and have reached three more finals since.

In an interview with GOAL back in 2019, when Lucy Bronze was a Lyon player, she tellingly described the German side as “our rivals in the Champions League”.

“I think that we have always scouted very well and therefore had a good squad composition all these years,” Ralf Kellerman, the coach behind Wolfsburg’s two UWCL triumphs and now the club’s sporting director, tells GOAL.

But the women’s football landscape has changed massively in the last few years, with more "intense" competition, and for a club like Wolfsburg, it has made things difficult.

“There is also the economic component," Kellerman adds. "Many financially strong clubs now have completely different options than VfL Wolfsburg.

“We had to go a different way, but we've been successful with it, too.

"In view of the competitive situation, we are no longer in a position to bid for fully trained top players.

"Our approach is to attract young players to VfL Wolfsburg who will take the next step with us.”

These problems are not unique to Wolfsburg. They are relevant for German women’s football in general.

Nonetheless, how Wolfsburg have adapted has worked.

Today, a promising young coach, Tommy Stroot, is in charge of a squad that has a great mix of experience – such as Alex Popp, captain of the national team – and young talent like GOAL's 2020 NXGN winner, Lena Oberdorf.

Their signings are incredibly smart, too. In fact, it’s summer arrival Tabea Wassmuth who leads the scoring charts in Europe this season.

As the eighth anniversary of their second and most recent UWCL triumph looms, though, the situation in Germany is summed up by the fact that Kellerman isn’t expecting to place a third European Cup in the cabinet any time soon.

“If you look at the economic possibilities of clubs from England or Spain, there won't be a Champions League winner from Germany in the short term,” he believes. “So, a Champions League win by VfL Wolfsburg would be a sensation.

“We will always give everything to achieve maximum sporting success but there are no steps you take and then just go – it doesn't work like that.”

To reach the semi-finals this year, they have taken down two English sides, in Chelsea and Arsenal. Next up is the challenge from Spain.

With Lyon the favourites to progress from Sunday's semi-final with PSG, the winner of Barcelona-Wolfsburg will most likely have to take on the biggest dynasty in women’s football in May’s final. But who will it be?

Will it be Barcelona, who are drawing comparisons to the historic powerhouse? Or will it be, against so many odds, Wolfsburg, Lyon's old foe?

Then again, maybe PSG will spring a surprise and topple their domestic rivals, to get just their second shot at European glory?

After this weekend, we’ll be one step closer to finding out whether women’s football’s elite competition will produce a throwback to an old rivalry, or drum up a new one for the ages in the ever-changing landscape of women's football.

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