With just three days remaining for the Women’s Champions League to return, who will win the title in this exceptional 2020 edition?
After an entire ten months of waiting, the UEFA Women’s Champions League will finally make its comeback in three days. Five months of rest, relocation and reformatting of the tournament, an eventful summer transfer window and a new set of rules have made for a complete turnaround of the competition.
With all this in mind, we asked our editors from Football Engine some questions and asked them to give their predictions and opinions about the remaining matches of the tournament.
Which two teams will reach the final –– and who will win?
Rajesh: Lyon and Barcelona. Barcelona are going to expect revenge for last year’s thrashing at the hands of Lyon. Barcelona are one of the teams that remains unbeaten throughout the season along with Lyon and Wolfsburg. They have bolstered the squad with Caroline Graham Hansen, Jennifer Hermoso and Andrea Falcón. It’s silly to rule out Barça off the contenders as they have one of the fearsome frontlines in the world.
The forward line of Jennifer Hermoso, Caroline Graham Hansen, and Asisat Oshoala managed to score a whopping 60 goals between them across all competitions throughout the season. The blaugranas managed to achieve the league title and Supercopa in 2019/20. Barcelona have some unfinished business going into the knockout stages of the tournament and the players look hungrier than ever to lift the trophy in the home soil. The winner of the potential semi-final between Barcelona and Wolfsburg is, in my opinion, going to lift the trophy. I would pick Barcelona ahead of Wolfsburg.
Kelsie: Of the four serious contenders for the title –– PSG, Lyon, Wolfsburg, and Barcelona ––, it’s difficult to not envision a rerun of the 2017/18 Champions League final between Lyon and Wolfsburg. The main difference between that final and this hypothetical one, however, would be that Lyon’s offensive abilities are much worse off now than they were two years ago.
The outcome of a potential semi-final between Barcelona and Wolfsburg is almost impossible to predict because of how similar both teams are in terms of strengths and weaknesses, but there’s something about this Wolfsburg side that seems like they will refuse to lose. If they do make it to the final and end up facing Lyon, the French side don’t seem like they have it in them to outscore a group of hungry and intensely motivated attacking players like Pernille Harder, Ewa Pajor, Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Alexandra Popp and Fridolina Rolfö. I don’t like to speak in definite, but Wolfsburg looks to have the best chances.
Have Lyon improved or got stuck from their previous titles? | Photo by Fred Tanneau / AFP via Getty Images
Wiktoria: This year we can expect a final in which two German teams will face each other, so VfL Wolfsburg vs FC Bayern Munich. Bayern has the most difficult road to the final, but they have made some excellent transfer moves in this transfer window: Lea Schüller, Klara Bühl, Sarah Zadrazil, Hanna Glss. The offensive duo Schüller and Linda Dallmann, backed by the creativity of Lina Magull in the midfield, can bring desired success for the team.
On the other side, VfL Wolfsburg, who found a worthy successor to Sarah Björk Gunnarsdóttir, have signed a contract with Lena Oberdorf, who is known as the greatest talent of the young generation in Germany. And this year, Wolfsburg should be considered a contender for the title as the team rather has the easiest path to the final. Taking these factors into account, I’m betting on Wolfsburg as a team that can win the trophy.
Kristian: It’s a very difficult question to answer. I personally think any of Lyon, Wolfsburg or Barcelona can win it and I expect two of those teams to reach the final, but I’m going with a replay of last season’s final: Lyon vs Barcelona. Despite Barça having a tough quarter-final against Atlético de Madrid and most likely facing Wolfsburg in the semi-final, I think they will make the final for the second season in a row. It may seem a little harsh on Wolfsburg as they are a fantastic team with brilliant players, but I don’t think they looked at their best after the Frauen Bundesliga resumed.
One factor in favor of Wolfsburg is that they are the only team in proper match fitness since their league was the only one that got concluded whilst all the other leagues were canceled due to the pandemic. As for Lyon, I think they will once again make the final despite having notable absences in Ada Hegerberg and Griedge Mbock. They are a side that knows what it takes to make it through to finals and always seem to edge it. I do think all of Bayern Munich and Arsenal / Paris Saint-Germain can cause them problems, but I still think Lyon will edge it and make it through to the final again.
However, I don’t think they will win it this season. I’m backing Lluís Cortés and Barcelona to win it. They know how it is to play against Lyon, and they have developed and improved since last season’s 4–1 defeat in the final. Barcelona play amazing attacking football and they have one of, if not the best attacking trio in women’s football. It oozes quality, unpredictability and goals. Their midfield is also very strong with captain Alexia Putellas amongst them. The only thing that might cost Barcelona is their defence. It’s not the strongest and it’s very possible to score goals on them. Nonetheless, I do think their attack and implemented playing style will counter their defensive problems and carry them to the Women’s Champions League title this season.
Barça are more ready than ever to win the Champions League | Photo by Eric Alonso via Getty Images
Olivia: At this stage, I think it could be anyone’s game, with the decision from FIFA to allow some new summer signings to join the sides for the competition it changes the game for many teams, an instance of that is for Arsenal, who had five summer departures and were looking like a side that would struggle due to the small size of their squad, but now with the new rule in place they can use new players such as Steph Cately, Malin Gut, Noelle Maritz and even February’s signing Caitlin Foord.
For this year’s final, I think the two serious contenders for the Champions League trophy are Wolfsburg and Olympique Lyonnais. Wolfsburg come back into the competition with the bolster of an incredible season displaying their strengths and their winning mentality. With players such as Pernille Harder, it opens the game up for Wolfsburg.
Olympique Lyonnais also have come back into the competition with a great season behind them and their very strong squad includes the players that were set to leave this summer but have signed a short-term contract to finish the European campaign. Olympique Lyonnais have had a huge blow of the long term injury that Ada Hegerberg suffered and this has impacted their gameplay as she was a huge part of the team. For me, I don’t think the result will reflect the last Champions League final when the two teams last met in the 17/18 season, but instead, Wolfsburg will take the win.
Cláudia: Predicting a winner is never an easy task. This season, given the fact that all the national leagues were put on hold, most of them even finishing without being complete, this becomes even harder. The majority of the teams involved in the Champions League managed to bring in some good additions to their squads yet I still believe there are two strong contenders that will be in this year’s final: Lyon and Wolfsburg.
Even though Wolfsburg might show some fatigue due to the number of games they still played to successfully terminate the Frauen Bundesliga, they still seem to be the team best positioned to steal Lyon’s crown. Despite being a team packed with some of the best players in Europe, Lyon showed last Sunday in the Coupe de France final against Paris Saint-Germain that they can be surprised by an organised and assertive opponent. No doubt that Wolfsburg’s attack has the ability and the drive to cause that kind of damage and secure a Champions League win, thus completing a continental treble.
Eileen: VfL Wolfsburg played such a solid season I’m confident they will end up in the final. We have to wait how they come out of their preseason after a long season but I think the whole team is highly motivated to crown themselves with the missing trophy after they have already won the Frauen Bundesliga and the DFB–Pokal this year. With Barcelona as the possible opponent in the semi-final it won’t be an easy way, but I think they will make it and win the Champions League.
The other team I see in the final is Bayern Munich. They have played such a good preseason so far and made some really good signings during the summer. The new additional forward Lea Schüller seems to have integrated very well and quickly in the team. She scored her first two goals in the latest preseason game. The connection between her and Dallmann should be excellent as they have played some years together in Essen before. Dallmann also impressed in their preseason games with three goals in two games. It will be tough for them to beat Lyon in the quarter-finals, but Lyon wasn’t at its highest level lately so I can see Bayern beating them. My expectation is a German final with a better ending for Wolfsburg.
Who will be the top scorer?
Rajesh: Vivianne Miedema would be the winner any day. She is currently the leading goalscorer with 10 goals followed by Ada Hegerberg who is still recovering from her injury.
Kelsie: Miedema. Unless Harder manages to score a hat-trick and some else or a few braces and Miedema scores no more goals, nobody will outscore her.
Wiktoria: Without any doubt –– Vivianne Miedema. She is currently leading with 10 goals scored in this edition of the Champions League. And knowing her class on the pitch, I expect that she won’t stop and will add a few more goals to her account.
Vivianne Miedema has a big advantage to end as the Champions League top scorer | Photo by Catherine Ivill via Getty Images
Kristian: I’m also going for the boring answer and say, Vivianne Miedema. She’s the current top scorer in the competition and none of the players who are close to her are still in the competition, except Ada Hegerberg who is recovering from injury. Pernille Harder has five goals, but I think she is too many goals behind to catch up unless she produces something out of this world. Arsenal will be looking to cause an upset by going even further and to do that they will have to rely on Miedema to continue scoring goals.
Olivia: From the way the competition is going I’m going to say Arsenal’s number 11, Vivianne Miedema. The 24-year-old Dutch forward is already displaying her talent in the WSL and holds the most international goals record for the Netherlands. Vivianne is already the leading goalscorer in the Champions League for this season with 10 goals and I don’t see anyone catching up with her.
Cláudia: Vivianne Miedema. She has already scored 10 goals and given the fact that Ada Hegerberg is still recovering from her injury, I think it’s almost impossible for Pernille Harder to get closer to this number as Miedema will surely score some more.
Eileen: Miedema is most likely to win this competition but I wouldn’t write Harder off. If Wolfsburg reaches the final and Miedema won’t score another goal I wouldn’t put it past her. Pernille Harder was in excellent condition before the summer break and it’s hard to stop her from scoring.
Who will be the surprise team of the tournament?
Rajesh: I think Bayern Munich Frauen are going to give a real scare for Olympique Lyonnais. If luck is on their side, Bayern have a chance to dump the current champions out of the Women’s Champions League. Lyon did look out of sync against PSG and it would be a good chance for Bayern Munich to defeat the mighty Lyon. Bayern have signed Lea Schüller, Klara Bühl, Sarah Zadrazil, Marina Hegering, and Hanna Glass who can feature in UWCL. With a better team composition, Bayern can be optimistic to knock out the reigning champions.
Kelsie: Arsenal could do some serious damage. Before the COVID break, their chances seemed bleak –– to put it mildly. Facing in-form PSG with half of their squad injured was raring to be a disaster; the team barely had a full bench and was one of the worst-off squads in Europe in terms of depth. Five months of rest and some quality additions in a couple of Aussies have put them in a position to return with force against a demoralized PSG. With a full-strength starting XI returning to the pitch, it would be pretty silly to count them out.
Arsenal are prepared to shock Europe | Photo by Kate McShane via Getty Images
Wiktoria: Bayern Munich / Arsenal. I think Bayern can cause a lot of problems for Lyon and this team shouldn’t be left out of consideration. On the other hand, Arsenal is a team that has dealt with the injuries of many players and has top players in its roster. I think one of these two teams could be the dark horse of this competition.
Kristian: I think both Bayern Munich and Arsenal are capable of causing major upsets. Bayern are facing Lyon in the quarter-final, but they have reinforced their squad with quality players like Lea Schüller, Klara Bühl, Hanna Glas, Sarah Zadrazil, and Marina Hegering. Lyon haven’t been at their brilliant best in the games they have played recently, and being without both Hegerberg and Mbock they are missing quality in both ends of the pitch which might prove costly against a very strong and exciting Bayern Munich team.
Arsenal also have the potential to surprise in this season’s knockout stages. They face a very good PSG team in the quarter-finals, but there’s no denying Arsenal’s quality. Their squad is packed with amazing players and if they get it right on the day, they can be this season’s surprise.
Olivia: I think Arsenal women will surprise a few people, the Arsenal side have got a good balance of young talent and experience, the style of play that they have is very unique to them and their flexibility within the squad really helps them adapt to different teams that they face. With players such as attacking greats Vivianne Miedema and Kim Little in their side the playing opportunities and creativity are never lacking, And with defenders such as Leah Williamson and new edition Steph Caetly they will be a tough side to get past.
Cláudia: With all due respect to Bayern Munich, I will have to say Arsenal. If these quarter-finals were to be played in March, I highly doubt that Arsenal would have a squad to face PSG. Fast forward to August, with all the signings made by the North London side, that added the much-needed depth to the defensive line, and the recovery of very important players such as Kim Little and Lia Walti, I truly believe they can reach the semi-finals.
Eileen: Arsenal could be a surprising team in the upcoming fixtures. They made some great signings this summer and with the Australian Steph Catley and former Wolfsburg player Noelle Maritz the defensive line is massively reinforced. Another point is that all the players who were struggling with injuries before the coronavirus break, such as Lia Wälti, Daniëlle van de Donk and Beth Mead, are fully recovered and back in action. So it seems they are coming up with a really powerful side.
Who will be the MVP, or Most Valuable Player)?
Rajesh: Lieke Martens. Barça have a squad filled with quality but Lieke Martens is the player who has raised her standards when it mattered the most in Women’s Champions League. With very good finishers in the Barcelona line-up, this is going to be the year when she finally showcases her quality in the biggest club tournament in the world and assures her billing as one of the best footballers. There is also another candidate, Alexia Putellas, Barça’s engine who controls every play. If Barcelona have to win the trophy, Alexia has to replicate her She Believes Cup performance.
Kelsie: Asisat Oshoala. She’s a very familiar name to Barça Femení fans and some old-school Arsenal fans, but she isn’t known by a lot of other women’s football fans otherwise. Her club form before the COVID break and in the preseason has been phenomenal, and she could very well spur Barcelona to victory against Atlético de Madrid and Wolfsburg and bring them to the final.
Wiktoria: Pernille Harder. When in shape she is unstoppable, and when she has a slightly weaker period, she is still phenomenal. She scores goals and assists her teammates, being a real leader on the pitch. She was in great shape before the COVID–19 outbreak, and also after the return of the Bundesliga, she was playing well. Pernille Harder always shows her quality on the pitch and can change the game in one moment. She will be one of the main characters to play the first fiddle in the final stage of the tournament.
Wolfsburg and Pernille Harder are going strong this year | Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty Images
Kristian: I’m gonna have to go with Caroline Graham Hansen. She is such a wonderful player to watch and being one of the best players in the world, it still feels like she is so underappreciated in the women’s game. Graham Hansen can do it all on the right wing. Her technique, dribbling, unpredictability, awareness and creativity makes her so important to this Barcelona team. She can create chances and score goals out of nowhere, and for the azulgranas to take the Champions League this season, they need Caroline Graham Hansen to fire on all cylinders. She has to perform and I think she will, which will make her the main player to watch in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Olivia: I’m going to go with Danish international and Wolfsburg forward Pernille Harder as she has the talent to create new chances and score goals in the back of the net no matter the score or position of her team. Pernille Harder for me is an extremely underrated player who plays well under pressure and in the big occasions, which I think that is one of her strengths. If Wolfsburg do get to the final of the competition she will certainly play a huge role in Wolfsburg’s success story.
Cláudia: Pernille Harder. She’s a team player who is capable of delivering unbelievable individual performances. Being the backbone of the Wolfsburg squad, we should expect her to take part in most of the team’s efforts. This is the year Harder can finally establish herself as the best player in the world and she definitely deserves the recognition.
Eileen: Pernille Harder. Apart from scoring goals she is fully leading her team and is a very variable player. She is able to change a game on her own and played an unbelievable season with Wolfsburg. Finishing the Frauen Bundesliga as the top goalscorer with 27 goals in 21 games is really impressive.
No distance between Barça and glory: A new era for Barça Femení
After years of growing in leaps and bounds, Barça Femení already belongs to the European elite: this is the new era of Barcelona’s women’s team.
“No hay distancia” [There’s no distance]. The powerful words of Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas couldn’t be any closer to the truth. It could be written off as just emotions getting the best of her following the team’s heartbreaking 1–0 loss to Wolfsburg in the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, but anyone who has been following this side for at least a few seasons knows that she in fact makes a good point and that her words hold some volume to them.
“The small details make the difference. We have had many chances. In the end, we haven’t been able to score and thus we go back home. We have had opportunities, but we couldn’t convert them”Alexia Putellas, after the 1–0 loss against Wolfsburg
As a fan and follower of the Primera Iberdrola and the team since 2015, I want to give a brief perspective and a slightly in-depth look into as to how far Barça Femení has really come in recent years just from what I have seen.
My love for Barça came when I was just a little girl just starting to play club football and I had a coach who was Dutch and he was a huge admirer of Johan Cruyff. Yes, Johan Cruyff the Dutch and Barça legend who even went on to manage the club later on after his playing career was over.
So after watching highlight videos of his constantly and learning more about the history of the club I quickly fell in love with everything the blaugrana signifies. I had no clue until 2015 that they even had a women’s team that had been founded in 1988, ten years before I was born.
Following the women’s team back in 2015 from abroad was quite hard as games weren’t streamed as often as they are now and social media especially wasn’t a big thing yet. I had to rely on Google just to keep up to date with their results and just hope they were accurate.
Fast forward to now, games are streamed more frequently or shown on TV and social media has become a pillar of how the team is marketed given their recent growth in popularity outside of Spain. As of now, they have over 300,000 followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Instagram, which is just proof of the teams recently gained popularity.
Shortly after I started following Barça Femení they went on to win the 2014/15 Primera División, which brought their league titles count to four and officially became a professional team in 2015. After that, the team went on to finish second in the league for four consecutive seasons and won only two Copa de la Reina titles in that time. Atlético de Madrid proved themselves as worthy rivals of Barça in that time as they dominated in Spain for the last three seasons. It wasn’t until the 2018/19 season that the headway the club was beginning to make became more noticeable.
The climb all started in July 2018, when Stanley Black & Decker became the official main sponsor of the women’s team and they now adorn the Stanley logo on the front of their jersey. The team named Lluís Cortés as their new head coach in January 2019, which proved to be crucial for the team.
They followed that up with an impressive feat as they defeated Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the 2018/19 UEFA Women’s Champions League, which sent them to their first-ever final of the prestigious tournament. A moment I will never forget as a fan and one I am sure that the players won’t be forgetting in a hurry either.
There is no longer distance between Barça Femení and the best continental sides | Photo by Gabriel Bouys via Getty Images
They faced a tough task in the final though as they came up against a dynasty in Lyon who had already won the tournament the past three consecutive seasons. This proved to be too much for Barça who ended up losing 4–1 on the day, but nonetheless there was still a lot to be proud of following a historic season. A historic season that saw them become the first women’s Spanish team to ever reach the UEFA Women’s Champions League final and all in the same historic season where they beat Atlético de Madrid 2–0 in front of a record crowd of 60,739 spectators at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium. A world record for a club match in women’s football.
After a brief break for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Barça picked up right where they left off and started the 2019/20 season in some fashion as they beat CD Tacón [now rebranded as Real Madrid Femenino] 9–1 in their brand new stadium, the Estadi Johan Cruyff [Johan Cruyff Stadium].
The team dominated the league and ended the season a bit prematurely due to the coronavirus global pandemic, but as undefeated champions nonetheless. They also beat Real Sociedad to win the Supercopa de España Femenina, which was reinstalled for the 2019/20 campaign.
In Europe, they beat Juventus, FC Minsk and Atlético de Madrid on their way to face the German giants in women’s football, Wolfsburg, in the semi-finals. A semi-final game that saw some controversial calls and non-calls made by the ref fly under the radar due to the teams not making the most of the goalscoring opportunities they had, where Wolfsburg made the most of their lack of opportunities and won the game 1–0. As true football fans know, that’s the way it goes sometimes.
However, many things stand out from that game. The main thing is that Barça are no longer a type of underdog team due to their lack of experience in the competition, but that they are a force to be reckoned with. No longer are they a team that goes out onto the pitch wanting only to just be able to compete with other teams, but a team that plays to win and be the best even if they might not be the favourite.
“I would change none of our players for one of the rivals. The team is hurt, but we know that we must keep growing and the next time this won’t happen”ALEXIA PUTELLAS, AFTER THE 1–0 LOSS AGAINST WOLFSBURG
Their play throughout the 2019/20 term signals that this is clearly the mentality of the team and Alexia Putellas’ words shine light on that. The only direction Barça is heading is up and it is only a matter of time before glory is theirs for the taking, because, as Alexia said, there is no distance. Not anymore.