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.
FCB Femeni’s January Player of the Month: Alexia Putellas
Another month down, another couple of wins for FCB Femeni. The team is in smooth sailing towards their second consecutive league title with an otherworldly wins-only season, including 73 goals scored and only 3 conceded. January was a rough month for the Catalan team, however, as they faced multiple match cancellations due to both a freak snowstorm and COVID-19 positives alongside an early Supercopa Femenina exit. Aside from the many downs, there were plenty of positives. FCB Femeni played a history-making match at the Camp Nou, the team’s first competitive match in the iconic stadium, and they dominated in a resounding 5-0 win against local rivals Espanyol Femeni. Later in the month, they smashed Rayo Vallecano Femenino 7-0, and at the end of January, they won the second-ever El Clasico Femenino against Real Madrid, scoring 4 at the Estadi Johan Cruyff.
Given the many iconic moments in this month alone, it was never going to be an easy choice. Plenty of players showed up big this month. Asisat Oshoala seems to have returned to form after a rough few months, scoring four goals and having many quality performances aside from her goalscoring. Melanie Serrano has had one of her best seasons in recent memory, and her performances this month were no exception. But if there was one player who came in clutch and made history, it was Alexia Putellas. She started the year strongly by being the first-ever woman to score a competitive goal at the Camp Nou. Her free kick in the dying minutes of the Supercopa Femenina saved Barcelona from going out in regular time against Atletico Madrid. At the end of the month, she drew first blood in the second-ever Clasico, imposing herself against Los Blancos with relative ease. Aside from her goalscoring, she once again had multiple dominant performances in terms of her assisting, passing, and attacking play. Once again, Alexia Putellas is deservedly our player of the month for January.
Primera Iberdrola – RCD Espanyol Femeni (Camp Nou) (6/1/2021): 5-0
• Minutes: 90
• 1 Goal
January 6th marked a historic day for Barcelona as they entered the Camp Nou pitch for the first time after 50 years. The Blaugranas started the game on a bright note with Alexia dictating the play. At the 4th minute of the game, Alexia had a tame shot at the goal following a cut-back from Melanie Serrano. As the shots racked up in the beginning minutes, it looked like Barca would follow this season’s pattern of scoring an early goal. However, Barca were devoid of any clear cut chances after that, and Espanyol started to grow defensively as time went on.
The second big chance fell to Alexia Putellas in the 43rd minute after a cutback this time from Patri following a beautiful couple of moves inside the box. Again, Alexia’s shot was too weak with her right foot and it found the hands of the goalkeeper. However, Alexia made up for her misses when the turning point of the game came in the 45th minute. During a stoppage-time corner, Alexia raced past the marker to head the ball into the far corner of the net, giving Barca some much-needed breathing room going into the half-time. Barca cruised to victory in the second half with a scoreline of 5-0 after goals from Melanie Serrano, Marta Torrejon, Lieke Martens, and Ana Maria Crnogocevic, which ended any hopes of a comeback for the local rivals.
Spanish Supercopa Femenino: Semi Finals – Atletico Madrid Femenino (A) (13/1/2021): 1-1 ( 3-1 PT)
• Minutes: 120
• Goals: 1
Barca played Atléti in the Spanish Supercup semifinal on January 13th. Both the teams were going into the game after Spain’s freak snowstorm, “Filomena,” canceled all the league’s Madrid-based weekend matches. Atlético Madrid announced the re-hiring of manager Dani Gonzalez on the eve of the matchday, sparking a lot of excitement going into the game. The game followed a similar pattern to that of the one played in August when Barça defeated Las Colchoneras to clinch a spot in the UWCL semifinals. As expected, Atleti defended with 9 women at the back and played long balls to Ludmila whenever they had a chance to counter.
Even though Barcelona dominated the game, they failed to score and paid for their lack of effectiveness when Atléti were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute. Merel van Dongen then converted it to give Madrid the advantage. It looked like everything was lost until the 90th minute when Alexia was brought down at the edge of the box. Although it looked like Barcelona was going to lose in regular time, the midfielder had other ideas and took matters into her own hands. Alexia scored a sublime free-kick past a diving Hedvig Lindahl who, until then, was keeping Barca at bay for 90 excellent minutes. In the end, it was not enough for Barca as they paid the price for not converting their chances, also being kept down by some harsh refereeing decisions not going their way. The Catalans ended up losing to Atléti on penalty kicks and were knocked out of the tournament, thereby missing their first possible title of the year.
Primera Iberdrola – Rayo Vallecano (H) (20/1/2021): 7-0
• Minutes: 72
• Goals: 2
FCB Femeni came into the game after their tough semifinal loss to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercup, hoping to get back into their rhythm. Barça scored an early goal inside 5 minutes after Alexia’s header was parried into the feet of Jennifer Hermoso. After the first goal, it was one-way traffic for the home side as they punctured Rayo’s defense with another 3 goals- Alexia being the catalyst of each of them.
Alexia scored her first goal of the game following Melanie’s cross. She stayed in position and gracefully chipped over the keeper’s head to double Barca’s lead. She remained a key part of the midfield in tracking back and dictating the entirety of the half and scored her second goal following a well-worked team move. In the 40th minute of the game, Asisat Oshoala was sent through by Jennifer Hermoso, and Asisat teed up Caroline Graham-Hansen to score from close range. However, Hansen’s shot was blocked and the ball fell into the path of Alexia for an easy tap-in. Barça easily swept past mid-table Rayo to remain top of the table after the matchday.
Primera Iberdrola – Real Madrid (H) (31/1/2021): 4-1
• Minutes: 87
• Goals: 1
• Second Assists:1
Barça faced their new league rival Real Madrid Femenino in the last game of the month, 11 days after their match against Rayo due to multiple match cancellations. This was expected to be a totally different game compared to their first encounter, as Los Blancos have grown into the league and were occupying the second-place position at the time. All the match previews indicated that Real Madrid were in great form, recording only 3 losses in 15 games, with a much more balanced and cohesive team than their first game against the Blaugranas. Additionally, if the team from Spain’s capital won at the Estadi Johan Cruyff, they would’ve gone to the top of the league.
The match started with Real Madrid and Barcelona both going on the offense and trying to assert themselves. Despite Madrid entering the match bravely and attacking well, Barcelona scored first just 14 minutes into the match. Once again, it was the captain, Alexia Putellas, who kicked it off for the Catalan team. Alexia was intuitive in collecting the ball at the edge of the box and scoring a blistering strike to the top left of the net that Misa Rodriguez struggled to get a hand on. From then, it was a similar pattern as the first Clásico, and Barça advanced to a 3 goal lead by the end of the first half. The match proved that Madrid’s women have improved a lot, but they were never a match to the 2019-20 champions as Barca ran out winners 4-1 at the end of full-time.
When Alexia is fit and firing, there isn’t a way to stop her from creating chances and scoring goals. After her breakout out season last year, she’s continued her form and is having yet another world-class season. Alexia only continues to get better and better, and with a lot of important competitions in the next few months, her performances will be integral to the success of the club.