As two European powerhouses look for their place in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final, this is the preview on Tuesday’s match between VfL Wolfsburg and Barça Femení.
Date and kick-off time: Tuesday 25 August 2020, 20:00 CET
Stadium: Anoeta, San Sebastián, Spain
Competition: UEFA Women’s Champions League, semi-finals
* The winner will qualify for the final in Anoeta on 30 August
Barça Femení‘s Champions League run continues as they go on to face VfL Wolfsburg, surely the most anticipated match of the tournament. The semifinal will be between the two most prolific attacking sides in Europe who have a combined 257 goals between them in all competitions this year. The blaugranas‘ continental journey continues after a hard-fought win over the determined Atlético de Madrid while VfL Wolfsburg easily swept past the Scottish champions Glasgow City.
These two teams are some of Europe’s best overall sides. Both teams are unbeaten this season, both teams are league champions, and both teams have something to prove to Europe.
The teams played two very different matches on Friday. While Barcelona needed a Kheira Hamraoui 80th-minute winner to get past a heavily defensive Atlético de Madrid, Pernille Harder’s masterclass was on display at San Sebastián as Wolfsburg thrashed Glasgow City by 1–9.
How each team fared in their quarter-final match-ups
Atlético de Madrid 0–1 Barcelona
As expected, Barcelona’s Spanish rivals lined up very defensively due to their significant lack of attacking players. Atlético de Madrid maintained a low block and weren’t an attacking threat in the slightest. Despite Atleti’s crowded defence, Barcelona played a quality attacking game, creating 9 chances throughout the match.
Barça lacked fluidity and cohesion with their passes in midfield, but they kept plunging forward and were rightfully the deserving winners. It wasn’t a complete performance from the Catalan side, but credits to them to keep fighting to get the winner.
“I imagine a different game from the Atleti one in terms of the rival. This will force us to adapt in some aspects. The other day we could take risks to attack with more players, but tomorrow it is more important to have balance, be well positioned and vigilant. This will be the main tactical difference. Then there will be other aspects, like being very focused in actions of cross and shot, and being clinical in front of goal”Lluís Cortés
One of the performances that stood out above the rest was from the left-back Leila Ouahabi who didn’t lose the defensive shape when tracking back to defend counters. She was very involved and had the most touches in the game with 108. Leila and Mapi León were two of Barcelona’s best performers as the team stayed defensively solid for the entire match.
On the negative side, Barcelona failed to put away the clear cut chances when the frontline was put one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The team will need to address these issues since they will be punished if they don’t take their chances against the German side.
Glasgow City 1–9 Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg had an exact opposite experience to Barcelona when they played against Glasgow City on Friday. The Wolves were a clear, clear favorite in the quarter-finals against the Scottish side, and the Germans certainly made it known when they slotted 9 goals past.
In the early minutes of the match, Glasgow played bravely, trying to construct their attacks, pressing the Wolfsburg on their half of the pitch and breaking every attempt of offensive play by the German team. However, Wolfsburg showed their experience, fully controlling the situation on the pitch.
Pernille Harder stayed on form as expected and had a complete masterclass, scoring four goals. Two goals from Ingrid Engen, one goal from Felicitas Rauch, two own goals, and an amazing strike from Glasgow player Lauren Wade settled the final score at 1–9.
The encounter with Glasgow City was a goal fest for Wolfsburg | Photo by Vincent West / Pool / AFP via Getty Images
Wolfsburg fully dominated the game. In midfield, the German champions had full control over the center of the pitch, which allowed them to play the ball both in this area and also wide to the wings. Wolfsburg was rotating their players during the match, but their style of play didn’t change and looked very fluid.
Despite the fact that the rival was not very demanding – with all respect to Glasgow, reaching the quarter-finals is a massive achievement considering their circumstances –, Wolfsburg showed their abilities in this match and commanded it the entire way.
The only other time when Wolfsburg and Barcelona played each other was during the 2013/14 UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals. Barcelona were on their second-ever Champions League campaign as a semi-pro team and Wolfsburg were on their way to a second consecutive continental title after they would eventually beat Tyresö FF in that year’s final.
As expected, Wolfsburg dominated Barcelona in 2013/14, but it’s worth noting that Barcelona were not nearly the force they are now. From both combined teams, there are only 7 players that still play for their respective clubs: Zsanett Jakabfi, Alex Popp, Lena Goeßling and Anna Blässe for Wolfsburg, and Alexia Putellas, Marta Torrejón and Melanie Serrano for Barcelona.
23/03/14: Wolfsburg 3–0 Barcelona | Kessler 34′, Müller 52′, Jakabfi 65′
30/03/14: Barcelona 0–2 Wolfsburg | Kessler 45+1′, Müller 74′
What can we expect?
Most people would look at the incredible forward depth that both teams possess and think that would be the match decider, but the match will be decided how cohesive each team’s midfield is. The role of each team’s elite midfielders in Alexia Putellas, Ingrid Engen, Lena Goeßling and Patri Guijarro cannot be overlooked as they remain the engines of the two teams.
The best way for Barcelona combat the attacking threats of the wolves would be to deploy a midfield trio who can control the midfield and vice versa. Arguably, Barça’s midfield edges out Wolfsburg’s, giving the culés an advantage.
While Barça struggled to break the deadlock against Atlético de Madrid, this is expected to be a completely different game | Photo by Villar López / AFP via Getty Images
Barcelona can and will be wary of Pernille’s threat, but in doing that they shouldn’t overcrowd players around her. This would mean they are making the same mistake they did in last year’s final when they tried – and failed – to contain Ada Hegerberg. There are other players who have the ability to cause damage in the likes of Ewa Pajor and Fridolina Rolfö.
That all being said, Wolfsburg haven’t played any strong opponents yet this season with an intensity quite like Barcelona’s. Until now, Wolfsburg have steamrolled past each team on their way to the semi-finals, which could catch them off guard when they play Barcelona.
Barcelona have to line up a similar starting XI that strolled past Real Sociedad in the Supercopa Femenina final, with the exception being Jennifer Hermoso starting ahead of Asisat Oshoala. It seems clear that Oshoala performs her best off the bench, and Barça could use her pace against tiring legs in the second half.
The biggest area of the question in the midfield. Patri Guijarro playing as a pivot will give Alexia Putellas the freedom to play more as an attacking midfielder than a central midfielder, allowing Barcelona to dictate the midfield to their liking. Playing a double pivot would be the safe option against Wolfsburg’s attack but would ultimately derail Barca’s attacking ability and buildup play. Mariona, Alexia and Patri in the middle would solidify the team and would give both offensive-defensive stability.
Torrejón · Andrea Pereira · Mapi León · Leila
Alexia · Patri · Mariona
Martens · Jennifer Hermoso · Caroline Graham-Hansen
Coach: Lluís Cortés
Against Glasgow City, Wolfsburg played in a 4–2–3–1 formation. Nevertheless, VfL typically line up in a 4–4–2 formation. They have used this formation in almost 50% of their matches during the Frauen Bundesliga. In the semi-final against Barcelona, we can expect Wolfsburg to play in one of these formations.
It is likely to be a 4–2–3–1 set-up where Wolfsburg will try to thicken the midfield and prevent the creative Barça’s midfielders from throwing balls behind their defenders’ backs. Both Wolfsburg and Barcelona are teams that are extremely dangerous in the counterattack, but also good in a positional attack. Wolfsburg will certainly make sure that there is not too much space in the wings for Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen.
“I think the main threats of Wolfsburg are their vertical attacks, their transitions. We will have to be very vigilant so that Wolfsburg can’t have free metres when they attack”Lluís Cortés
At the same time, the team has to be very careful in the defensive formation. Wolfsburg tend to play very offensive football, but this sometimes leads to their defensive line being very high, which opens the chances of playing the dangerous pass which can land behind the back of the central defenders.
Doorsoun-Khajeh · Janssen · Goeßling · Wedemeyer
Popp · Engen
Rolfö · Harder · Huth
Coach: Stephan Lerch
Players to watch out for
Mariona is Barcelona’s unsung hero who is constantly overlooked due to their incredible attacking and midfield depth. When she was subbed in against Atleti, she helped control the midfield and dictated the play with her incisive through balls and passes that eventually built up to the decisive goal.
Playing Mariona in the middle would shake the defensive shape of Wolfsburg because she can switch her position into a false nine and drag defenders along with her, creating chances for other attackers. If she starts or is subbed into the semifinal match, she will be a key figure.
In the summer of 2019, Caroline Graham-Hansen decided she wanted new challenges outside of Germany and switched Wolfsburg for FC Barcelona Femení. She will have a point to prove against her former teammates and will most likely cause a lot of damage down the right-hand side.
Caroline Graham Hansen will be facing her former teammates | Photo by Christopher Lee via Getty Images
Hansen’s pace, dribbling ability and familiarity with Wolfsburg’s playing style will definitely keep their full-backs on their toes. When countered, if she has space behind the defence, she is going to give them some headache.
Before a rather early substitution, Lieke Martens was one of the most pivotal players on the pitch against Atlético de Madrid. A likely starter, she will be itching to prove her abilities against the German team. If everything goes to plan with the line-ups, Lieke will be going against Sara Doorsoun on the left. Her dribbling ability and inch-perfect crosses will surely come into play since Wolfsburg’s full-backs love to attack.
Pernille Harder remains the single most terrifying player in the competition. Her four goals against Glasgow and “What’s next?” tweet post-match were a statement to Barcelona: she is 100% ready for the next match. Europe’s most in-form striker against Barcelona’s sometimes shaky defence will be the biggest player to watch.
After being uncharacteristically silent in the match against Glasgow, Pajor will also be looking to exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses in their backline. Leila Ouahabi had a very solid match against Atleti, but she will certainly be put to the test against a deadly duo like Harder and Pajor.
Dominique Janssen is one of Europe’s most talented leftbacks and one of their most clutch players. Her deadly free-kick ability and big appearances in important matches could prove to be a huge asset to Wolfsburg if they are in need of a goal. In open play, Janssen will have to find a good balance between defending and attacking so she doesn’t get caught out when put against the dynamic duo that is Marta Torrejón and Caroline Graham Hansen.
Quotes from the post-match interview after the quarter-finals, via UEFA.com
Caroline Graham Hansen, on whether Barça can beat Wolfsburg in the semis: “Yes, of course. It’s going to be a difficult test. Everyone says Lyon and Wolfsburg have been above the rest in recent years, so it will be a good test to show our improvement everyone is talking about”
Pernille Harder, on approaching the Barcelona game on Tuesday: “We will take confidence from this game into the next game. It will be a different opponent but we know what we can do. We will take all the good stuff from this game!”
Kathrin Hendrich: “Still one bill open. In any case, I still have an account with Barcelona. Last year we were kicked out very unhappy with Bayern Munich”
Annike Krahn, 2009 winner with Duisburg: “That Glasgow goal is probably the only blemish for Wolfsburg. Now we’re looking forward to an exciting semi-final between them and Barcelona!”
Sonia Bermúdez, to Mundo Deportivo: “52%–48% in favour of Barcelona. This year we can see them winning the Champions League”
Quotes from the pre-match press conference
Svenja Huth, Wolfsburg player: “Barça Femení is one of the best teams in Europe. They are very accomplished. We will have to assess them particularly defensively. We are aware that Barçelona Femení are a very good team and that we have to give everything to beat them. But the same goes for them too. Barcelona comes through the technique, through the passing game. If you give them space, they can make good use of it. And that’s exactly what we want to prevent. We will fight against it as a team”
Caroline Graham Hansen: “Wolfsburg is a great team. We have a lot of respect for them. It will be important for us to stay calm and impose our game. They are the semifinals of the Champions League and it is a special match. I will show my qualities on the field to help the team win the game”
A spectacle in the offering
This semi-final is going to be quite a riveting match of football in terms of tactical nuances and attacking quality between these two teams. Each team has its fair share of attacking flair and defensive lapses and it is difficult to predict who is going to come on top. With Pernille Harder and her attacking counterparts more determined than ever, Barça Femení have their work cut out in dealing with the threat they have in front of them.