With short-term contracts signed, friendly matches underway and coronavirus testing ongoing, Europe’s top teams are ready for the resumption of the Women’s Champions League. Defending champion Lyon is seeking its 5th straight title and is the team to beat. Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Barcelona, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Glasgow City are also in the quarterfinals.
The knockout tournament is scheduled to begin next week, on August 21st, in Bilbao and San Sebastian, located in Spain’s northern Basque region. Like the men’s UEFA Champions League, the women’s competition won’t be using the format of home-and-away quarterfinals and semifinals.
Three wins at neutral stadiums and the trophy is yours.
Let’s have a look at the teams:
Glasgow has a tough test against German league champion Wolfsburg. The winner of that match plays either Barcelona or Atletico. The other semifinal will feature the winners of Lyon against Bayern and Arsenal vs Paris Sant-Germain. The final is scheduled for August 30th in San Sebastian.
Lyon has won six Champions League trophies and 14 consecutive French league titles. They’re the undoubted candidates to win the title for a 5th consecutive time, however, their main star player, Ada Hegerberg, is out for six months after having a dangerous injury.
The 25-year-old Norwegian, already the competition’s all-time scoring leader with 53 goals, recently said she’s “turned the corner,” but her return is a long shot. Yet, Lyon’s Shanice van de Sanden told FIFA that winning a fifth consecutive Champions League title would “maybe be our biggest achievement,” considering Hegerberg’s injury and the knockout format.
On the other side, Barcelona, the 2nd favourites, added high-scoring Jenni Hermoso last summer to pair with Asisat Oshoala in the attack. Lieke Martens, the Dutch star who had been nursing a foot injury from the 2019 World Cup, is available as the Catalans prepare their match against first-time quarter-finalist Atletico. Meanwhile, Wolfsburg, which beat Lyon 1-0 in the 2013 final, boasts Denmark attacker Pernille Harder, who led the Bundesliga with 27 goals this season.
PSG has firepower with Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who led the French league with 16 goals, and Kadidiatou Diani. PSG will have to get past Arsenal on August 22nd to get another potential crack at Lyon, who are favoured against Bayern and 21-year-old Giulia Gwinn, Germany’s breakout star of the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Finally, Arsenal with high-scoring Vivianne Miedema needs to win the tournament to qualify for the 2020/21 Champions League after finishing 3rd in the WSL.
Only Wolfsburg and Bayern have consistently played competitive matches in recent months, as the German leagues finished their seasons. Women’s leagues in Spain and England were ended, and all soccer in France was cancelled. In Scotland, the season was also voided after just playing one round post coronavirus era. That’s why some players like Krystyna Freda, Glasgow’s recent acquisition, said that while their rivals won’t have Glasgow game film to study, being in form is a plus for the German team.
“That’s probably one of the biggest disadvantages for us,” Freda said.
UEFA also released a 31-page “return-to-play” protocol for international matches that outlines rules for COVID-19 testing before departure for a host city and a day before games.
Players who have had either a coronavirus diagnosis or “any suspicious symptoms or contacts” will be subject to pulmonary function testing and in severe cases, “organ-dependent examinations,” the document states. Teams have been testing under national government regulations.
Atletico Madrid reported a positive test on Friday and cancelled a friendly match scheduled the next day against Atletico Bilbao. The team didn’t specify if it was a player, coach or staff member, but said the person had mild symptoms and was sent home to quarantine, while everyone else was re-tested at a university clinic in Pamplona. Finally, the UEFA protocol recommends players should remain at their hotel as much as possible.
“Non-respect of such social norms could have serious consequences for the staging of international matches,” the document concluded.
Now, we just have to wait till Friday next week to find out how this Women’s UEFA Champions League season’s continuation develops within this pandemic; but, more importantly, cannot wait to see who claims the 2019/20 title (My money is on OL Lyon).