The penultimate round of this season’s Women’s Champions League group stage fixtures provided plenty to talk about, as the last eight really started to take shape.
Juventus’ trip to Chelsea was the most intriguing of the week’s games, setting up a thrilling finale in Group A, which also contains two-time winners Wolfsburg.
Meanwhile, the Emirates Stadium hosted UWCL football for the first time as Arsenal welcomed reigning champions Barcelona.
Here are five things that we learned…
“We were just happy to be in the group stages,” Juventus head coach Joe Montemurro said after his side’s draw at Chelsea on Wednesday. The result saw Juve become the first team to stop the Blues from scoring at Kingsmeadow this season – and they could’ve nicked the win, too.
“I’ve had experience at this ground. You don’t come here and win easily or get a point easily, so for a club that’s four years old, in its first real foray into Champions League, to get something, it’s quite special.”
The performance that Juve put on was typical of an Italian side away in Europe. It was excellent. Midfielder Martina Rosucci described the game plan as “perfect”.
To see such a performance from a Montemurro side, who usually play so expansively, was another nod to his growth as a coach in Italy.
With the game there growing at the same rate, the Bianconere are making incredibly encouraging strides as they go into the final game with qualification in their own hands.
This ambitious Real Madrid side have not had a great first half of the season. They are ninth in their league standings, sacked head coach David Aznar and have been fortunate not to be in a more testing group.
However, this week, Kosovare Asllani returned after over two months out and showed that she can help ignite the team.
At her best when playing close to a No.9, she shone in her role next to Esther Gonzalez on Wednesday, scoring two goals, winning a penalty and creating three chances in Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over Breidablik. Her return is huge for this team.
When Erin Cuthbert joined Chelsea five years ago, she arrived as a raw attacking talent, an 18-year-old who had just finished as Glasgow City’s top goalscorer as they continued their dominance in Scotland.
On Wednesday night, she shone against Juventus, but as a full-back. With the Blues lacking depth in that area, she’s played regularly as a wing-back this season in a role that suits so many of her great traits: her grittiness, her work-rate, her intelligence but also her attacking qualities too.
It was just another brilliant display in a season which has seen her keep quiet some of the game’s most electric wingers, while also being an attacking threat herself.
Earlier this week, after Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Arsenal, manager Emma Hayes simply said: “People like Erin Cuthbert are some of the reasons why we are what we are – and she deserves all the credit.”
It’s hard to disagree.
In his pre-match press conference, Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall was asked what he admired about Barcelona. As he rattled through their qualities, his answer was three minutes long. That was a clear indication of how good the reigning European champions are.
On Thursday, they were without Patri Guijarro, who tested positive for Covid-19 just before the game. To be without your holding midfielder is a big deal for most. However, Barca simply dropped Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas back from her advanced midfield role and let her control the game instead. They won 4-0.
Arsenal tried a different game plan from their 4-1 defeat in Spain, Eidevall having learned from that. But, in reality, stopping this team – even without Guijarro and star centre-back Mapi Leon – remains the toughest task in the women’s game right now.
Should they not win the Champions League again this season, it would be a huge shock.
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Going into the penultimate round of UWCL fixtures, there was only really one group where the drama intensified – that which includes Chelsea, Wolfsburg and Juventus and sees them all going into the last game with a chance to qualify.
Every other group had two teams more comfortably positioned than the others. Going into the final games, it’s only the aforementioned group that doesn’t have its two progressing teams confirmed, and Group C, where a truly incredible turn of events in Arsenal’s clash with Hoffenheim would see the Germans advance instead.
The group stages have been entertaining, but it will take time for other teams in Europe to catch up to those elite sides to create more drama. This new format, giving less experienced teams games against the giants, will certainly help.
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