Lewis Ambrose·3 June 2023
Lewis Ambrose·3 June 2023
It’s time for the Women’s Champions League final but who will come out on top as Barcelona and Wolfsburg meet in a sold-out Philips Stadion.
A year ago, Barcelona stepped into the final ready to go back-to-back and officially knock Lyon off of their perch atop the women’s game.
Things did not quite work out that way.
Barça, full strength at the time with Alexia Putellas yet to suffer the ACL injury that ruled her out of last summer’s Euros and almost all of the season, were humbled by the club that has dominated European football over the past decade.
And, while nothing else they have experienced can be described as a humbling, it’s hard to escape the idea that this Barcelona, though formidable whenever they play at home, can be gotten at a bit on their travels.
They were dominated in Munich in 3-1 defeat late last year, were shaky in a 1-0 win in Rome in the quarter-finals, and could not turn a fast start against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge into anything more than another 1-0 victory.
The last time this season’s finalists met was in Wolfsburg last season, with the hosts winning 2-0 in what was admittedly a bit of a dead rubber, and Barça also failed to beat Man City and PSG away on their way to winning the competition in 2020/21.
This is not to say Barcelona are not favourites but for a team with few question marks surrounding them, there is a pattern that you have a shot at beating them when they’re on the road.
For Wolfsburg to have a real crack at glory, Lena Oberdorf will have to play out of her skin. The good news is, she often does.
With Barcelona pressing high, the Wolfsburg holding midfielder will be under constant supervision as the Bundesliga outfit look to keep the ball and play out from the back.
The bigger ask for the Germany international, will be the mountains of work she will have to get through defensively.
Wolfsburg have an embarrassment of riches going forward, with Tommy Stroot able to choose from strikers Alexandra Popp, Ewa Pajor and Tabea Waßmuth, plus wide options Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir, Jule Brand and Svenja Huth, and that’s before throwing goalscoring midfielder Jill Roord into the mix.
Whichever players miss out — Popp, Pajor, Huth, Roord and Jónsdóttir are all likely to start — there will be an onus on Oberdorf to remain positionally disciplined behind them.
The recent DFB-Pokal final win over Freiburg saw Pajor start from the bench as Rebecka Blomqvist strengthened midfield but Wolfsburg will have to decide whether or not they can really afford not to start a striker with 27 goals across all competitions so far this season.
You’d think not.
With Pajor likely to start up front, Popp will likely play just off of her, linking play from midfield, and providing her world class aerial presence to both get Wolfsburg upfield and provide a threat in the box.
But can she get the better of Mapi León?
The Barcelona centre-back is absolutely crucial for the Blaugrana, both defensively but especially with her ability on the ball, carrying it forward excellently and breaking lines with her passing.
Something will have to give this weekend, with Popp’s intelligence and physicality as a forward directly up against León’s calmness in possession and reading of the game.
Whoever comes out on top in this direct battle is likely to have a major impact on who heads home with the trophy.