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What If: UEFA Women’s Champions League with a group phase

A hypothetical look at how the UWCL could shape up if it reverted to a group phase

FFC Frankfurt and Paris St. Germain Photo by Lukas Schulze/picture alliance via Getty Images

It all started with a group phase when it was still the UEFA Women’s Cup, before changing to the straight knock-out in the round of 32 (after preliminary qualification for some with a lower co-efficient) that we know today as the Women’s Champions League. With Arsenal being unseeded (by virtue of a few years away from the competition) this season and Serie A teams Fiorentina and Juventus struggling to get their seeding up after clashing with more established sides, there are calls for a reversion to the old ways. And if we’re going for equality, then aligning the format of the women’s competition to that of the men’s would surely make sense, so here’s a very thorough, very hypothetical imagining of how such a reversion might go:

From 54 to 32 (August-November)

The qualifying rounds were messy, taking place not long after the World Cup wrapped up, done in three phases that saw large chunks of Eastern Europe eliminated before even getting to be fodder for the likes of Olympique Lyonnais and VfL Wolfsburg. The final two play-off berths were gobbled up by Anderlecht and Apollon Limassol.

The ten automatic qualifiers for the group stage were the league winners from France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The runners up from the aforementioned ten leagues as well as the champions from Russia, Scotland, Belgium, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Austria and Iceland went straight into the penultimate round of qualifying with the third-placed team from the league the champions from the previous season came from (in this case, Montpellier HSC from División 1 Feminine).

The groups, eight of four, were started and wrapped up in just over two months with the following outcomes;

Group 1
Lyon
Manchester City
Ajax
Glasgow City

Olympique Lyonnais v Ajax Amsterdam - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Romain Biard/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Group 2
Wolfsburg
Spartak Subotica
Apollon Limassol
PK-35 Vantaa

Group 3
Paris Saint-Germain
BIIK Kazygurt
Ryazan-VDV
FC Zurich

Group 4
Atletico Madrid
Kopparbergs/Göteborg
Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv
Breiðablik

Group 5
Barcelona
Bayern Munich
Montpellier HSC
St. Pölten

Group 6
Slavia Praha
Twente
Brøndby
Fiorentina

Group 7
Sparta Praha
LSK
Juventus
Piteå

Group 8
Arsenal
Klepp
Górnik Łęczna
Anderlecht

Notes:

  1. An anonymous Atleti player slammed the new format after losing both league games that followed their trips to Iceland and the Ukraine.
  2. Footage of the convoluted way Limassol got back and forth from Subotica, including a viral video of the players sleeping on the ground of Pécs-Pogány Airport, had women’s football fans up in arms.
  3. After tearing her MCL, a Daily Mail article claimed Arsenal’s captain had told her club that they were working the team too hard with the player in questions playing over 450 minutes in the 18 days before her injury.

Round of 16 (February)

With just the top two from each group progressing – with the top finishers going into one pot to be drawn against a runner-up – 16 teams knew their fate early in the competition. The round of 16 was confined to the middle of February and teams were thrust straight from their winter breaks into the competition, with the aggregated results as follows:

Lyon 11-2 Spartak Subotica
Wolfsburg 7-0 Twente
PSG 5-2 Kopparbergs/Göteborg
Atletico Madrid 2-3 Bayern Munich
Barcelona 9-1 BIIK Kazygurt
Slavia Praha 5-4 LSK
Sparta Praha 3-1 Klepp
Arsenal 3-3 Manchester City (City advance on away goals)

Barcelona v BIIK-Kazygurt - UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 32 2nd Leg Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Notes:

  1. Following Man City’s win over Arsenal – earned with a stoppage time penalty in the second leg – the next time the two met in a top of the table clash, both teams had one player dismissed with fans on both sides left incensed once again.
  2. After Lyon, Wolfsburg and Barcelona all won at a canter, fans and journalists alike were left to ask if the format was worthwhile.

Quarter finals (April)

Down to the last eight, all eight teams went into the same hat immediately following the round of 16, the draw causing a laugh or two as one of the balls (Slavia) slipped out of Nadine Keßler’s hands and skitted across the floor in Nyon. With everyone satisfied there had been no foul play, the draw concluded and the eight matches were scheduled for the following month, again, the aggregated scores were as follow:

Lyon 6-3 Bayern Munich
Wolfsburg 4-1 PSG
Barcelona 2-2 Slavia Praha (Following two 1-1 draws, Barcelona advance after a shoot-out)
Manchester City 3-0 Sparta Praha

Notes:

  1. Having sparred with Barcelona (in the group), Atleti in the first knock-out and Lyon in the quarters, the Bayern coach backed the format to the hilt, praising his players and saying that their luck “finally ran out” when they were drawn against the reigning champions.
  2. The Slavia goalkeeper got injured deep in extra time, leading to a centre back taking her place in goal for the shoot-out. She saved one but the Czech champions were soundly beaten by Barcelona.

Semi-finals and final (May)

Lyon 4-2 Manchester City
Wolfsburg 5-3 Barcelona

Having played 12 games each, instead of the eight from previous seasons, the final was once again Lyon vs Wolfsburg as the tournament hastily progressed from the semi-finals at the start of the month to the grand final at the end of it. In Vienna [redacted] were crowed Champions League winners for 2019-20.

Soccer - Womens UEFA Champions League Final 2013 - Vfl Wolfsburg v Olympique Lyonnaise Photo by Catherine Ivill/AMA/Matthew Ashton/AMA Sports Photo/AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

What do you think? Should Champions League revert to a group format? Did this imaginary scenario play out realistically to you (players sleeping in airports included)? Tell us in the comments!