The first ever group stage in the UEFA Women’s Champions League could not have started any better. There were big results in big games and a few of the lesser known teams managed to put in performances that made everyone take notice of them as well.
The current champions, FC Barcelona, started off in imperial form, perennial winners Olympique Lyonnais got off to a great start as well and familiar opponents Chelsea FC and VfL Wolfsburg produced the best game of Matchday 1.
Chelsea vs Wolfsburg has always been an entertaining prospect and although the tide has changed, with the Blues rising as a more dominant force in the FA WSL while the Germans struggle in the Frauen Bundesliga, one should never expect league form to count for much when these two teams meet.
Pre match predictions had the Blues coming out on top in dominant fashion but Wolfsburg had other ideas. Sam Kerr got Chelsea off to a great start in the 12th minute when she caught up to Ji So-yun’s pass and chipped Almuth Schult in goal. Chelsea had started off brightly and that goal was one they fully deserved. The hosts should’ve gone on to control the game but Wolfsburg found a way back into this match.
Miscommunication between Magda Eriksson and Ann-Katrin Berger allowed Tabea Waßmuth to nip in between the two Chelsea players and place the ball into an empty net. The defensive lapses continued for Chelsea and Wolfsburg made sure they took advantage of that. Jill Roord put Wolfsburg ahead in the 33rd minute after Berger’s pass out to Melanie Leupolz was intercepted by Lena Oberdorf. Oberdorf then passed it to Roord who finished well into the corner, beating Berger’s diving attempt to stop the goal.
The second half saw Chelsea’s defense fall asleep once again as the home side seemed to still be in the locker room when the whistle blew. Jess Carter’s back pass to Berger was too soft and Waßmuth, who had been tracking the Chelsea defender the whole time, once again had an empty net to aim for. Wolfsburg were 3-1 up in the 48th minute, shocking everyone in Kingsmeadow Stadium.
Chelsea themselves though, showed great character and found a way to tie the game. First, Beth England pulled one goal back in the 51st minute when Wolfsburg failed to clear a corner and then deep into stoppage time, former Wolfsburg striker Pernille Harder came back to haunt her old side. It was no less than Chelsea deserved and it was a great way to bookend what had been a fantastic spectacle for fans and neutrals alike.
In the other group game, Juventus put three past Servette FCCF. Andrea Stašková should have put the visitors ahead in the 27th minute but her poor penalty was saved by Inês Pereira. Arianna Caruso soon took matters into her own hands, giving Juventus a fully deserved lead with one of the best volleys of the group stage so far. Lina Hurtig and Valentina Cernoia made sure of the three points with goals in the 65th and 71st minutes respectively.
Paris-Saint Germain and Real Madrid were expected to be the two teams to reach the knockout stages and they did their chances of that no harm as they both picked up wins away from home.
Breiðablik UDK did not make it easy for the French champions and they had to dig deep to find the goals that would give them a win in their opening game. After a sweeping move forward in the 17th minute, Léa Khelifi got on the end of Sakina Karchaoui’s cross and tapped the ball home from close range. After surviving a few scares in the second half, Grace Geyoro found the back of the net in 89th minute with a fine finish.
Despite losing on opening day, Breiðablik showed enough to remind not just PSG but the rest of the group that they have as good a chance as anyone else in Group B to qualify for the next round.
Real Madrid have had an abysmal start to their league campaign but in the Champions League, they have been surprisingly solid. A lone goal from Lorena Navarro, the best player on the pitch, in the 33rd minute was enough for Los Blancas to earn their first ever group win against Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv. The Ukranians were solid enough but posed no real threat to Madrid’s backline and hardly troubled Misa Rodríguez in goal.
In a highly anticipated match up, the league leaders in both Spain and England looked to stamp their authority in the group. Barcelona were effervescent and put four past Arsenal FC who could only manage a consolation goal when all was said and done.
Love them or hate them, you can’t help but admire how fluid Barcelona are with and without the ball. Arsenal spent most of the game seemingly doing just that as they were exposed time and time against by Barcelona’s style of play. After creating chances early on, Mariona Caldentey broke the deadlock for the hosts in 31st minute when Manuela Zinsberger failed to clear the ball away firmly enough after Asisat Oshoala tried from outside the box. Oshoala was the creator once again in the 43rd minute when she raced through and picked out Alexia Putellas’ run inside the box. The Nigerian then got a goal of her own in the 47th minute when Caldentey played her through perfectly and Oshoala calmly slipped the ball past Zinsberger.
The second half saw the home side drop off a little as they were in control of the game and after a host of substitutes, Arsenal showed some life. Frida Maagnum pulled one back for the London side after heading home Tobin Heath’s free kick but Barcelona simply upped a gear once more and scored their fourth through Lieke Martens to truly put the game to bed. It could’ve been worse for Arsenal in stoppage time but Zinsberger guessed correctly and saved Putellas’ penalty.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim top the group after putting five past HB Køge. After threatening from kick off, the home side found the breakthrough and what an opener it was. Katharina Naschenweng twisted around her marker before arching her effort over the goalkeeper and into the top corner.
The rest of Hoffenheim’s goals came in the second half and HB Køge could do nothing to stem the tide. Nicole Billa made it two in the 47th minute, Luana Bühler got the third in the 61st minute and Tine de Caigny scored a brace with goals in the 63rd and 92nd minutes. Barcelona are still the team to beat in Group C but Hoffenheim have put themselves in a good position to start off with.
Lyon did what they had to do in their opener against BK Häcken thanks to goals by Melvine Malard, Catarina Macario and an own goal by Stine Larsen. Malard was on the end of Danielle van de Donk’s square pass after the Dutch midfielder had stolen the ball near Häcken’s penalty area in the 10th minute.
Häcken once again caused their own problems as they helped Lyon score their second goal. After failing to deal with Selma Bacha’s cross, Macario just had to direct her effort on target to get a goal and she did so in the 48th minute. Things got from bad to worse for the Swedish side as Stine Larsen knocked the ball into her own net as she rose to defend a corner in the 53rd minute. That was enough to give Lyon all through points and despite their efforts, Häcken couldn’t find a way past Christiane Endler in goal for Lyon.
This game also saw the return of Ada Hegerberg, who had not featured for the team since January 2020. It was a welcome sight for all those in women’s football and Hegerberg clearly enjoyed being back.
S.L. Benfica managed to hold Bayern Munich to a scoreless goal and on another day, could have beat the German title holders. The Portuguese side had clearly worked on a smart tactical plan to defend deep and attack quickly in transition. Had it not been for some good saves by Laura Benkarth and some poor finishing by the hosts, this would’ve been a fairytale start for them. Instead they sit level on points with Bayern and a tough away match in France next.
Player of the round: Mariona Caldentey
Match of the round: Chelsea vs Wolfsburg
Goal of the round: Katharina Naschenweng vs HB Køge