UEFA gets its Clásico in the Women’s Champions League

THE decline of Barcelona in the men’s game means UEFA won’t be getting the hoped-for Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the two clubs’ women’s teams will meet headlong in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in March 2022.

Holders Barcelona will face Real in a quarter-final draw that is looking remarkably like business as usual. The women’s game is rapidly resembling the men’s version in terms of elitism, with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Real Madrid all in the last eight, along with women’s football giants Lyon and Wolfsburg and current Super League leaders Arsenal.

Of the eight clubs, three (Barca, Wolfsburg and Lyon) have appeared in every last eight in the past five years, while another three (Bayern, PSG and Juve) have been in four. In a short space of time, the women’s game has evolved to elitism when it took decades for the men to reach that stage. Much of that is attributable to the emergence of big established clubs entering the field and providing the financial and cultural support to move their women’s teams forward. It is also down to the progress made by women’s football and its shift into mainstream media coverage. The attendances for domestic league games are still very low, but the profile has definitely been raised over the past few years. While this is good at the higher levels, the near instant shift into elitism may not be especially beneficial for the overall rise of women’s football. The Women’s Super League has really developed in a three-way between Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. Looks quite familiar, doesn’t it?

At the top, there is no denying the standard is improving all the time and the current European champions, Barcelona, look very impressive. In the Guardian’s top 100 players in the world, Barca had 13 representatives, including the number one, Alexia Putellas. Barca won the Spanish Primera División by a margin of 25 points in 2020-21 and scored a phenomenal 167 goals in 34 games. Real Madrid, in their first season in the name of the parent club, finished second but are way behind their rivals.

The biggest shock of the competition so far was the elimination of Chelsea, the English treble-winning team managed by Emma Hayes. Chelsea were thrashed 4-0 by Wolfsburg to go out in the group stage. Hayes was distraught but later explained her team was suffering from the stress of the new wave of covid-19 and players were unwell. Chelsea recently won the FA Cup for 2020-21 by beating Arsenal 3-0 and put on a scintillating display in the process at Wembley. However, since that win, they have struggled to score goals and have been below their best. Chelsea have a star-studded team and had nine players in the Guardian 100, including Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder.

The meeting of Real Madrid and Barcelona is undoubtedly the eye-catching draw for the quarter finals, but all four ties have something special about them, with Bayern meeting PSG, Juventus playing Lyon and Arsenal clashing with Chelsea’s conquerors, Wolfsburg. It is hard to look beyond Barca, who have a 100% record in the league and have scored 75 goals in 13 games. They scored 24 goals in six Champions League group games and conceded just one. This is one of the most dominant teams in the world at the moment as Chelsea and Arsenal have found out in 2021.

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