When UEFA announced that the Women’s Champions League would be reformatted to include a group stage, there was broad support. In many ways, he was way behind schedule. Now, on the eve of the first group matches, there is momentum behind the competition like never before.
Who will win the trophy in Turin on May 22 is less clear than ever. Barcelona’s outright 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in last season’s final in Gothenburg has ended Lyon’s five-year stranglehold on the European top prize and the door is wide open and the competition tighter.
You might be wondering why a group stage is seen as the vehicle for the growth of competition at a time when many are agitating for retirement from the group stage of men’s competition? This is a valid question. There are huge disparities between women’s football teams in Europe and the previous knockout format did little to advance the development of football in weaker countries. There are some differences between the quality of the teams in the men’s competition, but they are not as glaring.
In the women’s competition, teams from clubs and amateur leagues battled professional or semi-professional clubs over two stages and their Champions League run ended with a whimper. The optics were not great and they gained little from a financial or sporting point of view. Introducing a group stage starts the rebalancing process.
All teams in the new group stage will win € 400,000 for six matches. Importantly, this means that even the weakest participating teams get vital income, exposure, and a six-game streak of varying difficulty that they can use to test their players. In addition, each team represented earns a slice of a new solidarity prize pool that goes to other clubs in their national championship to raise the bar at home.
The first round will see Hoffenheim face Danish club HB Køge and seven-time champion Lyon will try to reclaim their crown against Sweden’s BK Häcken. But it is one of the two games played just over two hours later that will set the tone for Tuesday night’s tournament.
Barcelona host 2007 winner Arsenal at Johan Cruyff Stadium after scoring 35 goals and conceding just once in their first five Superliga games. Arsenal, meanwhile, have scored 16 goals and conceded twice in four wins, including victories over reigning Women’s Super League rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Both are in scintillating form, although Barcelona are more advanced in their current squad cycle than Arsenal and play with a fluidity that speaks to an understanding between many players that has developed over the years.
Along with Alexia Putellas, they may be the only player in the world who could rightly beat Arsenal forward Vivianne Miedema in every individual award available this year. A four-minute hat-trick in Barcelona’s 8-0 loss to Valencia has gone viral to carry the Putellas name in wider circles and stopping Barca’s marauding attack with Putellas in the heart will be extremely difficult for Arsenal. If the Gunners triumph in Catalonia it will send shockwaves through a competition that would then be realistic for anyone.
The other remarkable tie in the round sees another England side in action with Chelsea facing old enemies Wolfsburg at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday night. Last season, Emma Hayes’ side exorcised the ghost of failing to beat the German side in six attempts, securing the brace in the quarter-finals before losing in the final. Wolfsburg have slipped from their perch, having been propelled to the Bundesliga title by Bayern Munich last season and they are currently in second place, two points behind the champions, but the two-time Champions League winners understand what he’s doing. is necessary to go far in Europe. Chelsea also stammered domestically with a 3-2 Day 1 loss to Arsenal, tarnishing an otherwise flawless start to the season.
These renowned matches will attract large audiences to the competition thanks to the new group stage format and a new broadcast rights deal that will see all 61 matches from the group stage broadcast free of charge for two years by the service. streaming Dazn via YouTube.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the deal between Dazn, YouTube and UEFA which is committed to bringing all games to as wide an audience as possible. A report by Dazn and the Women’s Quotient titled “The Coverage Gap” showed the potential impact such an opening of the game could have with “minimal promotion of events, disparities in broadcast and lack of media coverage and stable social and storytelling “highlighted as creating” a significant barrier to hearing, “and 64% of those surveyed said they did not watch women’s sport because they did not know enough about the athletes and did not know where they could watch the games.
In recent years, UEFA has separated the Women’s Champions League final from the city where the men’s competition takes place, with this year’s game taking place at the Allianz Stadium, the home of Juventus. He also centralized the broadcast rights and sold them separately and separated the sponsorship from the men’s offerings.
Now the format has changed to maximize the tournament’s impact on women’s football in Europe, from below as well as from above. Everything aligns. Hopefully football thrives in the environment that is built for it.