Two decades after its debut, the UEFA Women’s Champions League will offer a 16-team group stage for the first time this season as Barcelona begin their title defense in a new tournament.
Crowned champions after beating Chelsea in a finalist clash for the first time last May, Barcelona are a big favorite to move up from a section comprising 2007 winner Arsenal and two newcomers, Hoffenheim and Danish club Koge .
The holders can count on Alexia Putellas, the reigning UEFA player of the year who recently signed an extension with Barcelona until 2024, the Dutch star Lieke Martens and the prolific Jenni Hermoso.
Barcelona won a second consecutive Spanish title last season, winning 33 of 34 matches and scoring 167 goals. They started the new campaign in a similar vein with five out of five wins, scoring 35 times and conceding only once.
Arsenal are returning to top European competition for the second time in eight seasons, boosted by the signing of four-time Olympian and two-time World Cup winner Tobin Heath.
Hoffenheim give Germany three representatives – alongside perennial contenders Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich – while Koge shattered the Brondby-Fortuna Hjorring duopoly in their debut season in the Danish top flight.
The French giants Lyon saw their five-year European reign end with Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals last season, but they have since brought in goalkeeper Christiane Endler and striker Signe Bruun from their domestic rivals as well. as Danielle van de Donk.
However, the most important news for Lyon is the resumption of Ada Hegerberg, the winner of the 2018 Ballon d’Or. The Norwegian could return on Tuesday against the Swedish club Hacken after 20 months of absence.
The 26-year-old striker has been sidelined since January 2020 after ruining a cruciate ligament in her right knee and then suffering a stress fracture of the left tibia, initially undetected.
Hegerberg, five-time Champions League winner with Lyon, is the competition’s top scorer with 53 goals.
Lyon will also face Bayern, semi-finalists from last season and one of the four teams to qualify directly, and Benfica, who only created a women’s side in 2018. They are the first Portuguese club to reach the round of 16.
– Real Madrid bow out for Europe –
England champions Chelsea welcome two-time champions Wolfsburg in their group opener. Emma Hayes’ side beat the Germans 5-1 overall in the quarter-finals last season.
Juventus, champions of Italy each of the past four years, have overtaken the last 32 in Europe for the first time. They have additional motivation to do well in the final at the Allianz stadium in Turin.
Swiss side Servette are also in uncharted territory after winning their first Super League title.
Real Madrid, in their second season after taking over CD Tacon, drew attention by knocking out Manchester City in qualifying.
The reward for the Spaniards for their Champions League debut is a group with PSG, WFC Kharkiv of Ukraine and Breidablik – the first Icelandic team to reach the group stage of a men’s or women’s club competition. UEFA.
Formerly played in knockout matches at home and away from the last 32, clubs in the group stage will receive a minimum of 400,000 euros ($ 465,000) – five times more than before in the round of 16, according to UEFA.
The winner is expected to pocket up to € 1.4m, with UEFA foreseeing a total payment of € 24m to participating clubs or in the form of “solidarity payments” to non-competing clubs.
In contrast, clubs that qualify for the men’s Champions League group stage will earn a minimum of € 15.64 million.
If a club wins every group match and lifts the trophy in St. Petersburg, they will bring in € 85.1 million in earnings, not including TV income and those based on their UEFA rankings.
mw / jc