A new format is making its debut in the UEFA Women’s Champions League this season and Juventus Women has been one of the beneficiaries of the new changes. Over its short three-year tenure in international competition, Juve never made it past the round of 32, largely due to difficult ties with some of Europe’s best squads, Barcelona and Lyon, in each of the last two seasons.
That changed this season when UEFA set up new qualifying paths for the Women’s Champions League, specifically setting up a new path for the champions from smaller leagues. It comes at the expense of the some of the bigger clubs who did not win their leagues last season including Manchester City, Rosengard and Bordeaux, who saw their Women’s Champions League campaigns end earlier than usual.
Meanwhile, thanks to the Champions path, Juve was the favorite in each of its matches and it lived up to the expectations, breezing past its three opponents and qualifying to be a part of the competition’s first ever 16-team group stage. And if there was ever a time for Juventus to make a surprising run in the knockout rounds, now would be the time to do it with the 2022 Champions League Final set to be played at Juventus Stadium in Turin.
The change in format now guarantees Juventus Women at least six more matches in UEFA competition as opposed to the two-leg ties it has faced in the last three seasons.
Juve was put into Pot 3 for the draw with a coefficient of 15.2, just missing out on Pot 2 by a couple of points. The pot placement pretty much assured it was going to be an uphill battle for Juventus to get out of any group as it would likely take on the underdog role in the competition for the third straight season.
Just like the men’s group, the first team drawn was Chelsea. Wolfsburg was drawn out of Pot 2, with Swiss champion Servette Chenois coming out of Pot 4 to round out the group. The group stage gets underway this week as Juventus plays against Servette on Wednesday night, so let’s dive into what to expect from the Bianconere’s opponents and how you can keep up with all the action.
Home: Oct. 13
Away: Dec. 8
Chelsea is coming off possibly its greatest season ever, claiming a domestic double in England which included the Women’s Super League title and the League Cup. The Blues also pushed their way to the Champions League final last season for the first time in club history but was then dismantled by Barcelona within the first 30 minutes of the match (we’ve been there too).
Still, Chelsea has high expectations to pull off those same feats this season and it’s hard to doubt them as long as Emma Hayes is in charge. The manager has brought back a strong core of players which did most of the damage last season including the attacking duo of Samantha Kerr and Fran Kirby.
Kerr-by, as the duo is perfectly nicknamed, smashed all xG standards last season and accounted for 46 goals and 23 assists across all competitions. The season-long performances were incredible, but people doubted the duo could replicate it for another season. They are not slowing down just yet, though, as they have already seven goals and six assists in the first four matches of the league season.
That doesn’t even mention the abundance of talent throughout the rest of the roster, including Europe’s most expensive transfer in Pernille Harder, who is the other part of the three-headed monster in attack. Guro Reiten, Niamh Charles and Erin Cuthbert bring some extra width to the attack moving up from their wingback spots in Hayes’ 3-4-3.
The rest of the defense lacks some depth but the talent is still there and they stay sharp whenever everyone is healthy. Millie Bright is in the middle of the defense surrounded by Jessica Carter and Magdalena Eriksson, all who have been with the club since 2018.
Chelsea was in the first pot for a reason and they may be favorites to win the group, but they are certainly a favorite to move into the quarterfinals. It will be a good challenge to see Juventus go up against one of the best squads and coaches in the world and it may help to have Joe Montemurro at the helm this season, a coach who is very familiar with Hayes and Chelsea.
Home: Nov. 9
Away: Nov. 18
Wolfsburg had to go through qualification as well, but because of Germany’s league coefficient, it went directly into the second round of the league path. The club actually has the third highest club coefficient in Europe but it needed to take the qualifiers path after finishing second in the Frauen Bundesliga after a stellar season from Bayern Munich. However, Wolfsburg’s history speaks for itself and the expectations to perform in Europe are still very high.
The German side will be searching for its first Women’s Champions League title since 2014 but it has made three appearances in the final since then, losing to Lyon each time. Last season, Wolfsburg was knocked out by Chelsea in the quarterfinals but the club kept its trophy streak alive by winning the DFB Pokal, marking the ninth straight season with at least one piece of silverware.
They lost some key players from last year’s team, specifically in the midfield, but manager Tommy Stroot is hoping some of the newcomers can fill the gaps. It starts with former Arsenal star Jill Roord, another player Montemurro should be familiar with, who has looked good in the early stages with her new team. Roord should have more freedom than she has ever had before with the help of playing in front of teenage star Lena Oberdorf, who has proven herself to be one of the best holding midfielders in the world.
Wolfsburg suffered a big blow at the end of last season when Alexandra Popp had to undergo knee surgery. The club then turned to Ewa Pajor, who led the league in goals per 90 minutes last season. She’s delivered with six goals and three assists in all competitions already this year, including three goals in the qualifying matches against Bordeaux. However, the club announced Monday that Pajor will be out several months as she also needs knee surgery after suffering an injury on international duty.
Wolfsburg’s attack now may not be as lethal as it hoped to be, but they still have veteran Svenja Huth, an experienced forward who usually plays right behind the front line but is more than capable of filling the role at striker.
Wolfsburg is another big challenge for Juventus and will feel it deserves to be labeled as the favorite in the group but definitely as one of the favorites to advance. Wolfsburg has made every Champions League quarterfinal round since the 2012-13 season, its first year in the competition.
Home: Dec. 16
Away: Oct. 6
Juventus opens and closes the group stage against the Swiss champions, which may come in handy as the team searches for a confidence booster to start the competition. Plus, it might be nice to have a more winnable match at the end if Juventus is within striking distance of one of the top two spots.
However, Juventus will likely need all six points against Servette to stand a chance in the group and Servette will not be rolling over that easily. The club has several experienced players and they all got their first taste of the Champions League last season so do not expect this stage to be too big for Les Grenats.
Last season, Servette was knocked out of this competition in a similar fashion to Juventus. The Swiss team actually took a 2-1 lead on Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Round of 32 matchup but the Spanish team proved to be too much in the second half before running away with the tie in the return trip to Madrid, defeating Servette 9-2 on aggregate.
Now, Servette has started strong in its domestic competition despite losing its first match of the season. After dropping points on the road against Zurich, Servette has reeled off four straight victories to move right back up to third in the Swiss table.
In international competition, Servette grabbed a pair of 1-0 wins in the champions path to earn a spot in the second qualifying round where it was matched up with Glasgow City. After a draw in the first leg, Servette traveled to Scotland and came from behind for a 2-1 victory, securing its spot in group stage.
Manager Eric Severac, who recently signed a contract extension with the club, has not swayed from his 4-2-3-1 formation this season, asking a lot from his midfielders on both ends of the field. At the heart of that midfield is veteran Sandy Mändly, who scored the winning goal against Glasgow City. She does most of the work to link the defense and midfield with whichever forward plays as the lone striker. In much of the qualification, that work was done by Jade Boho who scored three goals in four matches. Boho can also switch out to the wing, allowing Spaniard Marta Gimenez to add to the attack.
In defense, Servette has heavily relied on Swiss captain and former Bayern Munich player Caroline Abbé. In front of her in a holding midfield role is Canadian veteran Alyssa Lagonia.
Servette definitely has the experience working for it and that will make it more difficult for Juventus and maybe even Chelsea and Wolfsburg to make easy work of the Swiss team.