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Here we go

Barcelona are the team to beat once again in the 2023/24 UEFA Women’s Champions League, but they will have to overcome history and no shortage of ambitious rivals to reclaim their crown

WORDS Alexandra Jonson

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It is difficult to look beyond Barcelona for favourites to lift the trophy in Bilbao next May. The holders’ squad is packed with world champions, plus some of the best of the rest, and under Jonatan Giráldez they have developed an air of invincibility. Since Giráldez took over as coach in July 2021, his side have lost only a handful of games in all competitions, and just once when it really mattered, against Lyon in the 2022 Women’s Champions League final. Giráldez’s win percentage is well into the 90s, and with Barça scoring around 3.6 goals per game in Europe last term, it will take something extraordinary to halt the juggernaut. 

The contenders

Don’t rule out the chasing pack just yet, however. Only three clubs have defended this crown and the Spanish side aren’t one of them. The growth of the women’s game continues unabated, and as teams improve and more resources are invested, the competition gets tougher. Chelsea have taken giant strides, and with coach Emma Hayes set to depart for the United States at the end of the season, there’s a sense of destiny for the west London side. And then there’s eight-time champions Lyon – for all Barcelona’s recent success, the Catalan club have never beaten them.

German wait

Germany was an early adopter of the women’s game, and for a long time the Bundesflagge was pretty much an ever-present sight at club and international finals. Eight teams have won the Women’s Champions League or UEFA Women’s Cup as it was previously known – half of them German. Yet it is now over eight years since the Frauen-Bundesliga provided a winner, so will the wait end this season? Plenty suggests that’s unlikely: Frankfurt have not graced the competition proper since 2015/16, while Bayern are still in a rebuilding process under Alexander Straus. The German champions are dark horses, though, having strengthened their squad significantly.

On the up

The growth of the women’s game on the pitch and behind the scenes has been matched by rising numbers in the stands. Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history. With more and more teams playing in bigger stadiums and the final set for the 53,000-capacity San Mamés Stadium in football-mad Bilbao, we can anticipate another jump in 2023/24.

Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history.

Transfer talk

Bayern made one of the most significant moves of the summer when signing Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson (below) from Chelsea. Twice named the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, Denmark playmaker Harder is a three-time Champions League runner-up who seems to have hit the ground running in familiar surroundings in Germany. If she is now the attacking fulcrum, Sweden defender Eriksson provides the glue at the back, with Bayern also benefiting from her leadership. Elsewhere, Kadidiatou Diani was another to swap big clubs, arriving at Lyon from great rivals Paris Saint-Germain in a major coup for the garlanded French side.

Bolt from Les Bleus?

Kadidiatou Diani started her career at the third French club in the group stage this season, Paris FC. Returning to continental football for the first time since reaching the semis as FCF Juvisy in 2012/13, few expected much from Sandrine Soubeyrand’s charges. Not until they dispatched Arsenal and last season’s runners-up Wolfsburg in qualifying, that is. They didn’t make the best start to Group D with defeat by Häcken in a match they dominated, but Real Madrid and Chelsea will not relish facing Paris FC given the damage they have already done.

Top scorer race

With Wolfsburg missing out, last season’s top scorer Ewa Pajor will not defend her crown. There are plenty of pretenders to her throne, though. Indeed, there has been a new name at the top of the charts every year since Ada Hegerberg claimed her second scoring title in 2017/18, and several of those previous winners are involved again this term – including Hegerberg herself, Bayern’s Harder, Chelsea’s Fran Kirby and two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Alexia Putellas. Look out too for the likes of Barça stars Aitana Bonmatí, Salma Paralluelo and Caroline Graham Hansen, along with Lyon’s Diani and Chelsea ace Sam Kerr (right).

Back for more

It is difficult to look beyond Barcelona for favourites to lift the trophy in Bilbao next May. The holders’ squad is packed with world champions, plus some of the best of the rest, and under Jonatan Giráldez they have developed an air of invincibility. Since Giráldez took over as coach in July 2021, his side have lost only a handful of games in all competitions, and just once when it really mattered, against Lyon in the 2022 Women’s Champions League final. Giráldez’s win percentage is well into the 90s, and with Barça scoring around 3.6 goals per game in Europe last term, it will take something extraordinary to halt the juggernaut. 

The contenders

Don’t rule out the chasing pack just yet, however. Only three clubs have defended this crown and the Spanish side aren’t one of them. The growth of the women’s game continues unabated, and as teams improve and more resources are invested, the competition gets tougher. Chelsea have taken giant strides, and with coach Emma Hayes set to depart for the United States at the end of the season, there’s a sense of destiny for the west London side. And then there’s eight-time champions Lyon – for all Barcelona’s recent success, the Catalan club have never beaten them.

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German wait

Germany was an early adopter of the women’s game, and for a long time the Bundesflagge was pretty much an ever-present sight at club and international finals. Eight teams have won the Women’s Champions League or UEFA Women’s Cup as it was previously known – half of them German. Yet it is now over eight years since the Frauen-Bundesliga provided a winner, so will the wait end this season? Plenty suggests that’s unlikely: Frankfurt have not graced the competition proper since 2015/16, while Bayern are still in a rebuilding process under Alexander Straus. The German champions are dark horses, though, having strengthened their squad significantly.

On the up

The growth of the women’s game on the pitch and behind the scenes has been matched by rising numbers in the stands. Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history. With more and more teams playing in bigger stadiums and the final set for the 53,000-capacity San Mamés Stadium in football-mad Bilbao, we can anticipate another jump in 2023/24.

Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history.

Transfer talk

Bayern made one of the most significant moves of the summer when signing Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson (below) from Chelsea. Twice named the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, Denmark playmaker Harder is a three-time Champions League runner-up who seems to have hit the ground running in familiar surroundings in Germany. If she is now the attacking fulcrum, Sweden defender Eriksson provides the glue at the back, with Bayern also benefiting from her leadership. Elsewhere, Kadidiatou Diani was another to swap big clubs, arriving at Lyon from great rivals Paris Saint-Germain in a major coup for the garlanded French side.

Bolt from Les Bleus?

Kadidiatou Diani started her career at the third French club in the group stage this season, Paris FC. Returning to continental football for the first time since reaching the semis as FCF Juvisy in 2012/13, few expected much from Sandrine Soubeyrand’s charges. Not until they dispatched Arsenal and last season’s runners-up Wolfsburg in qualifying, that is. They didn’t make the best start to Group D with defeat by Häcken in a match they dominated, but Real Madrid and Chelsea will not relish facing Paris FC given the damage they have already done.

Top scorer race

With Wolfsburg missing out, last season’s top scorer Ewa Pajor will not defend her crown. There are plenty of pretenders to her throne, though. Indeed, there has been a new name at the top of the charts every year since Ada Hegerberg claimed her second scoring title in 2017/18, and several of those previous winners are involved again this term – including Hegerberg herself, Bayern’s Harder, Chelsea’s Fran Kirby and two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Alexia Putellas. Look out too for the likes of Barça stars Aitana Bonmatí, Salma Paralluelo and Caroline Graham Hansen, along with Lyon’s Diani and Chelsea ace Sam Kerr (right).

Back for more

It is difficult to look beyond Barcelona for favourites to lift the trophy in Bilbao next May. The holders’ squad is packed with world champions, plus some of the best of the rest, and under Jonatan Giráldez they have developed an air of invincibility. Since Giráldez took over as coach in July 2021, his side have lost only a handful of games in all competitions, and just once when it really mattered, against Lyon in the 2022 Women’s Champions League final. Giráldez’s win percentage is well into the 90s, and with Barça scoring around 3.6 goals per game in Europe last term, it will take something extraordinary to halt the juggernaut. 

The contenders

Don’t rule out the chasing pack just yet, however. Only three clubs have defended this crown and the Spanish side aren’t one of them. The growth of the women’s game continues unabated, and as teams improve and more resources are invested, the competition gets tougher. Chelsea have taken giant strides, and with coach Emma Hayes set to depart for the United States at the end of the season, there’s a sense of destiny for the west London side. And then there’s eight-time champions Lyon – for all Barcelona’s recent success, the Catalan club have never beaten them.

German wait

Germany was an early adopter of the women’s game, and for a long time the Bundesflagge was pretty much an ever-present sight at club and international finals. Eight teams have won the Women’s Champions League or UEFA Women’s Cup as it was previously known – half of them German. Yet it is now over eight years since the Frauen-Bundesliga provided a winner, so will the wait end this season? Plenty suggests that’s unlikely: Frankfurt have not graced the competition proper since 2015/16, while Bayern are still in a rebuilding process under Alexander Straus. The German champions are dark horses, though, having strengthened their squad significantly.

On the up

The growth of the women’s game on the pitch and behind the scenes has been matched by rising numbers in the stands. Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history. With more and more teams playing in bigger stadiums and the final set for the 53,000-capacity San Mamés Stadium in football-mad Bilbao, we can anticipate another jump in 2023/24.

Last season, attendance records were smashed, with an average of 11,100 per match and six of the top ten crowds in competition history.

Transfer talk

Bayern made one of the most significant moves of the summer when signing Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson (below) from Chelsea. Twice named the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, Denmark playmaker Harder is a three-time Champions League runner-up who seems to have hit the ground running in familiar surroundings in Germany. If she is now the attacking fulcrum, Sweden defender Eriksson provides the glue at the back, with Bayern also benefiting from her leadership. Elsewhere, Kadidiatou Diani was another to swap big clubs, arriving at Lyon from great rivals Paris Saint-Germain in a major coup for the garlanded French side.

Bolt from Les Bleus?

Kadidiatou Diani started her career at the third French club in the group stage this season, Paris FC. Returning to continental football for the first time since reaching the semis as FCF Juvisy in 2012/13, few expected much from Sandrine Soubeyrand’s charges. Not until they dispatched Arsenal and last season’s runners-up Wolfsburg in qualifying, that is. They didn’t make the best start to Group D with defeat by Häcken in a match they dominated, but Real Madrid and Chelsea will not relish facing Paris FC given the damage they have already done.

Top scorer race

With Wolfsburg missing out, last season’s top scorer Ewa Pajor will not defend her crown. There are plenty of pretenders to her throne, though. Indeed, there has been a new name at the top of the charts every year since Ada Hegerberg claimed her second scoring title in 2017/18, and several of those previous winners are involved again this term – including Hegerberg herself, Bayern’s Harder, Chelsea’s Fran Kirby and two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Alexia Putellas. Look out too for the likes of Barça stars Aitana Bonmatí, Salma Paralluelo and Caroline Graham Hansen, along with Lyon’s Diani and Chelsea ace Sam Kerr (right).

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