UEFA Women’s Champions League final Barcelona vs Wolfsburg: Get the lowdown
Two former UEFA Women’s Champions League winners face off when Barcelona play Wolfsburg in the 2023 final at 16:00 CET on Saturday 3 June at Eindhoven’s PSV Stadium.
We pick out some themes to watch.
Barcelona aim to resume dominance
Barcelona go into the final as many people’s favourites, after a spectacular run backed by huge crowds at the Camp Nou, while strolling to another Spanish title. Words that could have applied just as much last year, when Barcelona’s reign as European champions was ended by a 3-1 loss to Lyon in the Turin final.
That match was a very rare blip for Barcelona over the last three seasons, and their 2022/23 Champions League run to the decider is almost a replica of their progress in 2021/22, scoring 37 goals in ten matches and suffering only a single defeat, in Germany: to Wolfsburg in the semi-final second leg last year, at Bayern in the group stage this term.
All of Barcelona’s goals this season
They did that without the 2021/22 UEFA Women’s Champions League player of the season (among many other awards), Alexia Putellas, but even she is now back from injury. With the likes of Aitana Bonmatí, Asisat Oshoala and Caroline Graham Hansen performing as well as ever, with Geyse and Salma Paralluelo adding to the mix, plus Lucy Bronze and Fridolina Rolfö surging up the flanks, it is hard to resist Barcelona and the club that came closest over two games, Chelsea, found their chances of causing damage at the other end extremely limited.
The Blaugrana seem to have been on a mission to show that one bad night in Turin would not stop them being the dominant European club of the 2020s and they clearly have no desire to let up against the outfit that came closest to challenging Lyon’s status in the 2010s.
Barcelona vs Wolfsburg: previous meetings
2021/22 semi-finals: Barcelona 5-3agg Wolfsburg (first leg 5-1, second leg 0-2)
2019/20 semi-finals: Wolfsburg 1-0 Barcelona (one-off match, San Sebastián)
2013/14 quarter-finals: Wolfsburg 5-0agg Barcelona (first leg 3-0, second leg 2-0)
The first leg of the 2021/22 semi-final was watched by a world-record 91,648 fans at the Camp Nou.
First named team at home in opening game of two-legged ties
Wolfsburg under the radar
Wolfsburg are into their sixth final just a decade after reaching their first, but somehow they seem to be eclipsed in the conversation about Europe’s elite compared to Barcelona, Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. That is particularly odd considering Wolfsburg have reached at least the last eight in 11 straight seasons, something not even Lyon or Barcelona (or anyone else) have done. Domestically they have won enough to take records long held by the mighty Frankfurt, Wolfsburg moving one ahead in terms of German Cup wins by claiming their tenth overall and ninth in a row.
All of Wolfsburg’s goals this season
They may have found stars lured away in recent years, such as Graham Hansen to Barcelona or Pernille Harder to Chelsea, but the world-class talent still abounds, like Lena Oberdorf, Svenja Huth, current competition top scorer Ewa Pajor and the evergreen Alex Popp. They also have a strong Dutch connection in Lynn Wilms, Dominique Janssen and Jill Roord, while coach Tommy Stroot bowed out from his previous job at Twente by celebrating a league title win at PSV Stadium.
In the autumn, driven by the goals of Pajor (who in between spells of serious injury has scored freely throughout her career), Wolfsburg were looking real contenders to end Germany’s eight-year for a tenth title in this competition. Some rare domestic defeats raised doubts, but their determined eliminations of Paris and Arsenal to make it to Eindhoven dispelled those.
Wolfsburg won the title in each of their first two European campaigns, in 2012/13 and 2013/14, but have none since, making the finals in 2016, 2018 and 2020 only for Lyon to stand in the way each time. Now for only the second time OL are not their final opponents, and Wolfsburg can dream of a repeat of what happened when they face the other, an incredible 4-3 win in Lisbon against Tyresö.
2022 semi-final first-leg highlights: Barcelona 5-1 Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg fully deserved their victories against Paris and Arsenal, but perhaps fans of those clubs might wonder what would have happened had Marie-Antoinette Katoto or Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema been available. Barcelona have no such key absentees now Alexia is back, and they have proved to have had more than enough options even without her (alongside the unused Putellas on the bench in the second leg against Chelsea were Paralluelo, Geyse and Claudia Pina).
So can Wolfsburg become only the third side to stop Barcelona from scoring since Atlético on 25 January 2020? As it happens, Wolfsburg were the other two, both in Champions League semi-finals, the one-off 1-0 win three years ago in San Sebastián and the 2-0 second-leg home success last season.
2022 semi-final second-leg highlights: Wolfsburg 2-0 Barcelona
All of the back four that denied Barcelona last April – Lynn Wilms, Kathrin Hendrich, Dominique Janssen and Felicitas Rauch – could start again in Eindhoven, in front of goalkeeper Merle Frohms, an unused substitute in the 2014 final but re-signed from Frankfurt in 2022. Oberdorf holding the midfield will also have an important job as Barcelona come forward in numbers as the distribution of her and Roord will be crucial in Wolfsburg making the most of their possession.
Breaking down a Barcelona defence marshalled by Mapi León and Irene Paredes will be no easier, and it is here that the guile and experience of Huth will be invaluable alongside Popp, part of both Wolfsburg’s previous triumphed and even that of Duisburg in 2008/09.
Last year Lyon made sure Barcelona’s full-backs had their hands too full in defence to surge forward and for that Huth and speedy Icelandic youngster Sveindís Jónsdóttir will have an important job. Then again, if Graham Hansen is in the sort of mood she was against Chelsea in the semis (and indeed the 2021 final), it could be a long night for her former club.
2020 semi-final highlights: Wolfsburg 1-0 Barcelona