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UEFA Women's Champions League Final Preview (Part 1): The Wolfsburg Juggernaut

VfL Wolfsburg have history with Lyon and have lost to them in the UEFA Women’s Champions League every year for the past four seasons. This year’s fixture is also a repeat of 2016 and 2018. But the German club goes in bolstered by a full season of matches under the belt and a squad bursting with confidence.
Pernille Harder of Vfl Wolfsburg

Pernille Harder (centre) is the first player since Marta in 08-09 to score four goals in the quarterfinals, when she single handedly demolished Glasgow City last week.

Of the two finalists of this year’s UEFA Women’s Champions League, VfL Wolfsburg will be considered the ‘surprise entry’. Their opponents after all are the defending champions, a team that has won this competition four times in a row. But saying so will also negate all the good work the German team have done this season, and will erase the fact that they have been at this stage for every alternate year since 2016. It’s just that they haven’t won it. 

This is in many ways the big European rivalry of the women’s game. The golden standard for everyone else to follow. 

The Story So Far

Wolfsburg won their fifth league title in a row earlier this year, to add to the German Cup, and have been, by far the best team in their own country for a while now. While all other women’s football leagues were cancelled because of the pandemic, the Frauen-Bundesliga took a short break and returned to complete theirs, giving them valuable game time — something that gives the club an edge in the final. 

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Wolfsburg have been imperious in this edition of the competition, beating the Kosovo club KFF Mitrovica in the round of 32, (aggregate score 15-0) and FC Twente in the round of 16 (aggregate score 7-0). In fact the first goal they conceded in this competition came at the hands of Glasgow City in the quarterfinals, in a fixture they won 9-1! Their balance sheet for the Champions League this season is ridiculous to read. Goals scored: 32, goals conceded: 1. 

Player to Watch

Pernille Harder, the 2018 UEFA Women’s player of the year is one of the standout players not just at Wolfsburg but perhaps also in the world. The 27 year old has been at Wolfsburg for three years now and the numbers speak for themselves. She has played 111 games for the club and scored 101 goals. 

But goalscoring is far from her only asset. Harder plays in the hole behind the striker and her ability to link play, read the game and always remain at the fulcrum of Wolfburg’s attacks is unparalleled. It affords their manager Stephan Lerch a tactical flexibility that is rare in the women’s game. 

Off the pitch Harder is arguably even more inspirational, always vocal about LGBTQ+ issues, equal rights and racism. She may not be the mainstream figure that Megan Rapinoe is, but Harder’s stock is rising. Proven by the fact that 24 hours before she plays the biggest game of her season, she has, apparently signed with Chelsea — a move that benefits the English club hugely. 

Tactical Lines

Wolfsburg play a fluid 4-4-2, which morphs into a single striker system if Harder drops deep and press hard across the pitch. They aren’t hugely dominant on the ball, but are superb on the counter, as Barcelona Femeni discovered to their peril. Midfielders Ingrid Engen and Alexandra Popp control the strings in their midfield, and with Dominique Janssen, a ball playing defender (converted from a midfielder) at the back is a very well rounded unit. Friederike Abt will get the nod in goal, her heroics in goal a big reason they managed to put away Barcelona in the semis. 

Previously in This Fixture

The first time the duo played each other, in Wolfsburg’s debut Champions League season in 2013, they won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the final — their first and only title in Europe. Since then though Lyon have dominated the fixture, beating them at some stage or another over the past four seasons — epic finals in 2016 and ‘18; quarter finals in ‘17 and ‘19.

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