UEFA Women's Champions League 2021: Magisterial Barcelona crush Arsenal in supreme start to defence of their crown
Barcelona produced an outstanding performance to again sweep aside English opposition in an onimous pronouncement intent on the first night of UWCL group stage action. Elsewhere, there was a long-awaited return for Ada Hegerberg as contenders Lyon also won convincingly, while Hoffenheim displayed their credentials, too.
Mariona Caldentey of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Women's Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal WFC at Estadi Johan Cruyff on October 05, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain.
As you were. The UEFA Women's Champions League may have a new look but Barcelona began the defence of their crown with a familiar display of dominance, dismissing Arsenal with a performance of magisterial magnificence.
Just as in last season's final in May, Barcelona produced a supreme showing against out-matched England opposition, Jonas Eidevall's side comprehensively beaten 4-1 at the Johan Cruyff Stadium.
The competition has been revamped this year with the introduction of a proper group stage to the women's top-tier continental competition for the first time.
There had been change at the Catalan club, too. Jonatan Geraldez succeeded Lluis Cortes this summer at Barcelona having assisted his predecessor as the club won the treble in 2020-21, but any thoughts that they may affect the continental candidacy of the Spanish giants were swiftly put aside.
A dominant half-hour saw chances come regularly as the hosts harried and hustled Arsenal with a high press, proving able to unpick the deep-set visiting defence with typically delightful attacking interplay.
Where an open Chelsea had opened the door and put down a welcome mat in a decisive first half of the final in May, Arsenal initially appeared prepared to be more resolute, yet struggled to cope with Barcelona's ball movement and pressing.
Indeed the only surprise was that it took those 30 minutes for an opener to come.
A powerful drive from Asisat Oshoala was parried by Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger lunging to her right, and Mariona Caldentey followed in well to snaffle the leftovers and put her side one ahead.
Oshoala did appear to have been an offside position in the build-up, but with no VAR in use there was no recourse to check.
The Nigerian played a major role in the second, too, this time timing her dart wonderfully from an inside right position to get to the byline.
Drawing Zinsberger from her line, Oshoala's cut-back left captain Alexia Putellas with a simple finish between the retreating Arsenal bodies to double her side's advantage.
In all the Spanish side produced 18 shots in a half of authoritative magnificence, with Arsenal almost entirely unable to involve their potent frontline.
The third arrived soon after the players returned from half-time, Oshoala again pouncing on an ill-sprung offside trap from the visitors and coolly slotting home against her former club.
That goal perhaps caused Barcelona to ease off, and Arsenal belatedly grew into the game in the second 45 minutes, with Nikita Parris impressive from the bench.
Eidevall also showed his nous with a number of tactical tweaks to trouble a Barcelona side in cruise control, and a consolation was found.
20 minutes from time a deliciously whipped free-kick from Tobin Heath arced into the path of Frida Maanum, who unconventionally directed the ball in with her hip.
It was to be but a blip, though, as Arsenal again were caught with their line high.
Substitute Lieke Martens latched on to the forwards loft and lifted a nice finish over Zinsberger.
Zinsberger salvaged a degree of pride when, having plucked the ball from the deeper reaches of her net on four occasions, she saved Putellas' spot-kick in stoppage time after
The result had long been beyond doubt, though, as Barcelona produced a resounding return and an opening pronouncement of ominous intent.
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In Group C's other fixture, Hoffenheim got their campaign off to an excellent start against HB Køge of Denmark.
Belgium's Tine de Caigny scored twice in the second half to help the German side to a resounding 5-0 home victory.
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Seven-time champions Lyon welcomed back Norwegian superstar Ada Hegerberg during their 3-0 win over BK Hacken FF.
Lyon's Ada Hegerberg (L) enters the pitch during the UEFA Women's Champions League Group D playoff football match between BK Haecken and Olympique Lyonnais at Bravida Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden, on October 5, 2021.
Image credit: Getty Images
Hegerberg, the inaugural winner of the Women's Ballon d'Or in 2018, made her playing return after nearly two years out after suffering an ACL injury.
Two goals soon after the half-time interval ensured the game was out of sight before Hegerberg's introduction 12 minutes from time, with the Norwegian not required to add to her record goals tally in the Champions League.
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Portuguese champions Benfica held German champions Bayern Munich at home in Group D's second fixture on the opening night of UWCL action.
The visitors struck the bar through Lea Schuller late on but could not find an opening despite dominating possession and having the clearer chances in Lisbon.