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UEFA Women's Champions League: Tactical trends of the 2021/22 season

The UEFA Technical Observers' review of the 2021/22 UEFA Women's Champions League season highlights areas like high pressing and full-back deployment.

Lyon celebrate their opener in the final, scored after dispossessing Barcelona in their final third
Lyon celebrate their opener in the final, scored after dispossessing Barcelona in their final third UEFA via Getty Images

The UEFA Technical Observers attending every 2021/22 UEFA Women's Champions League knockout game have shared their thoughts on rising trends in the competition in the annual Technical Report.

UEFA.com picks out some of the key conclusions.

Read the full Technical Report

Press for success

This was the first UEFA Women's Champions League season with a full group stage and the Technical Observer team were keen to highlight how else the competition had developed. In 2018 the report noted how few teams successfully operated a high press but all that has changed in the space of four years.

Passes per defensive action by club
Passes per defensive action by clubUEFA

Five clubs – Chelsea, Barcelona, Lyon, Bayern München and Real Madrid – allowed opponents 10.0 or fewer passes per defensive action before regaining the ball, perhaps linked to the rapid rise in athletic conditioning, with a 10% rise in high-intensity running (sprints of over 23km/h) in possession between 2020 and 2021, and a 30% increase out of possession.

The two most effective teams in this account were Lyon and Barcelona, who both scored nine goals over the season from ball recoveries in their attacking third. They of course reached the final and in he notes on that game, Republic of Ireland coach Vera Pauw noted: "Lyon tackled and battled for the ball with a high forward press and made immediate transitions to attack after winning possession. It resulted in Barcelona not being able to start the game in the way they would have wanted."

Goals scored from ball recoveries in  attacking third by club
Goals scored from ball recoveries in attacking third by clubUEFA

Possession not a high % of the law

Perhaps because of this, dominating possession did not necessarily equal overwhelming superiority. Some teams that struggled in the group stage did indeed see little of the ball: HB Køge had 24% possession for their zero Group C points, having to resort to long hopeful passes in games where they were dominated with more than a third against Barcelona being over 32m.

On the other hand, Lyon showed what could be done with patience and well-timed counter. Barcelona's 61% possession in the final might have been their lowest of the season but is still a significant share in a game they lost 3-1. In fact, Lyon's 39% was 1% higher that in the second leg of their semi-final at Paris Saint-Germain, a 2-1 victory.

Their 51.4% overall possession for the season only ranked eighth, below all but one other club that made the quarter-finals. But Lyon's ability to win the ball in the opponents' third, as Barcelona discovered, was a potent weapon, coach Jonatan Giráldez admitted his team were "confused" esrly in the final as the soon-to-be eight-time champions pressed the Blaugrana trademark possession play.

Final highlights: Barcelona 1-3 Lyon

Back to full-backs

In 2020/21, the Technical Observers noted that full-backs were overlapping much less than in previous seasons and that trend continued. None of the quarter-finalists played with wing-backs, preferring four in defence. And full-backs tended to support wingers rather than get in front of the ball themselves.

Such combinations included for Lyon, Ellie Carpenter and Delphine Cascarino on the right, and Selma Bacha and Melvine Malard on the left with Paris's similar partnerships of Ashley Lawrence-Kadidiatou Diani and Sakina Karchaoui-Sandy Baltimore. Pace is crucial, as is understanding, and full-backs also take different approaches when they do attack, with Bacha hugging the touchline to deliver crosses and Barcelona's Marta Torrejón liking to cut inside to central scoring positions.

Meanwhile, Madrid and Juventus used their full-backs conservatively, covering for speedy wingers, further underlining how varied the role can be and the way in which different individual qualities influence coaches' tactical plans. Finland Under-23 coach, Jarmo Matikainen said: "Full-backs are steadily becoming better in terms of aerobic qualities, technique and strength."

Read the full Technical Report