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2022/23 UEFA Women's Champions League technical report overview: High pressing and speed queens

The 2022/23 UEFA Women's Champions League proved another fascinating campaign as Barcelona won their second title.


The 2022/23 UEFA Women's Champions League was another thrilling campaign, which ended with Barcelona beating Wolfsburg 3-2 in a classic encounter in Eindhoven as the Catalan giants won their second title.

UEFA's technical observers have picked out some of the most interesting findings from the season, including analysing the fastest players, the effectiveness of high pressing against a low block and Aitana Bonmatí's outstanding performances.

Full technical report

1) 3.5 goals per game

The 211 goals at 3.46 per game represented a marginal downturn (4%) on the previous season. The group stage yielded 177 and the 13 knockout games a further 34, even though the first legs of the quarter-finals all ended with a 1-0 scoreline, three of them in favour of the away team.

Barcelona's impressive figures of 25 attempts per game on average and 3.6 goals put the champions well ahead of the field in terms of attacking potential. Interestingly, Roma (18.8 attempts), Lyon (18.6) and Wolfsburg (18) were their closest rivals, yet Lyon's shot conversion rate was surpassed by all the knockout teams and six of the group fallers. Only Slavia Praha and Zürich posted lower averages than the defending champions' 8%.

The percentage of headers among goal attempts offers an indication of playing styles. Wolfsburg, playing to the aerial strengths of Alex Popp (33% of her attempts were headers) and Ewa Pajor (38%), topped the team rankings with 27%. They were ahead of Lyon, whose frequent use of far-post crossing meant that 25% of their finishing was with the head (as were 41% of the attempts by striker Melvine Malard), while Chelsea's supply to Sam Kerr was influential in their high average of 23%.

The remainder of the knockout teams ranged between Arsenal's 15% and Barcelona's 19% while the group fallers generally produced lower figures – notably Benfica, whose preference for low deliveries from wide areas meant that only 6% of their finishing was with the head.

2) High pressing v low blocks

Women's Champions League top ten goals of the season

"Defending in the opposition half with high collective pressing made a clear impact," the technical observers commented, "with many teams more courageous in holding high lines than in the previous season." During the group stage, 23% of the 130 open-play goals resulted from moves of five passes or fewer, with multiple examples of regains near the opponents' penalty area followed by one or two passes prior to the finishing touch.

Arsenal, cited as a "high-level counter-pressing team", scored three times after collective work had secured regains – two in the mid-third, one in the final third – during their 5-1 victory against the defending champions in Lyon, a result which sent shockwaves across the continent. "Lyon trusted their 1v1 abilities to the extent that they left spaces," the technical observers remarked. After one point from two games, Sonia Bompastor rectified this facet, allowing her team to qualify via four successive clean sheets.

High scores punctuated a group stage that yielded 177 goals, emphasising that teams, maybe dominant in their domestic leagues, require well-structured defensive strategies when they take on Europe's elite. Top sides often struggled to pierce well-organised mid-to-low defensive blocks. Bayern München's 2-1 home win against Rosengård was mentioned by technical observers as a case in point. Renée Slegers' 4-5-1 set-up allowed the visitors' midfield to obstruct passing lines to the front and restricted Bayern's opportunities to play between the lines.

Although the hosts had 69% of possession and overall control, Slegers commented: "Our organisation in defence was very good. We closed down the spaces they wanted to get into and we didn't over-commit." Even though 39% of open-play goals were scored against structured low or mid blocks, the Swedish team highlighted the value of collective discipline and hard work when implementing defence in a compact low block.

3) Transitions to attack

Women's Champions League assists of the season

Being careful about over-committing when pushing forward emerged as a factor when lower-ranked teams took on elite opponents. The combination of high pressing and low defensive blocks sometimes left the attacking side short of space for penetration after high regains.

During the group stage, only 11% of open-play goals could be clearly attributed to classic counterattacks. Debutants Roma illustrated the point during the 3-0 win over Slavia Praha that clinched their place in the knockout rounds. Despite a 61% share of the ball, Alessandro Spugna's charges failed to make a breakthrough until they delivered a successful counterattack following a regain when defending their own penalty box – a facet of the game they would later try to exploit in their quarter-final against Barcelona. In some matches, the observers remarked, it was evident that the stronger teams were intentionally beckoning their opponents forward to secure space for a fast counter.

4) Speed queens

The season demonstrated that benchmarks are being consolidated at the peak of club football, underlining the relevance of pace and stamina in job descriptions all around the team. Six of the previous season's top ten in terms of sprint speeds maintained their positions in 2022/23, but the emphasis on pace in the wide areas was slightly watered down. Attacking spearheads Ewa Pajor and Kadidiatou Diani were joined by two Barcelona signings: Brazilian attacker Geyse and Salma Paralluelo, a 19-year-old sprinter who parked a career in athletics to accelerate a career in football.

Even though some of the names remained the same, the wide players took on a slightly different complexion. Delphine Cascarino, for example, worked inner channels in the Lyon attack, creating space for right-back Ellie Carpenter to become the protagonist along the touchline. Wolfsburg's Sveindís Jónsdóttir, as she demonstrated in the final, operated in more of a box-to-box role than as an outright winger.

Dealing with pace in attack requires pace in defence – as demonstrated by the presence on the list of Wolfsburg centre-back Kathrin Hendrich. For the second successive season, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Laurina Fazer also topped 30km/h during her box-to-box duties, which included activity in the team's high press.

The top speed of the season, however, belonged to Barcelona right-winger Caroline Graham Hansen who clocked in at 32.4km/h during the home leg of the quarter-final against Roma. "She is a player of high value," commented Joe Montemurro after watching her decisive contribution in the semi-final against Chelsea. "She has pace and quality and something proactive is going to happen when she receives the ball wide or in the channel between full-back and centre-back. Whether running with the ball or playing neat combinations in and around the box, she is a constant threat."

5) Player of the Season: Aitana Bonmatí

Women's Champions League Player of the Season: Aitana Bonmatí

The Barcelona midfielder's five goals and eight assists added up to a goal-contribution greater than any other player in the competition. But there was more to Aitana Bonmatí than that. UEFA technical observer Gemma Grainger, watching her in action in the semi-final first leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, saw her "dictating the tempo, demanding the ball to ensure Barcelona dominated possession and, with a strong interchanging understanding between the two players, linking very well with Mariona Caldentey".

Joe Montemurro, technical observer for the return match at the Camp Nou, added: "She worked selflessly to regain the ball and make things happen proactively. Her influence when Barcelona are in possession and her positioning off the ball were a delight to watch."

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