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UEFA Women's Champions League: players to watch

We pick out a star from each of the 16 teams who could shine in the group stage.

UEFA

Some of the game's biggest established stars as well as several freshly-minted talents will be on show when the new UEFA Women's Champions League group stage kicks off on 5 and 6 October.

We profile a key player from each of the 16 clubs:

Group A

(2020/21 stats)

Chelsea (ENG) – Fran Kirby (forward)

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Chelsea reached their first European final and swept all before them in England last season, spearheaded by a dream attacking line-up of Kirby, Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder. Kerr and Harder were high-profile signings in 2020 but Kirby’s 2015 addition really signalled Chelsea’s arrival on the top stage and the goals – and assists – have continued to flow from the irrepressible and speedy attacker. Her form last term was even more special as it came on her return from a long absence caused by illness.

UWCL career stats: Played 29 Goals 17 (all Chelsea)

Wolfsburg (GER) – Svenja Huth (midfielder)

A winner with Frankfurt in 2015, as well as multiple major honours for Germany, winger Huth joined Wolfsburg from Potsdam in 2019, her pace and creativity means she usually features high in asisst counts. Has proved an attacking stalwart in a period when Wolfsburg have had more than their share of injuries

UWCL career stats: Played 31 Goals 1 (Frankfurt 19, 0; Wolfsburg 12, 1)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 2 Goals 0

Juventus (ITA) – Sara Gama (defender)

Women's Champions League group stage contenders
Women's Champions League group stage contenders

The Juve captain begins the campaign with the dream of lifting the trophy at her club’s men’s home stadium next May. Gama was a key signing when the Turin team entered women’s football in 2017; this commanding, charismatic and experienced centre-back also captains her country (having played for Italy since 2006) and last year she became the first female vice-president of the Italian Footballers’ Association. One of many ways she has blazed a trail on and off the pitch.

UWCL career stats: Played 20 Goals 1 (Paris Saint-Germain 1, 0; Brescia 10, 1; Juventus 9, 0)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 3 Goals 0

Servette FCCF (SUI) – Sandy Maendly (midfielder)

Servette are a relatively new name in Europe, making their UEFA debut last season and then clinching their first Swiss league title. Geneva-born Swiss international Maendly actually began her career between 2004 and 2006 with Chênois, who became Servette in 2017; the following year she rejoined them a few months before they were promoted to the top flight. Her experience is invaluable – she was a European quarter-finalist with Italy’s Torres a decade ago – and it was the local hero whose goal at Glasgow City clinched a group spot.

UWCL career stats: Played 24 Goals 4 (Torres 9, 2; Verona 3, 0; Servette FCCF 6, 1)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 1

Group B

Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) – Marie-Antoinette Katoto (forward)

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Katoto has been at Paris since she was 12 and a decade later she is one of the most feared forwards in world football – speedy, strong and deadly in front of goal. She has compiled a consistent goalscoring record in Europe and also struck in the 1-0 league defeat of Lyon last November that signalled that Paris were finally able to eclipse their rivals both at home and in UEFA competition.

UWCL stats: Played 21 Goals 14 (all Paris)

Breidablik (ISL) – Agla María Albertsdóttir (midfielder)

Albertsdóttir was 15 when she made her Icelandic top-level debut with Valur but after a spell with Stjarnan – which included her UEFA competition debut – she returned to her very first club Breidablik in 2018. She has played a crucial role in their success since, not least getting to this historic group stage – as the first Iceland club, male or female, to achieve such a feat – and consistently she is the player that makes them tick as well as scoring her fair share of goals.

UWCL career stats: Played 16 Goals 9 (Stjarnan 6, 1; Breidablik 10, 8)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 6

Real Madrid (ESP) – Kenti Robles (defender)

New Women’s Champions League format explained
New Women’s Champions League format explained

In their first season after becoming Real Madrid, the club finished second in Spain, earning this European debut in which they've already beaten Man. City to the group stage. Mexico right-back Robles has been a key figure, not just defensively and marauding down the wing but scoring the late first-leg equaliser to keep Madrid alive in the tie. It was her second European goal – the first was also a late home equaliser against City, for former club Atlético in their similarly impressive round of 32 success two years ago. Her cross-city switch in 2020 proved pivotal to the rebranded CD Tacón flourishing in their new guise.

UWCL career stats: Played 15 Goals 2 (Barcelona 2, 1; Atlético 11, 1; Real Madrid 2, 1)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 2 Goals 1

WFC Kharkiv (UKR) – Daryna Apanashchenko (forward)

Kharkiv are a new name among the last 16 of UEFA women’s club competition, under any format, but in Apanashchenko they have somebody who is hardly a novice. She played in the very first UEFA Women’s Cup in 2001/02 for Legenda Chernigov and scored crucial last-four goals to take Russia’s Zvezda-2005 to the final in 2008/09, where she struck in the second leg against Duisburg. She joined Kharkiv in 2018 after 14 years in Russia and has been named the best Ukrainian player six years running.

UWCL career stats: Played 50 Goals 23 (Legendia Chernigiv 4, 1; Energy Voronezh 8,4; Zvezda-2005 26, 11; WFC Kharkiv 12, 7)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 0

Group C

Barcelona (ESP, holders) – Alexia Putellas (midfielder)

Women's 2020/21 Player of the Year - Alexia Putellas
Women's 2020/21 Player of the Year - Alexia Putellas

A left-sided midfielder blessed with creativity, athleticism and an eye for goal, Putellas sealed her reputation in 2021 when she lifted the UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy as Barcelona captain and was honoured as UEFA Women’s Player of the Year. She goes into the group stage having signed a new long-term contract.

UWCL career stats: Played 52 Goals 8 (all Barcelona)

Arsenal (ENG) – Vivianne Miedema (forward)

Fresh from her record-breaking 12 Olympic goals for the Netherlands, Miedema hit a hat-trick in Arsenal’s round 2 second leg against Slavia Praha to move to 100 goals in 104 Gunners appearances – the week before, she had moved past 20 in Europe from just 15 UEFA club competition outings. Raw numbers tell part of the story of a player with more than 300 competitive goals to her name at the age of 25; however, the spearhead of the Dutch Women’s EURO 2017 triumph also makes goals and can destroy opponents with her athleticism and verve. Arsenal’s path to a possible second European title, 15 years after the first, goes through Miedema.

UWCL career stats: Played 17 Goals 23 (Bayern 8, 8; Arsenal 9, 15)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 5

Hoffenheim (GER) – Nicole Billa (forward)

Austria forward Billa moved to Hoffenheim in 2015, when they were newly-established in the Bundesliga, but last season they finished among the top three for a second straight year, booking a European debut under the new format. Billa was central to that as, having bagged 18 league goals in 2019/20, she managed 23 in 21 Bundesliga games last term, six more than any other player. Voted the league’s player of the year, her development has mirrored that of Hoffenheim. She is able to score a variety of goals and seems a nightmare to mark.

UWCL career stats: Played 6 Goals 3 (St. Pölten 2, 2; Hoffenheim 4, 1)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 1

HB Køge (DEN) – Maddie Pokorny (forward)

Pokorny left Chicago Red Stars for US-linked HB Køge in 2020 and became a vital component firstly in their promotion and then in the club's maiden Danish title which broke the two-decade duopoly of Brøndby and Fortuna Hjørring. Pokorny created goals in both legs of the tie against Sparta Praha that earned the European debutants a group berth. The versatile attacker can also operate in midfield.

UWCL career stats: Played 2 Goals 0 (all HB Køge)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 2 Goals 0

Group D

Bayern München (GER) – Saki Kumagai (defender/midfielder)

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Last season marked a breakthrough for Bayern as they took the German title from Wolfsburg and got to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semis, but there is still a step to take. The summer arrival of Kumagai from Lyon may help them take it. The Japan captain has slotted winning penalties in both FIFA Women’s World Cup and Women’s Champions League finals (she won five in a row with OL) and, though better known as a midfielder, she shows prowess in a central defensive role for Bayern.

UWCL career stats: Played 62 Goals 8 (Frankfurt 8, 0; Lyon 54, 8)

Lyon (FRA) – Christiane Endler (goalkeeper)

Their five-year European reign ended by Paris in last spring's quarter-finals, Lyon have made changes; signings include Daniëlle van de Donk and Signe Bruun while out on loan for the entire group stage are Dzsenifer Marozsán, Eugénie Le Sommer and Sarah Bouhaddi. Taking over in goal (and indeed the No16 shirt) from seven-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner Bouhaddi is the keeper that helped Paris to huge success last term, Endler. Many rate the Chile No1 as the world’s best and her display in the recent 3-2 defeat of Barcelona in an American tournament underlined that.

UWCL career stats: Played 18 Clean sheets 6 Goals conceded 15 (Paris 16, 6, 13; Lyon 2, 0, 2)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 2 Clean sheets 0 Goals conceded 2

Häcken (SWE) – Stina Blackstenius (forward)

Women's Champions League to revolutionise game
Women's Champions League to revolutionise game

Considering Blackstenius has been contributing goals consistently for Linköping, Montpellier and Häcken (formerly Göteborg) since 2013, it’s as well to remember she is still only 25. The star of Sweden’s 2015 U19 Women’s EURO triumph and a scorer in the last two Olympic finals – Blackstenius struck against the US, Australia, Japan and Canada this summer – she has a knack of being in the right place in the box at the right time and appears the ideal lone forward in Häcken’s tactical set-up.

UWCL career stats: Played 14 Goals 4 (Linköping 4, 0; Montpellier 6,1; Häcken 4,3)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 2 Goals 3

Benfica (POR) – Cloé Lacasse (forward)

Lacasse’s hat-trick against Twente sealed Benfica’s group place, the first time a Portuguese team have been among the last 16 in UEFA women’s club competition in any format and capping their remarkable rise in just three years of existence. Canada’s Lacasse landed in Europe in 2015 with Iceland’s ÍBV and after four goal-filled years headed to Benfica, starting their maiden top-division season. Lacasse has scored at more than a goal a game for the Eagles.

UWCL career stats: Played 8 Goals 4 (all Benfica)
2021/22 qualifying: Played 4 Goals 3