It has been an emphatically disappointing week for the English clubs in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as the group stage came to a conclusion.
Last year’s finalists Chelsea crashed out on Thursday night after a 4-0 defeat at Wolfsburg crushed their hopes of a return to the knock-out stages of the competition.
Meanwhile, Arsenal did progress to the knock-out round, but worryingly closed out their group games with a 4-1 defeat to third-ranked German qualifiers Hoffenheim.
Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side had left themselves with the tricky prospect of needing a result heading to Germany to take on a well-established Wolfsburg side who had reached the knock-outs in their last eight Champions League campaigns.
Two goals a-piece for Svenja Huth and the competition’s current top-scorer Tabea Wassmuth left Chelsea in despair.
Both Chelsea and Wolfsburg ended the evening on 11 Group A points, as did Italian side Juventus following their 4-0 win over Servette of Switzerland.
Ultimately, the result in Germany and Juve’s big win meant the Blues, in top spot at the start of the evening, dropped down to third in the section and missed out of progression.
Chelsea will undoubtedly be ruing the 0-0 home draw with Juventus the week before, and, for some of the players, the scoreline may feel even worse, as the margin against Wolfsburg – 4-0 – was identical to the score in last term’s final against Barcelona.
Given the budget of a club like Chelsea and the spending over the past few seasons, going out at this stage represents an enormous underachievement.
The competition structure changed this season into a group format as UEFA wanted the tournament to match with the men’s Champions League.
However, while the change has been welcomed, Chelsea have endured a relentless run of fixtures and, having also been lacklustre in their league defeat to Reading on Saturday, they look weary and out of form.
Ahead of the game, they were struck by the news Jess Carter and their usual number one goalkeeper, Ann-Katrin Berger, were unavailable due to positive Covid-19 tests.
This seemed to have a detrimental effect on the rest of the squad, given the time of year.
Hayes said after the match her players were suffering from stress and anxiety after being hit by a significant number of positive tests at a similar time last year. As a result, almost the entire team spent Christmas alone, and several of their international stars have not seen family or friends for much of the last 18 months.
"While fixture congestion is a thing, Covid is real."
Emma Hayes says the effects of coronavirus played a major part in Chelsea's 4-0 #UWCL defeat at Wolfsburg and has called for games to be stopped so players can safely spend Christmas with their families. pic.twitter.com/0Y2fIcsyhv
— Sky Sports WSL (@SkySportsWSL) December 17, 2021
You feel for them, but their Champions League disappointment cannot be dwelled upon, as Chelsea will now need to prioritise league proceedings as they search to add more silverware this season.
For Arsenal, they have also had mixed fortunes of late and they, too, have perhaps struggled as the fixtures continue at a rapid pace.
Their defeat against Hoffenheim once again highlighted slackness in defence as they conceded three second-half goals in just six minutes.
However, they can’t be too downbeat, as they find themselves in the hat alongside a star-studded quarter-final line up.
New investment for top two tiers and grassroots in England is hugely encouraging
The FA in England this week announced an enormous £30 million women’s and girls’ football sponsorship deal with Barclays that will run through 2025.
This three-year deal will see Barclays continue as title sponsors of the WSL. Not only will the bank help enhance the top-flight, but they will also now be title sponsors of the Championship, working to help bridge a growing disparity between the two top tiers of English women’s football.
The partnership is in tandem with a three-year deal for Barclays to continue to sponsor the Premier League, and is part of a comprehensive strategy to continue the growth of the women’s game down south.
It is a record-breaking investment in women’s sport in the UK, which will also see Barclays increase their support at grassroots levels.
This landmark statement of intent from the FA and Barclays continues the trend of encouraging signs for the game south of the border.
The WSL’s rebrand at the beginning of the season has seen perspectives start to shift over the quality and professionalism of the sport as a whole, and this has been boosted by weekly productions from both the BBC and Sky Sports, who have put the game on a platform like no other this season.
As the visibility of the game increases, the resources and funding come with it. It’s model which will encourage new sponsors and will hopefully have a knock-on effect on the top flight in Scotland.
The SWPL last month announced their own new league partner, Parks Motor Group, which will hopefully be the beginning of many long-term deals to better financially support the game in Scotland.
Granite City’s Rachel Boyle seems to love Edinburgh derby stage
Aberdeen’s Rachael Boyle seems to enjoy the Edinburgh derby.
After scoring in the reverse fixture at Easter Road, she once again opened the scoring at Tynecastle during the week.
This time her goal came directly from a free-kick, before she then assisted Siobhan Hunter as Hibs cruised into a 2-0 lead.
The 3️⃣ goals from our Edinburgh Derby victory at Tynecastle 👇 pic.twitter.com/JZL4ICiwF7
— Hibernian Women (@HibernianWomen) December 16, 2021
Erin Rennie pulled one back as the home side built some momentum, but Eilidh Adams sealed the win for Hibernian as the game ended 3-1.
Meanwhile, Aberdeen Women head into the Winter break with things looking a little rosier. Their 2-1 win against bottom-side Hamilton shoots them up to fifth in the SWPL table.