The hours and minutes are counting down to kick-off of the inaugural group-stage format of the 2021-2022 UEFA Women’s Champions League competition. All games will be available to watch for free (this season and next) on the new DAZN Women’s Champions League YouTube channel and this evening’s standout tie sees the WSL’s in-form leaders Arsenal facing the current European and Spanish champions Barcelona (8pm UK time).
Like many of his players, Gunners’ coach Jonas Eidevall has experience of European club competition (his FC Rosengård reached the quarter-finals last year) and he is excited by the challenges ahead and the opportunity to test this talented group against the best.
Here’s some of ARSENAL MANAGER JONAS EIDEVALL’s thoughts on preparing his ‘intelligent’ team without pitch time (given the relentless nature of the fixture list between now and December), the support staff around them and how the group format will potentially affect their decisions around game management (ie. going for results and points rather than protecting scorelines):
On the intense turnaround time after Saturday’s game against Aston Villa and what he is impressed about and learning about his players:
I remember when I was reading a book about Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, and they spoke about him introducing that ‘false number nine’ concept to Lionel Messi. According to the book he called up Messi at night and told him to come into his office, and they watched video footage about how we wanted him to grow. Then the next day, he was playing against Real Madrid and they did that.
I was reading that book back in Sweden and I said, “That’s impossible, because I would need to practice that with players. There’s no player that could take on that kind of new information and just do it in the game.”
But now I see with this team, some of the things that we’ve talked about – because we don’t even have the time to practice it – and the players are taking information onboard so quickly, they’re so intelligent, both on an individual and collective level and this will be almost like an ultimate test on how much we can adapt to the ideas that we need to do for a game like this.
We basically have no time to practice on the pitch, it needs to be theoretical, but I’m really excited about it. Of course I’m trying to refine my methods as well, but it mostly comes down to the quality of the players.
On the staff around him, the support network for the players that allows him to concentrate on the tactical elements:
It’s a great staff group with all of the competencies that we have: from our Head of Medicine and Sports Science Gary Lewin to Steph [Ridley] our nutritionist, who is on site here in Barcelona, helping the players to eat the best way possible. When we’re playing this tight schedule we know it’s so important with recovery and to fuel up for the match, so definitely, I’m so grateful that we can have these conditions. I think it would be very hard if we didn’t have it when we are playing this many games and we need to perform on such a high level.
On whether their planning changes because it’s the opening game in a new group format:
Yes and no. Obviously, it’s a different game management mentality, because it’s all about getting points, it’s not about having a result that you can turn around. If you were playing a knock-out and you were one-nil down with five minutes left, maybe we would say that that’s a result that we can live with, coming home with, so we wouldn’t risk that much. But losing one nothing [today] doesn’t give you any points, so you could risk a lot more going forward because that could give you a point. And if you conceded a second goal, you still lose the game and it wouldn’t put you in any worse situation, basically.
On what kind of message Arsenal could send out to their rivals in the competition if they were to get a good result against Barcelona this evening:
I think we have a solid self belief that we are a good team and if we win [in Barcelona] that’s not going to change that, it’s not going to change all of the work that we have in front of us either. So this is one game out of many. It’s a really nice challenge, we’re looking forward to it but if we win it’s not like the season is going to end. We’ve another game coming up against Everton. If we draw, the season is going to continue, if we lose the season is going to continue. It’s all about us doing a good performance and whatever the result we’ll still have things to develop and learn from.