In the second year since the Women's Champions League reformat, with plenty of thrills and spills along the way, the field has been cut down to two for Saturday's final in Eindhoven -- and neither Barcelona nor Wolfsburg are strangers to the biggest stage in Europe.
Finishing top of their group, three-time finalists Barcelona emphatically saw off tournament debutantes Roma in the second leg of their quarterfinal after a narrow win in front of a record crowd in Rome. A successful, albeit uncomfortable semifinal against Chelsea followed with Barca's first leg advantage seeing them through after a draw in Catalonia.
Meanwhile, in their eleventh successive season in European competition, German powerhouse, VfL Wolfsburg have reached their sixth final but much like their opposition on Saturday, have often tasted defeat at the hands of reigning champions Lyon. Also finishing top of their group, Wolfsburg did just enough to see off PSG in the quarterfinals before taking Arsenal all the way to extra time in London, squeezing into the final with an aggregated score of 5-4 over the Gunners.
Both teams have evolved from when they met in the quarterfinals of the 2013-14 season -- the last time Wolfsburg lifted the trophy -- when the Catalan club, in just their second season in European competition were soundly beaten 5-0 over the two legs.
It was also the start of a five-game winning streak for Wolfsburg against Spanish opposition as they bested Atletico Madrid twice before crossing paths with Barcelona again in the behind-closed-doors latter stages of the 2019-20 season.
In a season that appeared to be rumbling towards a herculean showdown between the two best teams leading the way in Europe, the COVID pandemic forced the cessation of multiple leagues and an eventual relocating of the knockout rounds to the Basque Country. Ultimately, the continent failed to get its grandstand two-legged semifinal between Wolfsburg and Barcelona but rather a muddled 90-minute tie settled by Barca forward Fridolina Rolfo -- a season before she made the switch from Lower Saxony to Catalonia.
Barcelona would go on to win the 2020-21 season of the competition, with another final played without fans, before they faced Wolfsburg the following season, once again at the semifinal stage. The team in the ascendency in Europe and side hotly tipped for the title, it was Barcelona who again ran the show at the Camp Nou, effectively getting the job done with the 5-1 win in the first leg of their last-four clash. A home rally from the German champions made for a very different second leg, but Wolfsburg's 2-0 win was a long way short of enough.
Now, for the first time, the two will meet in the final, with mutual foe, Olympique Lyonnais -- the French giants responsible for three final defeats for Wolfsburg and two for Barcelona, including last year's showpiece in Turin -- dispatched by Chelsea in the quarterfinals.
Even though both teams have shown weaknesses through the season, coming into the game, Barcelona are the clear favourites, not just for their depth but the sheer strength of their midfield. Whichever mix of Patri Guijarro, Keira Walsh, Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas starts, head coach Jonatan Giraldez has an embarrassment of riches in midfield alone. Although Putellas is still on the way back from an ACL injury picked up last summer and is yet to start a game for Barca, the team have barely lost a step of pace by allowing Aitana to get into more advanced attacking positions to directly assist the front line.
A graduate of La Masia who preaches from the Barca tiki-taka scriptures, Aitana is the glue who brings the team together as absentee captain Putellas has been so heralded for in previous seasons. A master of spatial understand and manipulation, Aitana is rarely far from the ball when the Blaugrana are pinging it between each other with neat little passes as they toy with the opposition to advance up the pitch. The 25-year-old has had a hand in 12 of Barcelona's 37 Champions League goals this season.
From their collective strength in possession, Barca enjoy plenty of individual flair in the final third thanks to their front three, a happy mix of Caroline Graham Hansen, Mariona, Rolfo, Geyse, Asisat Oshoala, Salma Paralluelo and Claudia Pina. Even with so many options and different combinations between midfield and attack, the Barcelona style and understanding means Giraldez can chose any combination of players and the team will not look weaker for any personnel changes.
Wolfsburg, regarded as one of the best teams in Europe throughout all of the last decade, have had to adapt to the changing landscape of the game and have lost many of their marquee players to rivals -- such as Graham Hansen to Barcelona and Pernille Harder to Chelsea -- so they can't quite boast the same depth as their final opposition.
Whilst Eindhoven marks Barcelona's third successive Champions League final outing, Wolfsburg have been absent from the last two since 2020 and just four starters from their team remain. Although their bench from the 2020 final looks far more familiar, with all but three of the subs that day in the current squad.
Like Barcelona, Wolfsburg have uncharacteristically faltered at points throughout their season -- both domestically and in European competition -- leading the She Wolves to relinquish the Frauen-Bundesliga title to rivals, Bayern Munich. However, there is plenty the Germans would have learned from the failings of their opposition and indeed, Barcelona's loss in the final last season, when Lyon suffocated Barca's midfield architects is a useful blueprint.
Although Wolfsburg have gotten good at navigating their way through tough ties, as we saw against both PSG and Arsenal, Barcelona are built different. Especially after losing their title to Lyon last year, the Catalans will be out to prove they are the dominant force in Europe. So whether it's a team effort of possession and control or a moment of individual brilliance, Barcelona will be victorious in Eindhoven.