BK Häcken vs. Lyon
After years of broadcast rights for the UEFA women’s Champions League being scattered all over the place, this season starts a new era of one big rights package for the tournament. That’s great news for women’s soccer fans.
Unfortunately for women’s soccer fans in the U.S., the rightsholder here isn’t one of the main U.S. networks. It’s online broadcaster DAZN, which has major soccer rights deals in Europe, Asia and Canada, but in this country is focused mainly on boxing. DAZN acquired the rights for the entire world except China and a swath of the Middle East and North Africa.
For the first two seasons of DAZN’s four-season deal, the network will offer all 61 games each season free on YouTube. Starting in 2023, only 19 games per season will be on YouTube and the rest will require a paid subscription. (At least that’s the plan for now,)
UEFA has also changed how the tournament works, adding a 16-team group stage this season to showcase the depth of talent across Europe. First on deck is the opening game for the continent’s dethroned juggernaut. Lyon, featuring American Catarina Macario and a raft of global stars, saw its five-year run as reigning European champion end last spring.
Barcelona vs. Arsenal
This is the Champions League’s game of the week, a matchup of teams loaded with attacking firepower. Barcelona, the reigning European champion, has Caroline Graham Hansen, Jenni Hermoso, Alexia Putellas, Lieke Martens, and Asisat Oshoala. Arsenal has Vivianne Miedema, Kim Little, Nikita Parris, Mana Iwabuchi, and the U.S.’ Tobin Heath.
Italy vs. Spain
Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. (ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN)
On the men’s side of things in Europe, this month’s FIFA window starts with the Nations League’s final four. The first semifinal pits the reigning European champion against the team it beat in this summer’s semifinals to win the crown.
Both teams bring glittering arrays of young talent to this game at Milan’s famed San Siro stadium: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolò Barella and Manuel Locatelli for Italy, and Bryan Gil, Gavi, and Ferran Torres for Spain.
Chelsea vs. Wolfsburg
After reaching last season’s Champions League final, Chelsea hopes to take the last step this season and win the title. The Blues have the talent for another deep run in Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, and Ji-So Yun.
Wolfsburg is Germany’s traditional power, having won the Champions League in 2013 and ‘14 and reached the final in ‘16, ‘18, and ‘20. The club’s top players include Alexandra Popp, Jill Roord, and Ewa Pajor. But Pajor is out long-term after suffering a knee injury playing for her country last month.
» READ MORE: The rest of this week's Champions League schedule
Belgium vs. France
Thursday, 2:45 p.m. (ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN)
Belgium is the No. 1 team in FIFA’s global rankings and France is No. 4. Both teams are stacked with some of global soccer’s biggest stars, including Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and France’s Kylian Mbappé. But the game’s brightest spotlight likely won’t be on the players in the second Nations League semifinal, which will be played in Turn, Italy.
Belgium manager Roberto Martínez has been linked pretty loudly with Barcelona in recent weeks, as the Spanish club considered firing Ronald Koeman. Barcelona president Joan Laporta said Saturday that Koeman’s job is safe, but some of the Spanish media — to say nothing of fans worldwide — don’t believe it.
United States vs. Jamaica
Thursday, 7:45 p.m. (ESPN2, Univision 65, TUDN, ESPN+; Univision’s pregame coverage starts at 7 p.m., ESPN2′s starts at 7:30)
Though Andre Blake has been in red-hot form for the Union lately, Jamaica is off to a terrible start in World Cup qualifying. The Reggae Boyz got just one point from last month’s three-game set, sit in last place in the standings, and now begin another three-game set by facing a U.S. team that’s full of confidence.
The U.S. will be without injured attacking stars Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, which will put a lot of pressure on Brenden Aaronson. The most pressure will be on Weston McKennie, who returns to the national team after being suspended for breaking COVID-19 protocols last month.
There will also be a lot of attention on Yunus Musah, an 18-year-old midfielder with prodigious talent but little international experience. Though he has six caps, he isn’t technically cap-tied to the U.S. yet because he hasn’t played in an official competition.
Musah is also part of a key U.S. tactical storyline to watch. We know McKennie likes to roam free in central midfield. We also know Tyler Adams can cover a lot of ground defensively to help make up for that. But if McKennie roams too much, will Musah have to help behind him? If so, how much will that take away from Musah’s attacking contributions?
Honduras vs. Costa Rica
Thursday, 8 p.m. (Universo, Paramount+)
Both of these teams underwhelmed in last month’s qualifiers, each registering a tie and two losses. There’s still time to get back on track, but by the time this month’s qualifiers end, Concacaf’s 14-game tournament will have played just shy of half its rounds.
Costa Rica has the bigger pedigree, but stars Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz are getting old and there aren’t yet top youngsters to replace them. Honduras has the better attack on paper in forwards Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, but Quioto has been sidelined by a muscle injury.
Mexico vs. Canada
Thursday, 9:40 p.m. (Univision 65, TUDN, Paramount+)
It surprised no one that Mexico stood atop the standings after September’s qualifiers, and it surprised few people that Canada stood in third.
This will be a massive test for Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and the Canucks. Raúl Jiménez has returned to El Tri’s attack to join Jesús Corona, and fans have returned to Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca after being barred last month for a homophobic chant.
El Salvador vs. Panama
Thursday, 10 p.m. (Universo, Paramount+)
For as promisingly energetic as El Salvador looked in its home games last month, both games ended in scoreless ties. Panama was a pleasant surprise, winning at Jamaica and tying Mexico and Costa Rica at home. The Canaleros start this month’s contests in fourth place.