LYON have dominated women’s football in Europe for the past decade and have been European champions for the past five years. But this season, they are facing a challenge from, among others, their national rivals Paris Saint-Germain. The two teams are neck-and-neck at the top of D1 Féminine and they will face each other in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Lyon have lost only three league games in the past 10 years (including 2020-21) and they’ve all been against PSG. Lyon have been French champions for an astonishing 14 consecutive years, but PSG, with their considerable resources, are now eager to capture their crown.
But there is a problem. PSG have been hit by the covid-19 virus and had to forfeit their round of 16 second leg tie with Sparta Prague, losing 3-0 as a result. They still went through as they had won 5-0 in the first meeting. PSG have also had to shut down their academy due to the pandemic.
PSG have some outstanding players, though, notably the free-scoring duo Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani. Katoto is a fast performer who is rapidly developing into a prolific goalscorer, while Diani is a lightning-quick winger. They also have one of the best goalkeeper’s in women’s football in Christiane Endler of Chile.
Lyon have a star-studded squad, in fact in the Guardian’s top 100 women players, they provided 11, many of which were highly-placed. They include the indomitable figure of Wendie Renard, the club captain and arguably the best centre back in the world. They also have Nikita Parris, the former Manchester City striker who has been capped 50 times by England.
Lyon and PSG and most of the last eight in the Champions League are part of the elite of women’s football in Europe. These clubs accounted for 63% of the Guardian’s top 100 and are able to attract all the top talent. Almost 16% of the participants in the FIFA World Cup in 2019 came from these clubs, with Chelsea and Manchester City providing 12 players each.
They are also regulars at this stage of the competition: Lyon, Wolfsburg and Barcelona have all featured in every last eight over the past five years, with PSG and Bayern missing one and Chelsea and Manchester City present in three. Just as the men’s Champions League has a remarkably familiar look about it, the women are moving in a similar direction.
Barcelona versus Manchester City is another exciting tie, the first leg of which will be played in Monza, Italy. Barca are top of the Primera División having won all 19 of their games so far. They are nine points clear of Levante, but their goalscoring record is incredible – 95 for, three against! Barca’s firepower is thanks to the exciting Spanish international Jenni Hermoso and Asisat Oshoala of Nigeria.
City, meanwhile, have the England pair Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood in their ranks, both arriving from Lyon. They joined a plethora of England internationals at the club, including Steph Houghton, Ellie Roebuck, Chloe Kelly and Ellen White.
City are chasing the Women’s Super League title alongside Chelsea and just two points divide them. Chelsea face Wolfsburg in the Champions League, a tie that gives Denmark’s Pernille Harder, rated the best player in the world, the chance to face her old club. Harder was signed by Chelsea in September 2020 for a world record fee of £ 300,000.
Wolfsburg are currently behind Bayern Munich in the Frauen-Bundesliga after four consecutive titles (all of which saw Bayern in second place). Bayern are five points ahead, but Wolfsburg have lost just once, a 4-1 defeat in Munich. The loss of Harder, along with a long-term injury to Polish striker Ewa Pojor has made life difficult for the German champions. Despite these obstacles, Wolfsburg’s Alex Popp is still among the top players in Europe.
Bayern Munich meet Swedish club FC Rosengård of Malmö, the 11-times winners of the Damallsvenskan. Bayern may yet repeat the achievement of the men’s team this season and pull-off the treble: Champions League, DFB Pokal and Bundesliga. Vital player Lina Magull is their skipper and is now back in the side after injury, but Bayern have some stand-outs in 20 year-old Sydney Lohmann and defender Hanna Glas.
It’s a formidable last eight and although it’s full of the usual suspects, we could see a new winner of the Champions League. Chelsea and Manchester City are desperate for European success and PSG are longing to take over from Lyon. And of course, there’s Bayern. It promises to be a compelling set of matches.