Champions League Quarter-Finals

Emmanuel Faith looks back at last week’s first-leg action in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarter-Finals before previewing the second legs which begin tonight (29/3/23).

Above: Salma celebrates her goal for Barcelona against Roma. Photo: UEFA.

When four different matches end in a 1-0 scoreline, you can imagine the difficulty, intensity, and quality of the matches.

Whether it’s an almost one-sided match where one team attacked and the other side defended like Roma against Barcelona, or an evenly matched combat like Bayern Munich’s tie with Arsenal, what the first leg of the quarter-finals has shown the world is that any team is capable of pulling off a surprise.

Above: Bayern Munich celebrate Lea Schuller’s winning goal in their first leg against Arsenal. Photo: Bayern Munich Women.

The week started with a thriller between Bayern Munich and Arsenal. It was the North London side who created first with a cross by Caitlin Foord that landed perfectly for Stina Blakstenius in the tenth minute, the Swedish forward however couldn’t find the right connection and direction. It was Lea Schuller who had her sight on goal next but couldn’t hit the target from 40 yards out but she forced Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger into a save just few minutes later before finally beating her and nodding a cross home in the 38th minute. Foord hit the post in the 50th minute and Saki Kumagai had to make an intervention to ensure Bayern ended the match with a one-goal advantage into the second leg.

Roma hosted Barcelona next and for a team that had 33 shots and 11 shots on target, it is a surprise that Barcelona couldn’t get beyond a one-goal lead, a testament to Roma’s resilience, and Camelio Caesar’s captivating abilities.

The Liga f champions who are on a 50-game unbeaten run domestically turned the heat from the first minute with Aitana Bonmati picking through passes and Caroline Graham Hansen causing trouble on the right side of Roma’s defence. It was however the Spanish youngster, Salma Paralluelo who got the breakthrough in the 34th minute.

The Roma goalkeeper made a lot of decent saves including an exceptional one to keep the Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala from doubling Barca’s lead after a towering header however it was the Catalan side’s turn to defend in the 55th minute when Emili Haavi latched on a through pass to drive the ball into the box to lay a pass her strike partner Gianciti couldn’t convert the half chance thanks to Mapi Leon’s defending. Roma spent the rest of the evening keeping out Barcelona’s attacking stings to set up an exciting second leg.

Above: Sam Kerr fires in a shot for Chelsea at Olympique Lyonnais last week. Photo: Jean-Pierre Thiesset for Impetus.

Olympique Lyonnais against Chelsea lived up to the expectations and it was the hosts who started on the strong foot as Eugenie Le Sommer missed the chance to give her team the lead in the eighth minute.

Lyon continued to boss the game with midfielders like Dzsenifer Maroszan, Sara Däbritz, and Lindsey Horan keeping Chelsea at bay, thus the home fans were stunned when the visitors took a surprise lead after typically hard work from Erin Cuthbert who won a 50-50 challenge and pass to lay off an assist for Guro Reiten. The Norwegian star latched on to the shot to give the team a slight advantage.

A few minutes after, the Lionesses whiz Lauren James hit the post after guiding the ball through Lyon’s defence. Both teams continued to create chances; from Sam Kerr who hit the side-netting twice to Selma Bacha who couldn’t capitalise on Magda Eriksson’s error as time ticked by.  Chelsea had the final say with Johanna Rytting Kaneryd having a half-chance to bury the game in the 88th minute however Christiane Endler’s brilliant save ensured there is all to play for in the second leg.

Kadidiatou Diani’s shot on target in the sixth minute was a great way to open the last quarter-final tie between Paris St. Germain and VfL Wolfsburg. The competition’s topscorer Ewa Pajor missed her chance to add to her tally after a goalkeeping error from PSG’s shot-stopper Sarah Bouhadi. Both teams huffed and puffed however there was a controversial call against the French side when a penalty wasn’t given for what seemed like a foul against Ashley Lawrence by Marina Hegering. However, things got worse for PSG when Wolfsburg were awarded a penalty and Élisa De Almeda was sent off after a second yellow card in the 61st minute. The Parisien hosts spent the rest of the match defending to give themselves hope of something to play for in the second leg.

Above: Orianne Jean-Francois takes a tumble against VfL Wolfsburg last week. Photo: Franck Fife.

Second Leg Previews

Given how intense the first legs were, predicting the return matches would be a daunting task for any analyst.

Barcelona would have a slight edge over Roma and will hope that they are more clinical with their conversion rate while relying on the experience of defenders like Lucy Bronze and Mapi Leon to shout out any surprise Roma might have in store.

Arsenal will fancy overturning a goal deficit in the second leg with attackers like Foord and Blacksteinus hoping for better luck this time around,  but Bayern is capable of scoring from anywhere, at any time of the match and a goal puts them in the driving seat that could extend the North London side’s record of falling at the quarter-final hurdle.

Lyon and Chelsea had opposite weekends. The French and European champions thumped Gueingamp, their domestic counterpart a 6-0 defeat while the WSL champions fell to two early goals from their rivals at Manchester City. Lyon finally has Ada Hegerberg back and will be relying on her to break through Chelsea’s defence who is now one rock less with Millie Bright doubtful. If there is any team that can bounce back from defeat, it’s Chelsea and if they score an early goal like they did last week, Lyon might be in for a long night.

PSG would be without De Almeda, a key part of their defence, but they would fancy their chances against Wolfsburg who rather underperformed in the first leg. Whoever scores the first goal will shift the momentum of this game.

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