The Women’s Champions League knockout stages begin this week with Chelsea and Arsenal both looking to become the first English side to lift the trophy since the Gunners in 2007.
Back then, when Arsenal beat the Swedish Kid in the final, the tournament was still known as the UEFA Women’s Cup. In addition to being named the Champions League only in 2009, the group stage was introduced last season.
Chelsea and Arsenal showed their growing strength in the English Women’s Super League as they finished top of their respective groups this season, with the Gunners beating European champions Lyon 5-1 in France.
Arsenal, who beat Chelsea 3-1 earlier this month to win the League Cup, travel to Bayern Munich this week and will be hoping to avoid a second consecutive quarter-final exit at the hands of their German rivals after last season’s trip to Wolfsburg.
Bayern are two points behind Wolfsburg at the top of the Frauen Bundesliga and their two games against Arsenal fall either side of their domestic title rivals.
Chelsea, on the other hand, travel to France to play a Lyon side who have won the Champions League in six of the last seven seasons, a record eight times in total.
And yet Chelsea, who were beaten finalists in 2021, will not fear Sonia Bompastor’s side, with Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg close to returning from a long injury layoff.
After all, Emma Hayes’ side beat Paris Saint-Germain home and away in the group stage, keeping a clean sheet in both games.
The London outfit sit top of the WSL, two points a game apiece behind Manchester United and Manchester City, while they are five points adrift of leaders Arsenal in fourth.
They have one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world in Australia’s Sam Kerr, but Lyon will be hoping to be a different proposition from the team that was outclassed by Arsenal in October.
– A different Lyon? –
“At that time we had a lot of injuries. It’s no excuse, we still have to beat good teams, but I think we were struggling a bit at the beginning of the season,” Lyon’s Danish international striker Signe Bruun told AFP.
“We qualified and that was the most important thing and now we start from scratch.”
Bruun, who was at Manchester United last season, believes the growing threat of English teams in Europe is not a bad thing.
“It is very healthy for women’s football that there are many teams that can compete for the Champions League. I think that is also an important part of the improvement of the women’s game,” he said.
“I think it’s going to get rarer and rarer for the same team to win twice in a row.”
Barcelona narrowly retained the title last season, returning to the final where they lost to Lyon in Turin.
Despite the continued absence of injured Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, they continue to crush all opposition in Spain and are through to the quarter-finals, where they will face Roma.
“Barcelona’s numbers are crazy, unbelievable,” said Roma coach Alessandro Spugna. “I’ve seen a lot of Barcelona and the more I see the less weaknesses I see.”
Wolfsburg, who have been to five semi-finals in the past decade and won two, had their hopes of progressing against PSG dealt a blow after German midfield star Lena Oberdorf was ruled out of Wednesday’s first leg with a sprained knee.
Conferences (start GMT)
in Munich, Germany (1745)
Bayern Munich (GER) – Arsenal (ENG)
in Rome (2000)
Roma (ITA) v Barcelona (ESP)
in Lyon, France (1745)
Lyon (FRA) – Chelsea (ENG)
in Paris (2000)
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) v Wolfsburg (GER)