Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Women´s Champions League semi-finals finely poised

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 27 Apr 2024

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As domestic seasons draw to a close, the giants of Women’s European football are due to battle it out this weekend and secure a spot in the Champions League final.

With both fixtures finely poised, Chelsea will welcome current champions Barcelona to Stamford Bridge and try to end their reign.

Lyon will travel to the Parc des Princes to face Paris Saint-Germain looking to secure their 11th appearance in the final.

They have played in the showpiece match more times than any other team in the competition and are also the most successful side in the tournament’s history with eight titles overall and five consecutive crowns from 2016 to 2020, so PSG will have their work cut out.

PSG v Lyon

Lyon showed their pedigree in the first leg as they came back from 2-0 down at home to win 3-2.

Les Parisiennes spent much of the first half soaking up early pressure from their French counterparts, but in the 44th minute Marie Katoto was deadly accurate and struck from just outside the six-yard box.

Sandy Baltimore’s cross found Katoto as she peeled away from Ellie Carpenter who was unaware of the danger that lurked behind her an off-balance Katoto tucked it into the bottom left-hand corner.

Paris Saint Germain started the second half as they ended the first, Katoto pouncing on a deflected shot doubled her team’s lead and took her tally to seven goals in eight matches in the competition this term.

Lyon, however, were patient in their pursuit of goals, and in the 79th minute, Ellie Carpenter cut the ball back from out wide to Kadidiatou Diani, who toe-poked it into the bottom corner.

The comeback was on with ten minutes of the 90 to go.

A foul on Lindsey Horan led to a free-kick that Selma Bacha delivered to the edge of the box, where Wendy Renard took it down and passed to Melchie Dumornay who dropped her shoulder to lose her defender and fired a magnificent shot into the right-hand corner of the goal.

The comeback was on and in the 85th minute, Les Parisiennes could not halt wave after wave of Lyon attacks. A long throw resulted in Dumornay finding space outside the 18-yard box and finding Amel Majri, who dummied the ball to let it run past her before burying it into the bottom corner.

What to expect

PSG will need every voice in the Parc des Princes to roar them on if they are going to knock out the former champions.

They have scored in their last seven games in the Champions League, their longest run of games with a goal in the competition since a run of 13 from April 2021 to April 2022.

PSG will look to Marie Katoto, who has scored seven goals in eight matches, and is averaging 0.88 per game. The French forward has had 27 total attempts this term, getting off 3.38 shots per match on average.

All seven of her goals have been from inside the box, where her deadly accuracy means she is by far PSG’s biggest threat in this match-up. She is also one goal behind the Golden Boot leader, Kadidiatou Diani, who has netted eight goals in nine matches.

Attack for Paris could be the best form of defence, as the intensity of Lyon’s continued attacking pressure is what led to them losing their two-goal advantage. PSG have scored in each of their last seven games in the Champions League, netting 17 goals in that run.

Lyon showed what all great champions have is the muscle memory to win, turning that result around was up there with one of their best-ever performances in a semi-final.

They have scored in their last 10 games in the Champions League, their longest run of games with a goal in the competition since a run of 12 games from December 2021 to December 2022.

Lyon have quality across the pitch. Diani, who made 114 appearances for PSG, will return to her former club looking to be the protagonist of this game after she clawed her new side back into the tie.

Chelsea v Barcelona

Emma Hayes and her Chelsea side travelled to Barcelona knowing only the very best performance would give them a chance of taking a positive result back to Stamford Bridge.

Barca, four-time finalists in the last five seasons, have proven they are a giant of women’s football.

The pair have history in the tournament. Chelsea were humbled in the 2021 final, losing 4-0.

Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Graham Hansen were key to putting the game beyond the Blues before they even reached half-time. Last season, the two sides met again – this time it was a much closer affair in which Hayes’s side were narrowly defeated 2-1 over the two legs.

Recap of the first leg

After what was an evenly matched first half, Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert curled an effort into the top right-hand corner. The build-up play had been patient, with the Blues winning the ball back from a throw-in near the byline; some quick feet and one-touch passing reminiscent of their Catalan opposition was enough to break the deadlock.

Chelsea have scored in their last six games in the Champions League, their longest run of games with a goal in the competition since a run of eight matches between October 2022 and March 2023.

Barcelona (four) and Chelsea (three) sat top of the table for clean sheets in the competition, and the Blues went into half-time aiming to match Barca’s tally.

It looked as though Barca would have a chance to dent Chelsea’s hopes of a clean sheet when a shot bounced off the arm of Chelsea’s Kadeisha Buchanan as she battled for the ball with Salma Paralluelo.

However, referee Stephanie Frappart was called to the VAR screen, and the call was made that the Barcelona player had been offside and the decision to award a penalty was reversed.

Chelsea really should have made it 2-0, with Lauren James and Mayra Ramirez both squandering big chances.

Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Putellas might have snatched an equaliser in the dying seconds, yet sliced wide from the best opportunity Barca produced.

Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in four of their nine Champions League games, more than any other team, and are showing the form of potential champions.

What to expect in the next tie

The Blues have sold 35,00 tickets for Stamford Bridge with still a few more hours to pack the place out. Hayes has made it clear to her side that this is only half-time, and they will need another tremendous performance to see them into their second final. Hayes is bowing out at the end of the season, to manage the US women’s national team this summer.

Chelsea have not given her the glorious farewell campaign she would have dreamed of so far after failing to win either of the two domestic cups.

The WSL title is still within their grasp, though Manchester City are a fierce rival, but the Champions League is the trophy that has illuded this magnificent era for Chelsea and would crown off the Hayes dynasty.

The Blues will need to take their chances when they come and the likes of James and Ramirez will need to show the form they have in the league.

James has scored 13 goals and provided two assists this season in the WSL.

Jess Carter, who ran the Blues defence in the first leg, will be key. Millie Bright is fit and available, a boost for the squad as she has been missing for most of the season.

Hannah Hampton might need to have the performance of her career in the Chelsea goal.

Barca attempted 11 shots in the first leg, but that was their lowest total in a single match in the Champions League this term, but with two Ballon d’Or winners in their squad, the European champions certainly possess the mentality and quality to turn this tie around.

Both ties are evenly matched and without a doubt are two of the most exciting ties we have seen in the competition’s history.

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SoccerNews

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