UEFA Women’s Champions League Preview: Quarterfinals
by Rachael Caldwell
March is finally here and the Quarterfinal stage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League is quickly approaching. The draw for the quarterfinal matches was in late November and teams have changed since then. Here’s a preview of the upcoming quarterfinal matches.
FCF Juvisy Essonne (FRA) vs. Göteborg FC (SWE)
First Leg at Juvisy (March 20th), Second Leg at Göteborg (March 27th)
Play the winner of Olympique Lyonnais (FRA) vs. LdB Malmö (SWE)
Best Ever Finish: 2011-2012 Quarterfinals
Additions: Laure Lepailleur (Defender) and Iryna Zvarych (Goalkeeper)
Juvisy is in the UWCL quarterfinals for only the second time in their history, the first being in 2010-2011 play, after missing UWCL play in 2011-2012. Despite the minor setback, Juvisy battled to a spirited second place finish in Division 1 Femenine to earn them a spot in this year’s UWCL. However, Juvisy sits in 4th on the Division 1 table this season and won’t be seeing UWCL next year unless they go on an unbelievable run to win the tournament for their first time ever.
Their path to the quarterfinals was less than impressive, but an interesting note is their struggles on the road and their successes at home. During round of 32 and round of 16 play Juvisy tied both of their road games and scored only one goal. At home though, Juvisy won both of their games. Despite the wins, they still lacked offensively as they only scored three goals. With the first leg at home for Juvisy, they have a solid chance to jump on Göteborg and hold out for a tie in the second leg to advance, but they will need some offensive improvement. Midfielder Gaëtane Thiney has scored two of the teams goals, but she is going to need help from Juvisy’s rather nonexistent forwards, who have scored one goal as a group in all competitions. This could be due to how young the group is, averaging just 21 years of age. Who accounted for Juvisy’s fourth team goal? Well it came from 39-year-old, and French national team captain, Sandrine Soubeyrand.
Juvisy will need to find some offensive production from their forwards if they want to win this game, and the best bet seems to be young Camille Catala. The 21-year-old is in the top ten scorers for Division 1 Femenine with eight goals, but that has yet to translate to Champions League play. To have a chance at winning, Juvisy needs to gain the upper hand in the first leg to reach their first ever semifinal.
Best Ever Finish: 2011-2012 Quarterfinals
Additions: Jessica Landström (Forward), Marie Hammarström (Defender), and Jodie Taylor (Forward, Not Available for UWCL play)
Losses: Ingrid Wells (Midfielder) and Christen Press (Forward)
Göteborg is in a similar position to Juvisy, if they don’t win the UWCL this year then they will not be competing in next year’s tournament. Göteborg had a down season in 2012, finishing No. 4 in the table despite having the Damallsvenskan’s second leading scorer in American Christen Press. However, Göteborg has looked much better than Juvisy in Champions League play. They’ve held their own in away games, and played incredibly well at home. It seems that even if Juvisy is able to hang on to their home field advantage it won’t do much good as Göteborg has a much more impressive home field advantage of their own. In their four games, Goteborg has scored eight goals, with six of those coming at home. The key for Göteborg will be Swedish youth Olivia Schough, who has scored three goals in four games. Schough will need to step up and help fill the hole left by Press, who also had 3 goals in UWCL play before leaving for rival Damallsvenskan team Tyresö FF. Göteborg did bring in a solid finisher in Swede Jessica Landström to replace Press, so Schough won’t be taking all of the workload. In the midfield, they also lost Ingrid Wells to the National Women’s Soccer League, but Göteborg has the luxury of Yael Averbuch being on their team. Averbuch has scored once in Champions League play, and she can hit a free kick with an incredible amount of power. Their defense hasn’t been too shabby either, allowing only three goals. To advance, Göteborg just needs to play their strengths and do what seems to come naturally to this team, score goals. If they score early on Juvisy and destroy their home advantage, it should be an easy road to their first ever semifinals.
Olympique Lyonnaise (FRA) vs. LdB Malmö (SWE)
First Leg at Lyon (March 20th), Second Leg at Malmö (March 28th)
Plays the winner of FCF Juvisy Essonne (FRA) vs. Göteborg FC (SWE)
Best Ever Finish: 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 UWCL Champions
Additions: Megan Rapinoe (Midfielder) and Shinobu Ohno (Forward)
In the second France vs. Sweden matchup, the two-time defending champs Lyon are looking to make it three UWCL championships in a row and join FFC Frankfurt as the only teams with three UWCL titles. Lyon comes into the quarters looking unbeatable. Not only are they undefeated in Division 1 Femenine play, but they had a total aggregate of 23-0 from their round of 32 and round of 16 games, the most by far of any team in the tournament. Then, when it seemed that Lyon couldn’t get any better, they went and added veteran internationals American Megan Rapinoe and Japan’s Shinobu Ohno to the squad. Let’s not forget the big names that were already on the squad. With a forward line featuring experienced internationals Lotta Schelin (SWE) and Louisa Nécib, the addition of Rapinoe and Ohno is a case of the rich getting richer.
Looking at the stats for Lyon makes things even more ridiculous. Those big name players aren’t even the ones leading the team. The goal-scoring leader is actually 32-year-old Laëtitia Tonazzi, who has four goals in four appearances. Lyon has been completely dominant, and the venue they play at doesn’t seem to make a difference. In fact Lyon had an impressive 7-0 aggregate at home, but that was completely shattered by their even more incredible road aggregate of 16-0. While their offense has been explosive, their defense has been on lockdown as well. Lyon has not allowed a single goal in the tournament and considering their starting defense is essentially the same as the FrenchWNT, that trend should continue. It almost seems like Lyon just has to show up and they will be gifted a trip to their third straight semifinals.
Best Ever Finish: 2011-2012 Quarterfinals
Additions: Manon Melis (Forward) and Yoreli Rincón (Midfielder)
As impressive as Lyon is, Malmö is nothing to shake your head at. This matchup could have been the final if the draw had worked out differently. Malmö may not have all the star power of Lyon, but they still have big names on the field including New Zealand defender Ali Riley and German Anja Mittag. They also recently added young Colombian international Yoreli Rincón, who has played for her country most recently in the 2010 U-20 WWC and made the roster for the 2012 Olympics. If Malmö makes it to the semis, it would be the second time in history the team has done so, the first time in the 2003-2004 edition of the tournament. Back home, Malmö finished second in the table, which includes them for the 2013-2014 Champions League, but there is no doubt they want to knock off the defending champs. They have a chance if their offense can go back to its round of 32 form. Malmö had an aggregate of 10-1 with four of those coming on the road, but things went downhill in their round of 16 games. Their aggregate was still a solid 4-0, but nothing that would make Lyon shake in their boots. One thing that should help is the return of Dutch national teamer Manon Melis. After leaving Malmö for the late Women’s Professional Soccer league, Melis comes back to the club where she was the Damallsvenskan’s top scorer for two seasons. Another x-factor that could throw Lyon off their game is that Malmö is an incredibly physical team. Two of their players are in the top five for fouls committed in this year’s UWCL play, and the team is second in total fouls committed. Perhaps if Malmö can be physical enough to disturb Lyon’s flow, they could find themselves in the semifinals for the first time ever.
Arsenal Ladies FC (ENG) vs. ASD Torres CF (ITA)
First Leg at Arsenal (March 20th), Second Leg at Torres (March 27th)
Plays the winner of VFL Wolfsburg (GER) vs. WFC Rossiyanka (RUS)
Best Ever Finish: 2006-2007 UWCL Champions
Losses: Laura Harvey (Head Coach)
Arsenal is looking to make it to the semis of UWCL play for the third year in a row, and looking to find a groove under their new head coach. With Laura Harvey taking the head job at Seattle Reign FC, Scotland’s U-19 Coach Shelley Kerr has taken over. Hopefully for Arsenal, the adjustment period is relatively unnoticeable and the team continues on the path to success. Kelly Smith has held up incredibly well despite the questions about her health status, and has netted three goals in the three games she played. Smith isn’t the only weapon for Arsenal’s offense though, as Jennifer Beattie and Ellen White have performed well in UWCL play, and Kim Little could get hot at any moment.
The problem for Arsenal lies at the other end of the field though. On paper, Arsenal seems to have a solid defensive line with experienced keeper Emma Byrne, outside back Alex Scott, and Olympic standout Stephanie Houghton. This was seen in their round of 32 matchup, where they had a total aggregate of 10-0. However, Arsenal struggles against teams with legitimate offenses, which was seen in their round of 16 matchup with Turbine Potsdam. Two very competitive matches led to a total aggregate of 6-4. That’s equal to the amount of goals they scored alone in their previous matchup. Their struggle could be attributed to a lack of competition from FAWSL opponents, a league where Arsenal only allowed 5 goals in all of 2011-2012 league play. The key for Arsenal to advance is for their defense to hold up against Torres, and for their offense to simply keep doing what it has been doing. Should they do so, Arsenal could be in the UWCL semis for the third straight year.
ASD TORRES CF
Best Ever Finish: 2009-2010 Quarterfinals
On the other hand, Torres is a solid matchup with Arsenal as they have a formidable attack. Of all UWCL teams, Torres sits fifth in total goals scored with 13 and has the leading scorer in the tournament. At 38 years young, Patrizia Panico has scored an incredible eight goals in four games, and has been the leading scorer in Italy’s Serie A women’s football league for 11 of the past 14 seasons.
Torres has been rather consistent scoring both at home and on the road, and should provide a real push for Arsenal’s defense. The problem is, after Panico, the scoring drastically falls off to Sandy Iannella who only has two goals. As for Torres’ defense, they should face some of the same problems as Arsenal’s will. Defense has been decent for Torres, but they haven’t really been a force to be reckoned with in the tournament. In the round of 32, Torres let in three goals and they’ve only had one clean sheet in four games. That clean sheet came on the road against Olimpia Cluj in the round of 16, a round where Torres’ defense really performed well. For Torres to advance to their first semifinals, they’ll need to get their defense into its round of 16 form, and have yet another impeccable performance from the ageless wonder Panico. Should Panico fall from her current hot streak, which doesn’t seem to be happening as she is leading the league in goals once again for the 2012-2013 season, Torres will probably struggle to find another source of offense and that could lead to some serious problems, keeping them from reaching the semifinals for the first time in team history.
VfL Wolfsburg (GER) vs. WFC Rossiyanka (RUS)
First Leg at Wolfsburg (March 20th), Second Leg at Rossiyanka (March 28th)
Plays the winner of Arsenal Ladies FC (ENG) vs. ASD Torres CF (ITA)
Best Ever Finish: First year in UWCL
Wolfsburg has been the delight of this tournament, their first ever UEFA women’s Champions League appearance. The past few years have been interesting for Wolfsburg in league play, as they were only founded in 2003 and hadn’t made much noise on the table until the 2011-2012 season when they finished second, only three points behind the Frauen-Bundesliga champion that year, Turbine Potsdam. This year, Wolfsburg has continued to improve and they currently sit first in the table. Most of this team’s success can be attributed to their strong play at forward. German veterans Conny Pohlers and Martina Müeller have lead the goal scoring, with Pohlers second in UWCL with six total goals. Young German international Alexandra Popp has also contributed with her pace. The scary thing is that Pohlers scored four of her goals off the bench and has now worked her way into the starting 11 for the team. While Wolfsburg’s offensive spark seemed to dim in their last round of 16 games, a 1-1 tie with Røa, they have still been playing well back home in the Frauen-Bundesliga, where Pohlers is second on the league’s top scorers list with 10 goals. If Pohlers continues with her excellent form, she could be the x-factor for Wolfsburg. Defensively, Wolfsburg looks solid as well, led by New Zealand international Rebecca Smith and keeper Alisa Vetterlein. They’ve allowed goals in every game, yes, but it has only been one goal in each game. If Wolfsburg can continue its offensive output and keep the defensive lapses to a minimum, their first-ever UWCL story could end with an appearance at Stamford Bridge.
Best Ever Finish: 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 Quarterfinals
Losses: Sofia Jakobsson (Forward)
Rossiyanka could be the foil of Wolfsburg, as they have been in the UWCL for the past six years. This is their second year in the quarterfinals, but they seem to be the team in the worst form coming into the final eight. While Wolfsburg and Juvisy joined them as the only teams to tie in their four games prior to the quarters, Rossiyanka was the only team to lose, falling 2-1 to Den Haag in the round of 32. For their four games, Rossiyanka’s total aggregate was only 8-5, and they rank ninth for total goals scored. That’s behind two teams that have already been eliminated from the tournament.
Most of these problems are because Rossiyanka’s big name players aren’t producing. Brazilian Fabiana has scored only one goal in four appearances and impact player Sofia Jakobsson of Sweden left the team for Chelsea. That puts the pressure on the team’s leading goal scorers, Natalia Shlyapina and Tatyana Skotnikova. Shlyapina will be looked to carry the team, as she seemingly has done since she got there in 2005. With some decent play for Russia in EURO qualifiers, Shlyapina should have some momentum heading into the game, but it will take a lot to keep up with Wolfsburg’s firepower as Rossiyanka’s defense hasn’t exactly been goal proof. It’s going to take superior performances from Shlyapina and the seemingly invisible Fabiana if Rossiyanka wants a chance to make it to their first ever UWCL semifinal.
There are lots of great story lines heading into these quarterfinals, and the match ups are poised to have some excellent soccer with back and forth action. Semifinal play will be April 13 and 14, with the second legs April 20 and 21. The big finale will be May 23rd at Stamford Bridge in London.
Rachael Caldwell will be graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2015 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and minors in Spanish and Business Management. Rachael played soccer from when she was three until her senior year of high school, where she was the captain of her state championship winning team. While she only plays pick up now, she still passionately follows the game and was contacted by Our Game Magazine via Twitter in 2013. Rachael looks forward to writing more for OGM and also writes about women's soccer on her own blog: rachaelfc.wordpress.com.