This week we preview the UEFA Women's Champions League Quarterfinals, which will be held on March 21 and 22, with the return legs the following week.
UEFA Women's Champions League 2017/18 Quarterfinals Preview
In the 2017-18 UEFA Women's Champions League quarterfinals, on Wednesday March 21, Wolfsburg of Germany who defeated Fiorentina of Italy 7-3 on aggregate over the two legs in the Round of 32, will take on heavy underdogs Slavia Prague at home in the Round of 16. Coach Stephan Lerch's side is international laden, with three Swiss internationals—Lara Dickenmann, Vanessa Bernauer, and Noelle Maritz—along with one player each from Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Sweden. Wolfsburg has a solid lead in the Frauen-Bundesliga after 13 games for the 2017/18 title, holding a 5 point lead over surprising Freiburg (34-29), with Bayern Munich in third (28 points). Their Danish international Pernille Harder leads the league in scoring with 13 goals, almost double second placed German international Lina Magull of Freiburg with 7. Magull used to play with Wolfsburg before joining Freiburg three years ago and won two UEFA titles in the German city which is home to automotive giant Volkswagen. German international Alexandra Popp is tied for third with 3 goals and Hungarian international Zsanett Jakabfi (28)—who has won three league titles with the club since joining from MTK Hungaria 9 years ago—has 4 from midfield.
Slavia Prague, coached by the Czech Republic's Pavel Medynsky who joined the club a year ago and guided the side to the league title in 2016/17 after coaching men's sides, fields an entirely home grown side except for two from neighboring Slovakia: 37-year-old forward Andrea Budosova and 24-year-old midfielder Diana Barovicova.
In the eight team regular season 1. Liga Women in the Czech Republic, Slavia leads city rival Sparta Prague by 3 points (31 to 28 points), ahead of the split when the top 4 will contest the Championship round and the bottom 4 will battle against relegation.
In the other game on March 21, Manchester City is at home to Sweden's reigning champion Linkoping. City uses primarily a roster based on home country (Scotland and England) players, plus two from the Netherlands (Nadia Nadim and Tessel Middag), Danish defender Mie Jans, who joined this season from Brondby, while goalkeeper Marie Hourihan and defender Megan Campbell (ex-Florida State University) are Republic of Ireland internationals Scotland's Jane Ross (28) and three time WWC player England's Jill Scott (31) provide stability in the back.
For Linkoping, Swedish international Kosovare Asllani will face her former City teammates. Portugal's Claudia Neto (29) is still top class in midfield and supported by veteran Johanna Rasmussen (34) of Denmark (ex-Atlanta Beat and magicjack in WPS). Linkoping, typically drawing players from around the world, this year is more Nordic focused (with the exception of Neto and English international forward Natasha Dowie) and has 5 players from Denmark--3 of whom are between 18 and 21 years of age—17-year-old Emmaliina Tulkko of Finland and 25-year-old Kristine Minde of Norway, who has been with the Swedish side for 5 seasons. Dowie is an inspired pickup—she has been scoring goals well in recent years for some poor sides in recently disbanded Boston Breakers of the NWSL and Melbourne Victory in Australia.
This could be Man City's year to make the Final after making the semifinals last season (falling to Lyon 2-3 on aggregate) as Linkoping seems to be reloading somewhat this season after some player departures last season. The Swedish league is just starting their Spring to Fall season this month and that could hurt them with consistency on the field. After 11 games of the 2017-18 WSL season, City is one point behind Chelsea at the top of the table (26 vs. 27 points).
On March 22, Montpellier of France faces English Super League side Chelsea in a fascinating tie. Montpellier could pull the upset here over the current WSL leaders; the French side has three veteran Swedish international in defender Linda Sembrant, midfielder Sofia Jakobsson (who will play against one of her former sides in Chelsea) and forward Stina Blackstenius. Up front, coach Jean Louis Saez can use Janice Cayman of Belgium (29-years-old and who played at Florida State University, with the W-League's Pali Blues W-League champions in 2009 and briefly with the Western New York Flash—NWSL Champions in 2016—in the States) with young Haitian international forward Nerila Mondesir, who should lead her country in this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in France. Anouk Dekker (31) of the Netherlands is a strong veteran in the back. Stina Blackstenius of Sweden is fourth in the league in scoring with 10 goals while her Swedish compatriot, Sofia Jakobsson, has 5 goals. French international forward Valerie Gauvin (21-years-old and a native of the African island of Reunion, who is in her fourth season with the club) is seventh in the league in scoring with 8 goals.
Chelsea counters with two Swedes of their own in goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and defender Magdalena Ericsson. Carly Telford (30) in defense and Katie Chapman (35) in midfield are savvy English veterans but all eyes will look to Fran Kirby of England and Ramona Bachmann of Switzerland to score the goals, after American international Crystal Dunn has chosen to return to the NWSL. A win here could be the motivator for coach Emma Hayes side to go all the way to the finals—only the second English side to do so (Arsenal defeated Umea of Sweden 1-0 over two legs in 2006-07 to claim the crown), but Montpellier could surprise the London side.
The glamour tie will be the other French side and two-time reigning champions Olympique Lyon—trying to win an unprecedented third consecutive title—versus Barcelona on March 22, with the first leg in France. English international Lucia Bronze (26) is having a good first year at Lyon and the midfield is powerful with France internationals Amel Majri, Eugenie Le Sommer and German international Dzensifer Marossan. In additional, Camille Abily is still going strong at age 33, and has 6 league goals this season. Delphine Cascarino (21) scored for France in the SheBelieves Cup in the States last month. Shanice van de Sanden of the Netherlands is in her first year in France after transferring from Liverpool. Lyon's non-Europeans are Saki Kumagai (Japan) and Kadeisha Buchanan (Canada). Olympique Lyon leads the Feminine Division 1 with 48 points in 16 games, with Paris Saint Germain second with 40 points from 15 games, and Montpellier three points further back with 37 points from 16 games. Ada Hegerberg of Norway leads the league with 22 goals, while Eugenia Le Sommer has 13 goals for third and Marozsan has 7 goals and tied for eighth. Camille Abily's 6 goals leave her tied for 10th.
Barcelona could upset Lyon's attempt for a Women's Champions League consecutive three peat. They have drawn in international talent from around the world including defender Fabiana of Brazil (28)—who played in the WPS with Boston Breakers in 2009-10 and joined Barca this year from Dalian Quanjian, where she won a league title in 2016. Other imports include defender Line Roddik (30) of Denmark and midfielders Elise Bussaglia of France (32), Natasha Andonova of Macedonia (25) and Lieke Martens (25) of the Netherlands. At forward Barcelona can draw on Andressa Alves (25) of Brazil, who is in her second year at the club, and English international forward Toni Duggan (26). Lieke Martens, Andressa Alves and Spanish international Barbara Latorre all have 9 goals so far this season in the league for joint ninth in the scorers' table. Mexican international Veronica Corral leads the Spanish league in scoring with 21 goals for mid-table Levante. Barcelona is one point behind reigning champion Atletico Madrid after 22 games (54 vs. 55 points).
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey