A place in the semi-finals of the Women’s Champions League is at stake, with Chelsea and Manchester City both facing tricky first-leg ties this evening.
Manchester City v Linkopings (21st and 28th March)
The City women got their season off to an excellent start, as they went unbeaten throughout their first 11 matches. However, they are currently in their worst run of form since 2015 and their performances are now coming under intense scrutiny. Nick Cushing’s side has drawn once and lost twice in their last three games, including a Continental Tyres Cup final defeat to Arsenal.
The Citizen ladies have barely had a break of late, with nine members of their squad being called up to the SheBelievesCup, compiled by injuries to ‘keeper Karen Bardsley and captain Steph Houghton. The pair are now both back in action and are sure to provide the squad with a well-needed boost.
City’s opponents are Swedish champions, Linkopings, who claimed the Damallsvenskan league title back in November. The Swedish division is nowhere near as strong as the WSL and Linkopings have had an awful lot less competitive matches than City this season, with them having to rely on cup games and friendlies to keep their match fitness up.
They are yet to make it past the quarter-finals of the competition, but the recent arrival of English striker Natasha Dowie may improve their chances.
The Citizens are strong favourites heading into the match, but given their recent form, Linkopings could prove a threat.
Montpellier v Chelsea (21st and 28th March)
The Blues ladies have had a fantastic season so far. Emma Hayes’ side have only conceded nine goals in all competitions and are unbeaten in eight matches, with their last defeat coming in the Continental Tyres Cup semi-final against Manchester City back in mid-January.
The WSL champions have a strong squad at their disposal, which allows Hayes to rotate her starting lineup regularly and prioritise particular games. The Chelsea ladies may count themselves rather fortunate to still be in the Champions League, though, following a hard-fought victory on away goals over Bayern Munich in the round of 32. The form of Fran Kirby, who has registered 14 league goals this season, could be a huge factor in the tie.
Montpellier are third in their respective league at the moment and are a whopping 11 points behind table-toppers Lyon. The French side proved that they do have class in their ranks in the previous round of the competition, as they hammered Brescia 9-2 over the two legs. If they are to compete with Chelsea, then ten-goal striker, Stina Blackstenius, will have to be at her best.
Montpellier have the potential to test this fierce Chelsea side, but the Blues should have enough to make it through to the semi-finals.
Wolfsburg v Slavia Prague (22nd and 28th March)
This is a tie that almost certainly looks like only ending one way, in a Wolfsburg victory. The German side are a real force at this moment in time, having secured a league and cup domestic double last season. They also currently sit three points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Frauen Bundesliga.
Wolfsburg have twice claimed the Champions League title, with their latest triumph coming in 2014. They have been unfortunate to be beaten by eventual champions Lyon in each of the last two years, including a final defeat in the 2015/16 season. The German outfit will be looking to their impressive Danish forward, Pernille Harder, who has scored 17 goals in 17 matches this season, to fire them into the next round.
Although Slavia Prague are huge underdogs, they do deserve respect. The Czech league may not be as strong as the Bundesliga, but Slavia are six points clear at the top of the table and are unbeaten in all competitions since May last year – an outstanding feat for any club. The Czechs will head into the match full of confidence after scoring 15 goals in their last two league matches, as well as keeping clean sheets in each of those games.
Wolfsburg will surely prove too big of a test for Slavia to overcome, with the tie likely to be all but over after the first leg in Germany.
Lyon v Barcelona (22nd and 28th March)
This is without a doubt the most attractive tie of the round, bringing together two of Europe’s biggest women’s football names. Lyon are the team to beat, as they are aiming for a record-breaking third Champions League title in a row. The French side have won the Division 1 Feminine for 11 consecutive seasons and the domestic cup six times in a row, and they are now on course for yet another treble.
Lyon last lost in April 2017, when Manchester City defeated them 1-0 in the Champions League, a tie which they still won 3-2 on aggregate. The French champions have, incredibly, recorded four double-figure results since then, including a 10-1 victory over Lille at the weekend.
The first leg will be played at the men’s team’s 59,000 seater stadium, where England right-back Lucy Bronze will be hoping to help give her Lyon side the edge.
If any team is worthy of giving the European champions a game, Barcelona can on their day. Although they currently sit second in the league behind Atletico and are winless in their last two outings, the Catalonians have a solid squad at their disposal, with more money now being provided for the women’s side.
The acquisitions of England striker Toni Duggan and FIFA women’s player of the year and Dutch international, Lieke Martens, have added a different dimension to this Barcelona team. Duggan, who will be looking forward to facing her international teammate, Lucy Bronze, has scored 13 goals this season, while midfielder Martens has chipped in with ten of her own.
Barcelona will give it a real go, in what will surely be a thrilling tie, but Lyon may just have too much class for the Spaniards in this one.