Olympique Lyonnais have long been the dominant force in Europe.
The French giants have appeared in eight of the last ten finals, winning six of them. They have won the last four tournaments, beating VfL Wolfsburg twice as well as Barcelona and domestic rivals Paris Saint-Germain. Even without star striker Ada Hegerberg, they are still the most feared outfit in women’s football.
However, will it be enough to win them their fifth successive European crown?
Wolves are circling
If anyone can stop the Lyon juggernaut, it may well be their German nemeses Wolfsburg. Stephan Lerch’s side have been Lyon’s closest competitors in recent years and were the last side to beat Lyon in a European final, winning 2013 final 1-0 in London.
Lyon have historically struggled against German sides in Europe, losing the 2010 final to Potsdam as well the aforementioned 2013 final. Additionally, Lyon were knocked out of the 2013-14 Champions League by Potsdam at the Round of 16 stage.
However, in recent years they have picked up against German opposition. They have faced Wolfsburg in each of the last four tournaments and have come out on top every single time.
Due to how the draw fell, Wolfsburg will have to play Lyon in the final. This would involve the German outfit getting past Glasgow City in the quarter-finals and either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in the semi-finals.
This is only the second time Glasgow have reached this stage of the Champions League and they only scraped past Brøndby on penalties in the Round of 16. Beating the Scottish champions shouldn’t pose a massive problem to Wolfsburg short of a massive upset, but the semi-final could prove to be a pain.
Barcelona are the dominant force in Spanish football and reached the final of the Champions League in 2019. As they have never won a European crown, Lluis Cortes and his players go into the tournament on home soil with a point to prove.
The Spanish champions are also fresh off an unbeaten season in the league, beating second-placed Atletico to the title by nine points. Barca only dropped points twice in the league, with one of the teams that stopped them being Atletico, who only lost once themselves. However, matches between the two are unpredictable.
While Atleti managed to keep them out in one match, they got battered 6-1 in the other. Despite Atletico’s undoubted quality, Barcelona will likely edge the match to meet Wolfsburg in the semis.
Predicting the outcome of that match is difficult as both sides are simply that good. The only indication we can get of how Barca stack up to German talent is their 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich last season. While this shows they can beat the second-best side in Germany, it has to be noted that Wolfsburg are a class apart from Bayern.
The Spaniard’s standout performer domestically has been Jennifer Hermoso, scoring 23 goals in just 22 league games. Second best in terms of finding the net has been Asisat Oshaola with 20 strikes, however, this form is yet to transfer onto the European stage.
Their highest scorer is midfielder Alexia Putellas with just three goals, meaning Barca have failed to carry their free-scoring league form over to Europe just yet. However, they have found goals from seven different players so they don’t have to rely on one individual for goals.
Wolfsburg have had no such issue when it comes to a standout scorer. Star player Pernille Harder is the third-highest scorer in the competition with five goals, behind just Ada Hegerberg and Vivianne Miedema.
The German champions have also scored ten more goals than Barca with 22, though this stat comes entirely from their 10-0 victory over Kosovan outfit Mitrovica in the first leg of their Round of 32 tie. A further edge comes from the number of scorers for Wolfsburg. While Barca have had a respectable seven, Wolfsburg have had an exceptional 12.
All signs point towards Wolfsburg easing past Barca at the semi-final stage, but can they finally take down Lyon in the final?
The guns are firing
Well first, Lyon have to reach the final themselves. They face a quarter-final with Bayern Munich first which, given their floundering form in Europe this season, should result in a Lyon victory. Finally, they face either Arsenal or PSG in the semi-finals. Lyon have bettered PSG domestically and in Europe on numerous occasions before so they shouldn’t pose a threat.
However, Arsenal are a different story. Despite not qualifying for next year’s tournament with a third-place finish in the Women’s Super League, they have been electric in Europe. The Gunners have the top scorer of the tournament so far in Vivanne Miedema while Daniëlle van de Donk and Jordan Nobbs have both been in fine form too, racking up seven goals between them.
Given their form in Europe up to yet, it isn’t unfeasible to see Arsenal progressing past PSG to set up a date with Lyon in the semis.
With Lyon being without Ada Hegerberg, it will be far from a cakewalk for the reigning champions. Lyon’s second-highest scorers behind their Norwegian maestro are Eugénie Le Sommer and Wendie Renard, both tied on four. English forward Nikita Parris, who will likely replace Hegerberg has had a fine domestic season but has only managed three goals in Europe so far. Arsenal don’t have as talented a squad as Lyon, but they have their focal point.
Mediema is leading the race to win the golden boot for the Champions League, going with her WSL Player of the Year award and golden boot. The Dutch international could cause havoc for the likes of Renard as she has for every defender she’s faced this season.
This presents Lyon with the two most difficult tasks they could have. Arsenal in the semis and Wolfsburg in the final should they progress. It is perhaps a bold call, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for Arsenal to spring a massive shock and beat the reigning champions.
Arsenal haven’t played competitively since March as the WSL season never restarted meaning that while they could be rusty, they will have a fully fit squad. They have regained some match sharpness with friendlies over Charlton and Aston Villa and go into their quarter-final fully prepared to take on PSG and then likely Lyon in the semis.
If Lyon do squeeze past Arsenal or PSG, they will have a mammoth task in taking on Wolfsburg. Even with a full-strength team, Lyon have struggled against Wolfsburg. Going into the match minus their best player and relying on Parris for goals will make the match even harder.
While it may seem odd to place so much emphasis on one player, it cannot be overstated how important Ada Hegerberg is to Lyon. Seeing how they cope without her will make for an interesting spectacle in the weeks to come.