Ada Hegerberg Melting Faces for Lyon as PSG “Struggle” Domestically
Well, the men are running around and that’s all very exciting, but there’s another football going on right now which is just as interesting. Allez les femmes…
Seven games in, and first place in the table is no surprise, as Lyon are top with seven wins, scored 44, conceded 0, and with a minimum winning margin of four goals. However, the current order of the rest of the top four is a little unusual, with Montpellier in second spot, and PSG third, ahead of Juvisy only on goal difference.
The key thing in assessing the validity of any team’s position in Div 1 is ‘have they played Lyon yet?’, and PSG have, picking up a 5-0 trouncing at the Gerland (Ada Hegerberg hat-trick) in game 4. So, at least that’s out of the way. More worrying is that this came after they dropped points at home to Montpellier, playing out a 0-0 draw, in which the visitors arguably had the better chances.
MHSC are yet to play Lyon, but came from a goal down away at Juvisy to win 2-1, so with the two other traditionally tricky away trips done, are looking in a good place to keep up the challenge for second. Unlike last year, when they stuttered a little, and despite losing Claire Lavogez to Lyon in the summer, Montpellier have a good balance this year, with three players in the top ten goalscorers (Marie-Charlotte Leger, Valerie Gauvin and Sofia Jakobsson, winner of the FFF award for best player last season). Juvisy play Lyon next, and then in a presumably intentional scheduling twist, the next grands chocs will be at the half-way point, game 11 in early December, as Montpellier host Lyon, and Juvisy host PSG.
The jockeying for the second UWCL place will therefore largely depend on how second to fourth fare in the matches between themselves – and whether any of the teams in mid-table can spring a surprise and maybe get a doughty home draw against one of the big fish, such as Saint-Etienne, who narrowly avoided relegation last year but shared the spoils with Juvisy in the first game of the season, drawing 2-2. Last season Guingamp gave a very good account of themselves to come fifth, beating Juvisy and drawing home and away with Montpellier, who just about held onto fourth spot despite also drawing to Metz (relegated despite a brave recovery at the end of the season), Soyaux and Rodez. For the top four, therefore, they do need to keep their concentration to avoid dropping crucial points against the other teams, but the matches between them are usually the key.
Last season, PSG came second with a big gap down to third as they beat Montpellier and Juvisy both times, but lost both their matches to Lyon, 2-1 at the Gerland and then a comprehensive 4-0 home loss in game 18. However, they had other priorities, having knocked OL out of the Champions League in the Round of 16, with a canny 2-1 aggregate win, going on to beat Glasgow City and title-holders Wolfsburg on their run to the final, where they lost 2-1 to Frankfurt, the winner coming, guttingly, in injury time. On which point…
Last year’s top two are also involved in the UWCL, coasting through their first round (of 32) fixtures. With both managing 6-0 away wins in the first legs, there was maybe little riding on the second, but the clubs took slightly different attitudes to them, which may be indicative.
After their half-dozen against Polish champions Medyk Konin (braces from Hegerberg and Pauline Bremer, Eugenie Le Sommer and Wendie Renard also chipping in), Lyon looked to have their feet off the gas, giving a start to young Delphine Cascarino and apparently playing Bremer at right-back. Le Sommer scored after only 2 minutes, and it was looking like another easy cruise through. However, a fine display from Anna Szymanska in the Konin goal made it a bit more difficult than OL might have anticipated. Hegerberg got another brace (69th and 89th minutes), but they were held at bay for large parts of the match, Szymanska stopping 12 of their 15 shots on target (37 total).
PSG, on the other hand, had a quiet first 20 minutes against Romanian champions Olimpia Cluj, before winning a penalty that Sabrina Delannoy converted. Cristiane made it two just before half-time, and the second half will be one to forget for the Cluj players. Cristiane completed her hat-trick inside 20 minutes, Lisa Dahlkvist scored, Lindsey Horan got two in two minutes, there was an own goal, and substitute Ouleymata Sarr got the ninth. By this time, I was live-tweeting goals in groups, and The Final Third had sent us the traditional Simpsons meme.
As last season, there’s a sneaking suspicion that if PSG can settle after bringing in a lot of players in the summer, they maybe have the better balance when the going gets tough. Yes, Lyon’s Hegerberg isn’t so much ‘on fire’ as melting any defenders who get near her, but Lyon can, as Konin showed, be and get frustrated when playing even a semi-competent defence. That might not matter in the next round or two, but against the really big players, Lyon have tended to come up short. PSG, on the other hand, may have stumbled badly against OL in the league, but Cristiane and Anja Mittag look to be settling well, and those nine goals against Cluj came from nine shots on target. They might not routinely get silly-nil scorelines, but when it comes to the crunch, Farid Benstiti’s team have a lot of smarts.
Next up, both French teams are facing debutantes at this level, with Lyon playing Atletico Madrid and PSG playing KIF Orebro, both runners up in their respective leagues. The Spanish side sent a couple of players to their ultimately underwhelming and coach-firing campaign at the World Cup, including striker Priscilla Borja, and had a narrow win over Russia’s Zorky Krasnogorsk in the last round, with a 2-0 home loss in the first leg followed by a terrific 3-0 away win, which included Dolores Gallardo saving a penalty. The Swedes had a more comprehensive 8-0 win over PAOK, but might be compromised by having lost possibly their best player over the summer; Dahlkvist, who now plays for (gestures upwards) PSG…
Those ties take place mid-November, and there are some other tempting match-ups on the list, as Twente and Barcelona face off, and the remaining English team Chelsea meet Wolfsburg, who will be looking to get their mojo back. Title-holders Frankfurt are still in it, natch, meeting Lillestrom, and dark horses Rosengard (featuring Marta, Therese Sjogran, Lina Nilsson and England’s Anita Asante, among others) play Verona.
A final word on awards time – as the men’s Ballon D’Or list was released, featuring 23 players (although, bucking tradition, not necessarily three goalkeepers), there was slightly less fanfare for the ten-strong list for the FIFA World Player of the Year, the Women’s award. This features two Frenchwomen – both Lyon players – Le Sommer and Amandine Henry.
Two of the other nominees have retired – Celia Sasic from the game in general, Nadine Angerer from international duty – and there are three members of the USA squad that won the World Cup (Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo), but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that one of them will make the shortlist of three in late November, before the winners are announced in early January. Gérard Prêcheur and Benstiti are also both up for the Coach of the Year award.