Women’s Champions League : Lyon and Montpellier start their campaigns
This will be the ninth Women’s Champions League competition, after the earlier UEFA Cup, and the French participants will be hoping to continue their dominance alongside the Bundesliga teams. In the eight editions so far, OL have won four, with another two final appearances, and after the QSI takeover of PSG saw money also being injected into the women’s team, the capital club have also made the final twice. Most recently, Lyon beat PSG on penalties in the 2016/17 final, which was also the fourth all-French match, and third consecutive season when OL and PSG have faced off (the other was Juvisy getting hammered 9-1 on aggregate by OL in 2012/13).
This season sees a return to Europe for Montpellier, who finished runners up to OL in Division 1 last season, and have not featured since the first Champions League, reaching the quarter-finals in 2009/10. While OL continue to be the biggest team in French women’s football, and PSG have splashed the cash to recruit a team of stars, Montpellier’s approach has had to be a little more canny: they routinely have their best players snaffled by OL (most recently Claire Lavogez) and have a focus on homegrown youth talent, such as Sandie Toletti and the UNFP’s Meilleure espoir de D1 2017 Sakina Karchaoui, two of five MHSC players in the France squad for Euro 2017. There is also a strong Swedish contingent (Linda Sembrandt, Sofia Jakobsson and Stina Blackstenius) and other solid rather than big-money overseas internationals, with Holland’s Anouk Dekker and Denmark’s Katrine Veje, who faced off in the Euro final.
Last weekend saw Montpellier host Lyon with both teams on nine points after three games, ahead of PSG and Soyaux on 7 after they drew 1-1 in game 1. The match ended 5-0 to the visitors, the sort of comprehensive tonking they frequently put together, where after only getting one from Norway’s Ada Hegerberg in the first half, they put the hammer down with three goals in 15 minutes in the second, before an injury-time fifth from Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsán to finish things off.
OL’s transfer business this summer was again impressive, recruiting one of the stars of the summer, European champion Shanice van de Sanden from Liverpool, and England rightback Lucy Bronze from Manchester City, to add further talent to a squad packed full of quality in the first place.
Medyk Konyn v Olympique Lyonnais
OL will be playing Polish Champions and Cupwinners Medyk Konyn, currently second in the Ekstraliga Kobiet with a game in hand. They have never got past the first knock-out round, and may have done a slight head-desk when the draw came out, as OL beat them 9-0 on aggregate in the 2015/16 competition.
Reynald Pedros is without Lavogez and Jessica Houara, but Bronze’s arrival means that rightback should not be a problem position, and while the club only shows five defenders in the squad, a) that should be more than enough and b) Saki Kumagai and Amel Majri can drop back to centre- and left-back respectively if needed.
Medyk’s squad includes several Polish internationals, including midfielder Paulina Dudek and captain and centre forward Anna Gawrońska, as well as Romanian defender Maria Ficzay and Bulgarian striker Liliane Kostova, who will be the players that the Polish club are looking at to push OL.
Wendie Renard did a decent job of describing MK as “difficult to break down” in the match OL won 6-0 in Poland in 2015, but at the risk of tempting fate this looks like another silly-nil scoreline for the defending champions who are already contemplating being the first team to win three titles in a row.
Montpellier v Zvezda 2005
OL have also previously beaten Montpellier’s opponents, Zvezda 2005, runners-up in the Russian league last season. That was a tighter encounter in the 2011 quarter final, OL winning 1-0 in Lyon after a goalless draw in the first leg. While that was Zvezda’s best performance in the WCL, they were finalists in the last UEFA Cup in 2009, where they were beaten 7-1 by Duisburg over two legs.
Five-time champions Zvezda are currently top of the Top Division with 30 goals scored in 12 games, including nine from league top-scorer Olesya Kurochkina, and eight from Ekaterina Pantyukhina, who got both goals in their latest game, a 2-0 win away at Yenisey Krasnoyarsk. It’s an eight-team league, so they will be looking to stay ahead of the two Moscow clubs in the remaining games, after losing out to Rossiyanka for the title last year.
A slightly wounded Montpellier will need to put the weekend’s drubbing behind them and take their opponents seriously to get their return to Europe off to a good start. If they keep their focus, this should also be a solid home win, hopefully with a clean sheet, to set them up for the away leg next week.