UEFA Women’s Champions League: Lyon dazzles; Arsenal, Wolfsburg fail to put quarterfinals away

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UEFA’s Women’s Champions League is down to eight teams, but after today’s first legs of the competition’s quarterfinals, one team saw their fate sealed. And predictably, it was at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais.

The two-time defending tournament champions posted a 5-0 result over Malmö on Wednesday, with goals from Elodie Thomis, Lotta Schelin (twice, pictured right), Camile Abily and Louisa Necib igiving the 2011 Swedish champions an impossible task next Thursday. Lyon hasn’t conceded in five matches this competition. On Thursday, Malmo will have to score at least five times while containing an attack that’s posted 28 goals. This tie’s over.

Given Malmö’s quality, it was a shame to see the Swedes drawn into Lyon’s section of the bracket. They were “the toughest side we could have faced,” according to Abily, mere lip service from a team capable of posting a 5-0 on anybody. After finishing joint-top in Sweden last year (Tyresö won the title), Malmö had reason to think they could be a bigger factor in this competition, had they avoided OL.

Advancing was always going to be a big ask, but if Malmo could contain Lyon in France, they may have at least had a prayer back in Sweden. Instead, the seven-time Swedish champions became sacrificial lamb.

This is a team that has talents like German veteran Anja Mittag, Danish attacker Ramona Bachmann, young Swedish star Elin Rubensson, and New Zealand international Ali Riley. Dutch attacker Manon Melis is back after a season at Linköping, while Lina Nilsson and Malin Levenstad are normally strong in defense. It’s a talented team that would compete near the top of the NWSL, but against a Lyon side that has elite players at almost every position, it wasn’t even close.

If Malmö were in another quadrant, they’d have a strong chance to make the semifinals. In the other half of the bracket, they could even be finalists, maybe. Instead, their hopes were extinguished after 90 minutes.

Americans in action: Megan Rapinoe didn’t start for Lyon, but she got a 24-minute run-out after coming on for Lara Dickenmann in the second half. The U.S. international was one of four Americans to making a Wednesday appearance and the only one that didn’t start. Kristin Edmonds went 87 minutes for Russian champions Rossiaynka, while both Yael Averbuch and Camille Levin went 90 minutes in Göteborg’s visit to France’s Juvisy.

Kerr debuts in Arsenal win

After one match, it’s unclear how much Arsenal has been hurt by Laura Harvey’s departure. In Shelley Kerr’s debut as Arsenal’s new coach, the Gunners posted an impressive 3-1 win over Italian champions Torres. Still, a late goal leaves the tie in doubt, with an injury to Arsenal’s most important player leaving a feeling that this two-goal may be vulnerable.

Arsenal took an early lead through Kelly Smith only to see their playmaker leave soon after with an apparent knee injury. Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little gave Arsenal a 3-0 lead, but when Sandy Mändly got Torres on the board in the 71st minute, the Italians were back in the tie. A 2-0 win next Wednesday in Sassari would send the Gunners crashing out.

“The girls were disappointed because it could have easily been avoided,” Kerr told the Guardian after the match. “But we’re more than capable of scoring away from home.”

To their credit, Arsenal managed to contain Italian legend Patrizia Panico. The 38-year-old had scored eight goals for Torres’s 13 goals in their first four games. Today, she was kept off the scoresheet.

Wolfsburg’s missed chance

Frauen-Bundesliga leaders Wolfsburg were heavy favorites going into their tie with Russian champions Rossiyanka, a status that was justified with early goals from Alexandra Popp and Martina Muller. When Rossiyanka defender Olesya Machina was sent off just before halftime, Wolfsburg were given a chance to put up the kind of number that would eliminate any doubts before next week’s trip to Russia.

That’s not what happened. One minute into the second half, and own goal by Josephine Henning made it 2-1, and despite playing 11-on-10 for nearly 50 minutes, Wolfsburg were unable to add to their lead. Rossiyanka not only stopped what could have been a blowout, they took a valuable road goal out of Germany.

So Rossiyanka essentially broke serve. That doesn’t mean they’re all of a sudden favorites. Wolfsburg still have the better side, and unless they get beaten in Russia, they’re through to their first semifinal.

But this was a chance to put this tie away. If, for whatever reason, Rossiyanka’s able to turn this tie around in Russia, Wolfsburg will be left to rue Wednesday’s second half.

Little between Juvisy, Göteborg

Juvisy is the litmus test for France’s Division Feminine. If they can do something in this competition, they’ll provide some justification for their domestic league and start to quell conventional wisdom that Lyon’s prowess is bolstered by a thin French circuit.

Conventional wisdom stood uncorrected on Wednesday. Despite an early goal conceded to Julie Machart on a bomb from outside the box, Göteborg — a team that finished a distant fourth in last year’s Damallsvenskan and were almost eliminated in the last round by Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring — was able to hold out. Though their late advances never broke through for what would have been a huge away goal, they take a only 1-0 loss back to Sweden.

Though Juvisy ultimately won the game, a 1-0 vicotry in the home leg of a Champions League tie is a minimally acceptable result. They would have wanted more. Now unless they get on the scoresheet in a one-goal loss, Juvisy must get a result of some kind next week in Sweden.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.