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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”