Lyon are still the favorite, and Wolfsburg are coming off a record-setting result, but last year’s finalists have been dealt huge tests in next months UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 16.
These match-ups were somewhat predetermined on Sept. 5, when the draws for the Rounds of 32 and 16 took place, but seeing how the tournament’s played out, you still can’t help but think some of these matchups have come too soon. Just as last round’s Tyresö-PSG draw saw one of Europe’s most-talented sides meet a premature exit, the Round of 16 will see at least two legitimate contenders leave before the quarterfinals.
In the quickly changing landscape of European women’s soccer, there may be no way around it. Until the tournament can support a full group stage, it’s hard to come up with a sure-fire solution that doesn’t involve a type of NCAA basketball-esque cabal (though that does seem quite popular). The type of granularity that eight groups provide on the men’s side may not exist when in a tournament starts with the knockout round.
As this tournament and its participants stabilze, UEFA can get a better idea of what measures can be implemented to prevent big teams from meeting each other too soon (having teams like Paris Saint-Germain avoid Tyresö in the Round of 32 would certainly help maintain long-term interest in a competition). Until then, we’re going to get some crazy draws, ones that create early obstacles for giants like Lyon and Wolfsburg.
Here are the tournament’s Round of 16 matchups, finalized after results for today’s Round of 32 ties:
Turbine Potsdam (Germany) vs. Lyon (France) – That PSG-Tyresö match we went on about for two weeks? That’s nothing, I mean nothing compared to this one. Lyon’s the tournament favorites. Potsdam’s a former champion. Lyon will be spurred on by memories of last year’s shock loss to Wolfsburg in the final. Potsdam will have to decide if they want to spend two legs behind the ball (emulating Wolfsburg) or take their chances trying to play with the most talented team in the world. I just hope the kickoffs aren’t at the same time as …
Malmö (Sweden) vs. Wolfsburg (Germany) – Like last year’s other finalists (Lyon), the holders got a tough draw. Malmö has claimed three Swedish titles in four years, never finishing outside the top two in that span, and will bring a multi-national list of top-shelf talent to bear on the German champions. The German treble winners will be favorites, coming off their record-setting 27-0 (two-legged) win over Pärnu, but like Potsdam-Lyon, this is another match that will see a true contender leave the competition.
Arsenal (England) vs. Glasgow City (Scotland) – UEFA’s site has already labeled this a British derby, though there is one clear favorite. Shelley Kerr’s side will be expected to ease past their Scottish counterparts, in part because of the Scottish internationals she’ll have in her side. Kim Little’s the Gunners’ most dangerous attacker, Emma Mitchell should start at the back, while 18-year-old Caroline Weir is one of Kerr’s other talented options.
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Zürich (Switzerland) – This match looks somewhat similar to Barcelona’s Round of 32 tie, with Brønby testing whether their recent strides were enough to make Champions League progress. A quarterfinal appearance would be more than most predicted from the still-improving Catalans, but if they can get by Brønby (one of two seeded teams to be eliminated last round), they’re capable of downing Zürich.
Konak (Turkey) vs. Neulengbach (Austria) – The Turks have already made history but may yet have damage to do, being drawn with a team that’s never made it past the Round of 16. The Austrian champions, however, will be seen as slight favorites to make history of their own.
Fortuna (Denmark) vs. Tyresö (Sweden) – If Tyresö could manage PSG, they can take Fortuna, though their draw could have been easier. The Danes have made four straight Round of 16 appearances and were European runners up in 2002-03. Unfortunately, there is a huge gap in talent, making Tyresö the favorites to move on.
Rossiyanka (Russia) vs. Torres (Italy) – Perhaps a sneaky-good match-up, as neither team’s considered a true threat to challenge for the title, yet both are regular presences at this stage of the tournament. Given some of the other Round of 16 pairings, this match may prove more difficult than the survivor’s quarterfinal draw.
Zorky (Russia) vs. Birmingham (England) – These are two teams that typically get overshadowed by their country’s other Champions League entrants, even if Zorky claimed the 2012-13 Premier League title from Rossiyanka. These Round of 16 spots are firsts for clubs who combined for one Champions League appearance before this year’s tournament.
In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.
West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.
Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.
West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.
Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:
Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.
When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”
“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”
That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.
“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”
Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”
Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.
Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.
The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.
Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”
City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.
“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”
Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”
Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.
Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.
The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.
“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieritold the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”
Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.