UEFA Women’s Champions League: Big picture thoughts on Lyon’s unexpected exit (Part 1 of 2)

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Olympique Lyon had been to four straight UEFA Women’s Champions League finals. If it wasn’t for a complete, well executed sit-deep-and-wait plan this spring from Wolfsburg, it would have been three titles in-a-row. So until this week, they were the monarchs of Europe, the best team in women’s club soccer, and probably the best club team we’ve ever seen in a section of the sport that’s just starting to mature.

Then they lost. In the Round of 16, the competition’s overwhelming favorite (to at least make their fifth straight final) couldn’t protect the 1-0 lead they’d earned Nov. 9 in Germany. Lyon were victimized by the team they beat to claim their first title (2010-11), with Turbine Potsdam using goals from Stefanie Draws and Maren Mjelde bringing the Germans back from two goals down to overthrow the crown. When Mjelde’s 73rd minute penalty conversion gave Potsdam the away goals tiebreaker, Lyon was left to ruminate with their 2012-13 final misgiving, Wolfsburg having also won via a converted penalty.

Despite Potsdam’s obvious quality, their upset has left the tournament in a slightly uncertain state. Obviously, the show will go on, and for those that have rued Lyon’s Euro-fueled rise, this day was long in coming. Yet there’s little doubt OL were the competition’s highest profile team. Losing them this soon is like Barcelona going out just after group stage. Or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls being upset before the finals. Or Roger Federer in his prime being upset in round one at Wimbledon. Of course it could happen. That doesn’t mean we’re prepared for it.

But the wreckage of Lyon running aground isn’t so bleak. Challenging people to look beyond the easy story, this crash may have a silver lining. There may be some secret magic on this island that will give us some insight on who we are. We could learn to walk on our own, find love again, and leave all the trappings of our other lives behind.

Then again, we could all end up at a church, incredulous and despondent at how things turned out.

In a follow up post, we’ll sift thought the pros and cons of Lyon’s early exit, but it’s worth noting: These are the kind of existential problems that come from a tournament’s maturing. Four years ago, nobody would have cared if a dominant team bowed out of Women’s Champions League. Now, a small ripple actually makes it to shore. People may not know much about women’s soccer, but some of them know Lyon’s the standard. That knowledge alone is a type of progress.

Now the task for Champions League is to create another heroine – a second, replacement headline that will keep those that came for dominance invested in chaos. Is that focal point Turbine? The holders’ Wolfburg? Or a United States’ national team-heavy squad, Tyresö? Or maybe the chaos can be contained, discussed, appreciated and sold. Maybe it’s time for Women’s Champions League to be the show, not Lyon.

source: AP
Malmo’s Manon Melis, left, and Wolfsburg’s Verena Faisst fight for the ball during the teams’ UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 16 matchup.

There’s no need to settle on one answer. Whether it be about rulers or serfs, Women’s Champions League doesn’t have to be a single-story competition anymore. If the potential of Lyon’s exit is realized, casual fans may come to think beyond the two-time champions when considering the world’s best club competition.

Here are the Round of 16’s other results:

  • Tyresö (Sweden) 4-o Fortuna Hjørring (Denmark) [6-1, agg.] – U.S. international Whitney Engen scored as Sweden’s runners up make their first final eight.
  • Torres (Italy) 2-0 Rossiyanka (Russia) [2-1, agg.] – 38-year-old Patrizia Panico scored in the 63rd minute, with a late goal line clearance in stoppage time sending Italy’s champions through.
  • Neulengbach (Austria) 3-0 Konak Belediyespor (Turkey) [6-0, agg.] – The Turkish club’s first appearance in Champions League ends one round later than many though, even if they were never in a tie that serves as another argument for improved seedings, draw procedures.
  • Wolfsburg (Germany) 3-1 Malmö (Sweden) [5-2, agg.] – The second of the round’s highlight matches send the holders through thanks to goals from Lena Goessling, Luisa Wensing, and Martina Müller.
  • Zürich (Switzerland) 1-3 Barcelona (Spain) [1-6, agg.] – A surprisingly easy tie for the Spanish champions, who make their first quarterfinal. 18-year-old Serbian Jelena Cankovic standout, given her first start of the competition, scored her second goal.
  • Glasgow City (Scotland) 2-3 Arsenal (England) [2-6, agg.] – Even though Suzanne Lappin scored two minutes into the second leg, this matchup was never close, though their second leg trouble (outshot by Glasgow) does raise questions as to whether Arsenal is really more than a dark horse in this competition.
  • Birmingham City (England) 5-2 Zorky (Russia) [7-2, agg.] – The debuting Russians were out of their league against a team also taking their first turn in Champions League, with a brace from Kirsty Linnett help Brum to their easy win.

You read that title right. There are two big posts on UEFA Women’s Champions League. The pro/con debate on Lyon’s exits is here.

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

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Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.