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.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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