English clubs’ two-pronged attempt to end the Franco-German dominance of the Women’s Champions League faltered on Sunday with Manchester City held at home to a goalless draw by holders Lyon, then Chelsea beaten 3-1 on their own turf by German champions Wolfsburg.
It was a sobering day for the WSL’s leading two even if City will travel to France next week dreaming of repeating last year’s unexpected 1-0 win there (albeit after a 3-1 home defeat). While Chelsea will not concede their focus is likely to turn to the domestic double which remains within their reach.
It is 11 years since Arsenal became the first, and so far only, English club to reach the final of the sport’s premier club competition. With City facing Europe’s dominant team optimism was centred on Chelsea ending that drought. The sentiment seemed sound when So-Yun Ji gave them a second minute lead at Kingsmeadow. However, the Frauen Bundesliga champions struck back three times and look set to knock Chelsea out for the third successive year.
With injury, ineligibility and suspension depriving Emma Hayes of five players the Chelsea manager had to make several enforced changes from her first choice XI and was unable to name a full complement of substitutes. More positively Ji was back from helping South Korea reach next summer’s World Cup and her quality was immediately decisive.
Fran Kirby, playing a lone hand in attack, dispossessed Noelle Maritz by the corner flag and cut the ball back to Ji. Quick feet and a smart shimmy sent three defenders the wrong way as she turned and shot inside the far post.
It was the perfect start but the visitors did not panic. They gradually took midfield control and drew level when Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir stole in to head home Lara Dickenmann’s 16th-minute cross. The Lady Wolves took the lead three minutes before the break. Lena Goessling floated in a free-kick and Maren Mjelde, jumping at the back of a group of three players, inadvertently diverted it into her own net.
Chelsea, watched by a record crowd at their new home including England manager Phil Neville, began the second period brightly but were breached again by Dickenmann’s 65th-minute fine acrobatic volley following Caroline Graham Hansen’s cross. With Hayes sending on a trio of subs Chelsea thereafter had spells of pressure but the German side always looked in control.
“You have to accept you can have fantastic days in football and days like this," said Hayes. "It is disappointing as we are better than that but we have not had the chance to show it. This was our third game in a week and our levels dwindled. We lacked half a yard and they picked us off. We have regain the freshness for next week.”
City were facing a Lyon side which had won all their 28 matches this season, scoring 173 goals to five. Manager Nick Cushing recalled Karen Bardsley and was rewarded as the England goalkeeper kept a clean sheet climaxing in a superb 90th save to thwart Amandine Henry. Bardsley made several other important stops but was well-supported by her defence whose defiance was highlighted by key clearances from Demi Stokes and Jen Beattie as Lyon pressed for a winner.
“I'm proud because of the effort and endeavour in the moments when we were under pressure,” said Cushing. “When you play against a team that's the best in the world you have to expect to be under pressure at times, but I thought we put them under pressure at times. We had some opportunities.”
Nikita Parris volleyed City's best possibility over from Beattie's knock-down while Mel Lawley and Izzy Christiansen spurned sharp chances. Former City defender Lucy Bronze had a mixed return being booked for fouling Parris. The England defender was honest about her own team.
“I think we were very poor, especially in the first half,” she said. “City played their game plan well and probably planned better than we did.” With Lyon unlikely to make the same mistake again City will hope they have not missed their chance.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies