The Bracket Is Set
The Women’s Champions League quarter and semi-final draw for the 2021 has been completed, and everyone knows their path to the title. Each and every one of these teams will believe they have a legitament shot at taking the title from holder’s Lyon. The women’s game is getting stronger by every year making this tournament must-watch entertainment for fans of the game. Now we break down the quarterfinal match-ups.
First Half of the Women’s Champions League Bracket
VfL Wolfsburg (Germany) v Chelsea FC (England) Aka the Pernille Harder Tie
Last season’s runners-up return to the quarter-finals following a comfortable 4-0 aggregate defeat of Norweigan side LSK Kvinner FK. In the first leg, two goals from Alexandra Popp gave Wolfsburg a comfortable lead to defend in the second leg. In a slightly cagier affair, Wolfsburg got an OG followed by a second from Norwegian midfielder Ingrid Syrstad Engen within 3 minutes at the end of the first half to solidify the tie. The Norweigan never really pushed or challenged Wolfsburg over the 180 minutes.
Wolfsburg has yet to be challenged in the Champions League. Their early-season league form saw some issues in replacing Pernille Harder and an injured Alexandra Popp. As Popp has returned to total health and form, she presents a reliable scorer to lead the line against Chelsea, something the German club will need. Wolfsburg has had a solid defensive record this season. Their defense has yet to concede in the Champion’s League this season and only allowed 12 in all competitions this year. Chelsea will be a different test for the defending runners-up.
Chelsea returns to the quarter-finals after missing out on last year’s tournament with an impressive 3-1 aggregate victory over Atlético Madrid. They played the most competitive tie in the round of 16, saying Chelsea were lucky to advance. In a first leg filled with drama, Ann-Katrin Berger saved two Atlético penalties, and Chelsea left Kingsmeadow with a 2-0 lead due to a Maren Mjelde converted penalty and Fran Kirby goal. Atlético came out with more intent in the second leg, but a resolute Chelsea came away with a draw to see themselves through. Again there was controversy, though, with Atlético missing a third penalty of the tie, this time off the crossbar.
Chelsea showed their credentials in this tournament, getting through that tricky tie with Atlético. Their defense was extremely resolute over the two legs. Outside of the three penalties and the one goal, there were never any real moments from open play that the defense looked troubled. In all competitions, Chelsea has also only conceded 12 goals. While their offense was mainly two penalties, they created three good chances in the first leg before the red card in the first leg. They have what may be the deadliest attacking force left in the tournament. Between Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Beth England, and Pernille Harder, they have 57 goals and 33 assists in all competitions. These players are a handful for any defense and will test Wolfsburg in a way they have not been this season.
Wolfsburg has the historical advantage having knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League on their three previous meetings. This tie I expect to be different. Chelsea got through missing their captain and defensive force Magdalena Eriksson. They also played down to ten for almost the entirety of one leg against a good Atlético team. While the injury to Mjelde will be one they need to overcome, it will also give them an extra fight and determination.
Wolfsburg has yet to be tested, and I do think that counts for something. Chelsea provides an attack that few, if any, can match. With Harder returning to face her former team may have some help in tactics. Emma Hayes is currently one of the not brightest and best coaches in women’s football, giving Chelsea a slight tactical advantage. While I think it will be a close tie, I expect Chelsea to get through to the semi-finals.
Second Half of the Champions League Bracket
FC Bayern Munich (Germany) v Rosengård (Sweden)
FC Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich eased through to the quarter-finals with a comprehensive 9-1 aggregate victory over Kazakhstan side BIIK-Kazygurt. They began the tie with a staggering 6-1 win at BIIK, where five different players contributed to the goals. This result left them with very little to do in the home tie, and they wrapped up their route to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 victory. Overall they had seven different scorers for their nine goals, showing their depth in attack.
Bayern Munich has been an unstoppable force this year in the Frauen-Bundesliga. The overall leaders by 5 points over Wolfsburg have not dropped points this season. Their defense has been one of the stingiest in European domestic leagues, only allowing three goals all season. If you add in the two goals they have conceded in the Champions League this year, they have allowed a total of 5 goals this campaign. With this strength, they have confidence and swagger about them going into the quarter-finals. Lead by midfielder Sydney Lohmann’s three goals in Europe and nine goals domestically, they have a depth in scoring from the entire team. With this in mind, it causes Bayern to be able to trouble any team they run across.
Rosengård arrived at the quarter-finals after a tough-fought 4-2 victory over Austrian side St. Pölten. After falling behind 2-0 early in the second half of the first leg, Rosengård bounced back with two goals: one at the death to tie. They took this and ran away 2-0 victors in the second leg, with two first-half goals. Having four different goal scorers in this round following the 17-0 demolishing of WFC Lanchkhuti shows they have the pieces to create in this competition.
With their strong offensive showing this Champions League, Rosengård has two players who are topping the Golden Boot competition. Both forward Jelena Čanković and midfielder Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen have scored four goals in the WCL. They will both need to have match-winning performances against an extremely stingy Baryn defense. While solid in the Champions League, their defense has not had the same success in the Norweigan league. Allowing 14 goals through this point of the domestic league does not bode well facing a ruthless Bayern attack. Rosengård will hope they can find enough defensive solidity to keep the Bavarians in touch.
Because of the Swedish side’s monumental task, I do not see a way past Bayern for them. Off all the quarter-final ties, this feels the most one-sided. While the offense for Rosengård can trouble their opponents, it’s their defense that worries me. Neither of these sides faced a stern test in the round of 16; Bayern has sterner competition in their domestic league. If this is close, perhaps Rosengård’s tests and resilience in the round of 16 may help them. Honestly, Bayern should coast through this round.
Barcelona (Spain) v Manchester City WFC (England)
One of last year’s semi-finalists, Barcelona, return to the quarter-finals following a comfortable 9-0 thrashing of Danish side Fortuna Hjørring. After a resounding 4-0 victory in the first leg featuring a hat-trick from Jennifer Hermoso, they continued to dominate with a 5-0 win in Denmark. These results show both the power of their leading scorer and the depth available across their squad.
Barcelona has been on a tear this year. They are nearly perfect in the league, winning all 19 games while only allowing three goals. Because of their stingy defense and overwhelming offense, they have a goal difference of plus 92. This dominance will, without a doubt, give them confidence going into the quarter-finals. Their performance and substantial 9 point lead with three games in hand also provides comfort in focusing on the Champions League. With talents in attack such as Lieke Martens and Asisat Oshoala to combine with top scorer Jennifer Hermoso, they can push any team they face.
Manchester City WFC
After being knocked out in the round of 16 last year by Atlético Madrid, City had a much easier task to get the quarter-finals in 2021. Manchester City defeated Italian side Fiorentina 8-0 over the two legs. They received a strong performance getting out to two early goals in the first five minutes of the first leg. Due to this, they could relax and enjoy the remainder of the tie, with American Sam Mewis providing 3 of the eight goals.
Manchester City has found their form after starting a slow start to the campaign. Two draws and a loss from their opening seven games found them behind the leaders, but they have climbed their way back into second place in the WSL. While their defense has not been as sharp as Barcelona, by giving up 12 goals in all competitions this season, seven were against Chelsea. Offensively they have been lead by English legend Ellen White and her 12 goals in all matches. Making her life a bit easier is American Internation Sam Mewis. Mewis has contributed ten goals, including four in the Champions League. Their combined international experience of getting through to finals and winning championships gives CIty solid leadership.
Barcelona has had a cakewalk through the Spanish league this season, and the cushion they have at the top of the league allows them to focus on this match without worries. The lack of genuinely competitive games does bode well for Manchester City. Between Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United, they have played tough close matches. Even their recent match against Everton was tight. I do believe that this helps test the resolve of the team. Barcelona has only trailed for 33 minutes in all competitions this season, and I would be curious to see their resolution if they go behind to an excellent City side. They are also two years removed from being runners, giving them the experience to get to the final. I think this is a close tie that I can see either team going through.
Olympique Lyonnais (France) v Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Current holders and five-time consecutive winners Lyon returned to the quarter-final stage of the Champions League with a 5-1 aggregate victory over Danish side Brøndby IF. They started their round of 16 tie with a 2-0 home win over the perpetular Champions League side. They followed this up with a 3-1 victory in Denmark. After going down to an early goal, they recover and responded with 3 goals to see themselves through.
Lyon has been a juggernaut in women’s football over the past five years. While they have taken a bit of a downturn in the league this season, they are also the 14-time reigning champions of Division 1 Féminine. Currently sitting in second, one point behind PSG, they rebounded from a mid-season loss to PSG to reduce the gap to one point. Led by English midfielder Nikita Parris’s 13 goals and French defender Wendie Reynard’s ten goals, they have depth in scoring. They will need help from their forwards as their leading scorer Melvin Melard has only contributed four goals across all competitions. Defensively they have been solid, only allowing nine goals in all competitions and never more than one in a match. They will need to continue this if they hope to retain their title, both domestically and in Europe.
PSG arrived in the quarter-finals due to their 5-3 aggregate defeat of Sparta Prague. The Parisians got out to a commanding 5-0 lead after the home leg of their round of 16 tie against the Czech side. This followed with a 3-0 forfeit of the second leg due to Covid issues within the PSG side.
PSG finally have found their way back to the top of the French Division 1 Féminine, with a one-point lead over Lyonnais. They have created a potent one-two punch up top with their main strikers’ French internationals Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, combining for 33 goals and 20 assists. Having this good relationship to spearhead the attack has given them confidence that they can continue to push to get back to the semi-finals. Defensively like Lyon, they have been stingy. In all competitions, they have allowed three goals against. Another potent combination of attack and defense has helped them reach the quarter-finals. This has been seen by a lot of clubs that have reached this stage of the competition.
Lyon has not lost a Champions League tie or final since the 14/15 campaign to PSG. This streak makes it very hard to pick against them in this competition. I do think they are not the same juggernaut as seen in the previous season. PSG has defeated them once during the domestic campaign, giving them confidence going into their match-up. I do struggle with how PSG will be doing with the Covid situation in the team. Depending on who the players are, you could see them struggling to recover fully for these games. These teams know each other very well, and this may be the most contentious and vicious match-up. Just a reminder, last year in the semi-final, both teams finished with ten players.
Final Thoughts on the Champions League Quater-finals
While these games may not be at the easiest of times to watch for a fan, they are worth trying to get up and find a stream. While fans will enjoy them, there is a frustration that there is no set time, unlike the men’s games. These match-ups will feature some of the world’s best players and will be an enjoyable break from the regular daily grind.