To Be the Champ, You Must Defeat Olympique Lyonnais (the Champ)
Chelsea finds themselves facing the defending winners in the quarterfinals of the UWCL. Not an unfamiliar opponent, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais last faced each other in the 2019 semi-finals of the tournament. Lyon got by the Blues through a 3-2 aggregate score on their way to their 4th title in a row. Lyon has won two more Champions League titles since then, including last year’s tournament, making them a significant opposition for the Blue.
How They Got Here
Olympique Lyonnais started their group stage in a precarious form. Falling to a shock 5-1 result at home to Arsenal, they found themselves behind the eight ball due to a 1-1 draw with Juventus. With one point out of their opening two games and sitting third in the group, they needed to find points. Turning things around, facing the group’s minnows, they had 4-0 and 3-0 victories over Zurich. Finding momentum and taking advantage of the recovering Arsenal, they got through the Gunners 1-0 before securing the second spot with a 0-0 draw to end the group stage against Juventus.
The reigning champions saw their offensive output drop in this year’s group stage. Ten total goals, nine scored one own goal, with the majority (70%) of these coming against minnows FC Zurich. Throughout their six matches, the French outfit had an xG of 13.8, creating a -4.8 G-xG (own goals scored for do not count in this metric). Not converting your chances can be a huge issue going into the knockout stages of this competition. Their nine goals scored came from four players, with forward Melvine Malard leading the way with four goals. Her total was followed by Lydnsey Horan and Signe Bruun, each with two goals.
Lyon’s total goals scored came from 42 shots on target, a clip of just under 22 percent from 125 total attempts. While not horrible, they would be hoping to hit in the 30 percent range, similar to their total shots being on target 33.6 percent of the time. It does feel like this team has been missing something going forward with the loss of Ada Hegerberg through injury. She has yet to step on the pitch for them in a competitive match after netting six times, including in the final last season. With no update since early October, it is problematic for this side that she may be missing from the knockout rounds.
Controlling the Game
Lyonnais is another team that strives to control the game and opposition by possessing the ball and making their opposition chase to regain possession. They averaged 52.8 percent possession over the six games of the group. Helping this percentage was an 82.67 percent passing accuracy. While the 52 percent possession is good, if you look at their touches, they only had 191 in the attacking penalty box. This is 147 fewer touches than they made in their penalty box (339). In general, they were almost even, with only 99 more touches in their own defensive third and box than the offensive side. Looking at this brings an idea that while they had decent possession, they were either attempting to build from the back or having to recover defensively.
The 82.67 percent passing accuracy also helped them achieve eight assists on their nine goals from open play. Also aided by a 29.34 percent crossing accuracy, they were able to not only be good at putting pressure on the opposition backline but give multiple points of attack. Having Reynard will help any team with crossing accuracy since she is always a problem for any defender due to her ability in the air and height. This additional danger makes their set piece accuracy better and crossing percentage rise.
After opening the group stage with the five-goal trouncing of Arsenal, Lyon’s defense rebounded. Allowing just one goal in the remaining five games, they ended the group stage allowing six goals and a string of four clean sheets. While the turnaround in defensive fortitude did, as their offense coincides with them playing their two matches against Zurich, they did continue that form. Keeping out Arsenal, be it a limited roster due to injuries and finishing against Juventus, are confidence builders for them going into the knockout stage.
They had 71 successful tackles out of 124 attempts for a 57.20 percent success rate. Combined with their 91 interceptions, that is a total of 162 successful defensive actions out of 215 attempts. At a 75% success rate, this is highly useful and shows why they were able to turn their defensive record around. Of those 71 successful tackles, 21 were made in the attacking third. With roughly 30 percent of their successful tackles, it shows that they had the tenacity to attempt to create counter opportunities and put the opposition at a disadvantage.
Lyonnais have won this competition in six of the past seven years for a reason; they know how to get the job done. Their reputation for finding ways through adversity in the Women’s Champions League is very high, making them a tough out no matter their situation. While missing Ada Hegerberg will always make things challenging, they may get her back in time for the matches in a month as she recently has returned to running on the grass, albeit in trainers. Getting her back would be a massive boost for Lyon, considering they need help offensively. Their defense can keep them in games, but if they can’t find the end product, they may not be as big of a threat as they typically are.