UWCL Roundup: How did CanWNT stars fare in European competition this week?
And then there were three, on the road to Eindhoven.
After a busy 10 days of UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final action, the field is now set for the semi-finals, as Arsenal will face Wolfsburg in one matchup, while Chelsea will take on Barcelona in the other.
There, the dream of lifting the trophy will continue for three Canadians, as Sabrina D’Angelo (Arsenal), Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea) and Jessie Fleming (Chelsea) all still remain in the hunt to lift silverware in the Netherlands this June.
After strong quarter-final performances from several Canadian players, continuing an overall strong tournament for the Canadian contingent in this tournament, that’s encouraging, as they continue to shine in a competition that more Canadians seem to take to each year.
Of course, Buchanan remains the standard-bearer for Canadians in this competition, having won five Champions League (and still remaining on track for a potential sixth), but others are battling to join her on that list of winners, such as her teammate, Fleming, or D’Angelo.
Before that group gets set for those semi-finals, however, which come later in April, here’s a look back at how those Canadians fared in these matchups, ones not short of drama or entertainment.
A good chance we see a Canadian lift the #UCL trophy again. Here are the SF matchups:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 30, 2023
Arsenal (Sabrina D'Angelo) vs Wolfsburg
Chelsea (Kadeisha Buchanan, Jessie Fleming) vs Barcelona
Buchanan just keeps dominating this competition, eh?#CanWNT/#CanXNT
Chelsea gets last laugh despite Vanessa Gilles heroics
It was arguably the tie of the round.
On one side, you had Lyon, the team that has dominated this competition for so long. Having won six of the last seven tournaments, and the overall most dominant team in the history of the competition with eight crowns (the next best team is Frankfurt with 4, and they haven’t won since 2015), they were definitely favourites entering this, as they always are in this tournament.
Yet, at the same time, Lyon’s status as favourites felt a bit precarious, as they faced off against a strong Chelsea side, one that they drew after finishing second in their group. A Chelsea side that finished as Champions League finalists in 2020-2021, they have a very strong squad, one that only got stronger as they added Buchanan from Lyon this offseason, bringing the experience of her five Champions League titles to this team, and adding to the intrigue of this tie.
Because of that, it felt that either way, this tie wasn’t going to disappoint, and in the end, that proved to be the case.
After a quiet first leg, where Chelsea nabbed a key 1-0 win in Lyon, things went supernova in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, as Lyon pushed for an equalizer. It’d be one that they’d find, too, through none other than Canadian Vanessa Gilles, the Lyon loanee from NWSL’s Angel City, who scored in the 77th minute.
Vanessa Gilles, clutch as they come, nabs a key equalizer for Lyon with their backs against the wall. Great finish from her, too, with her feet instead of her head (as we're used to!)— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 30, 2023
As it stands, this tie will go to extra time#CanWNT/#CanXNTpic.twitter.com/Cap8qaDlqC
Thanks to that goal, it sent the game to extra time, where Lyon then grabbed what seemed to be a sure winner from Sara Däbritz in the 110th minute, putting them on the precipice of the final four.
Then, everything went wild at the end, as Chelsea then won a PK in the 121st minute, one that wasn’t originally given, but was awarded in the end after a VAR intervention. Due to all of that, however, as well as some Lyon shenanigans, it wasn’t actually taken until the 128th minute, but it was coolly converted by Maren Mjelde to send this game to a shootout.
There, Chelsea stepped up, converting four out of five PKs, including one from the always-reliable Jessie Fleming, while Lyon missed two, leaving Chelsea to get the last laugh after this wild match.
That’s a big disappointment for Gilles, who had quite the tie for Lyon, playing 210 minutes across both legs, scoring that key goal while allowing just one goal from open play, as she had quite the performance defensively. That’s reflected in the fact that she finished with 18 clearances, one block, two interceptions, seven tackles and won 19 out of 28 of her duels across both games, which is quite the defensive output.
Yet, that’s just what Gilles does, and she proved that again in this tie. Because of that, it’s going to be interesting to see what her future is with Lyon. On loan until the end of the year, there appears to be a purchase option for Lyon, which you could imagine that they’d want to trigger, as Gilles has been very good for them, and is just 27.
Considering she’s grown a lot in her time with Lyon, adding a new side to her game in possession to go along with her already-known defensive strengths and aerial prowess, she’s rounding into a complete package at centre back, which could be useful for a Lyon side that has some long-term questions at centre back.
Meanwhile, Buchanan and Fleming will be excited to see how far they can take this Chelsea team in the semis. They’ve got a stiff test with Barcelona, who beat Roma 6-1 on aggregate in their quarter-final tie, and have lost just one Champions League game this year, but they’ll have revenge on their minds after Barca beat them 4-0 in the 2020-2021 final.
There, Fleming and Buchanan will hope to play a big role in that. For sure, Buchanan seems to be a likely starter, having played 724 out of a possible 750 minutes in the Champions League, but Fleming is a question mark, as she played just nine minutes across this Lyon tie, and just 281 minutes total in this competition.
She did convert a penalty in the shootout during this game, so that’ll be a big boost to her confidence, but overall, minutes have been much harder to come by for her this year than before, so she’ll look to find a way to claw her way back up the Chelsea hierarchy ahead of this Barcelona tie.
Ashley Lawrence shows class despite PSG loss to Wolfsburg
Lyon wasn’t the only French team to suffer heartbreak this round, though, as their rivals, PSG, also exited from the Champions League in the quarter-finals 2-1 on aggregate to Wolfsburg.
After a controversial first leg loss, where they fell 1-0 on a penalty a few minutes after they had a good PK shout of their own overturned by VAR, they put up a good account of themselves on the road, scooping out a 1-1 draw, one that wasn’t enough to send them through.
Despite a flurry of chances from both teams, as Wolfsburg hit the crossbar on several occasions, while PSG had a few good looks of their own, Wolfsburg’s experience shone through in the end, showing why they’ve won this competition twice before.
As a result, that meant heartbreak for Canadian Ashley Lawrence, who played 180 minutes at her usual right back position across this tie.
There, as she does, she looked quite good, too, as she dealt with the nightmare matchup of dealing with German forward Alexandra Popp, a scorer of almost 250 goals across her career.
Despite that, Lawrence can be happy with how she dealt with Popp, who often tried to drift inside to get away from that matchup, a sign of how well Lawrence did in that duel. Plus, Lawrence had quite the impact offensively, too, as she had one shot, two chances created and completed eight dribbles across both legs, and completed several dangerous passes into the final third.
In the end, Popp got the last laugh, as she scored what ended up being the winning goal in this tie, but Lawrence wasn’t at fault for the goal, as Popp scored on a lovely one-time finish centrally, in one of the instances where she avoided the Lawrence matchup.
Now, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Lawrence. PSG are still in the hunt for the D1Arkema title and the Coupe De France, where they’ll try to edge out Lyon in both of those competitions, but rumours have swirled around her name recently.
So even though PSG’s coach Gérard Prêcheur did recently shoot those down, it’s something to monitor, as after six years with the club, she could fancy a new challenge. At 27, she’d have no shortage of suitors, either, with Barcelona, Bayern and Chelsea all reportedly interested, which you’d have to think could persuade her to move.
Given ber status as one of, if not the best, full backs in the world, Ashley Lawrence will have no shortage of suitors— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 14, 2023
Among those listed, a Canadian reunion at Chelsea or a chance to play tiki-taka at Barcelona are the most exciting#CanWNT/#CanXNT https://t.co/eJF4EWQrGN
Especially given that she’s got just three trophies to show from her time with PSG, as they’ve spent a lot of her tenure playing second fiddle to Lyon, that could really push her to give one of those aforementioned clubs a shot.
Because of that, keep an eye on how PSG’s season ends. If she wins some trophies, maybe she’ll stick around, but a chance to head elsewhere has to remain intriguing from her perspective at the moment.
Sabrina D’Angelo’s Arsenal grabs key comeback versus Bayern Munich
Lastly, goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo was the other Canadian to make it to the semi-finals, as Arsenal beat Bayern Munich 2-1 on aggregate, overturning a 1-0 first leg defeat with a confident 2-0 win in the second leg.
D’Angelo didn’t feature in either leg, but she’ll be ready to be called upon if needed, having recently returned from a leg injury.
Because of that, keep an eye on her going forward for Arsenal. She’s going to have a tough time stealing minutes from their main goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger, who has been excellent as of late, but as D’Angelo showed before her injury, when she started some crucial cup games, she is already regarded highly at her new club, which is important to remember that she only joined this year.
And even if she doesn’t end up featuring much in the Champions League, if at all, she’s certainly in the hunt to bring home a winner’s medal, as Arsenal have looked like favourites ever since they confidently topped a tough group with Lyon and Juventus.
So look for her to stick along the ride for that, and potentially chip in along the way, continuing a strong start to life with her new club, which has already included one trophy, and they’ll hope can include several more to round off 22-23, including their second-ever Champions League crown.