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UEFA Women's Champions League Final Preview (Part 2): A Lyonnais Legacy

Olympique Lyonnais enter the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final as favourites, not just because they are the defending champions but also because they are, quite simply, the best women’s football club in the world. Their return to competitive football has been heavy footed and a lack of peak fitness may be their downfall, but the team has quality in buckets.
Olympique Lyonnais start favourites against Vfl Wolfsburg

Olympique Lyonnais have played themselves into a well-oiled unit through the course of the tournament and look set to peak in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final vs VfL Wolfsburg.

It’s no surprise that Olympique Lyonnais are here, in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final, again. The number of times they have won it, its a surprise the competition hasn’t been named for them. When the UEFA women’s Cup became the Champions League in 2009-10, no French team had ever reached the final. Lyon got to the final in that year, and lost on penalties. Since then, they have won this competition six times — four of them in a row. 

Also Read | UEFA Women's Champions League Final Preview (Part 1): The Wolfsburg Juggernaut

This is a team that has won 24 Champions League ties in a row, and is undefeated outside France in seven years now. The mere glimmer of hope their opponents have? Wolfsburg were the last team to beat them outside of France in this competition — in the 2013 final at Stamford Bridge.

Into the Final and How

Lyon were declared champions of the league after it was called off due to the pandemic and won the French Cup on penalties earlier this month, beating PSG in the final. Their lack of match form showed in their quarterfinal against Bayern Munich. The goal they conceded against the Germans was the first time their lines had been breached this season in the competition.

Wolfsburg will take hope from that game and the fact that Lyon have had a day less to recover from their bruising physically tiring semi against PSG. But that isn’t really saying much. Lyon are technically and tactically more astute, have the best players in the world in almost every position on the pitch, and, most importantly, have mental fortitude that only comes with being champions. 

Players to Watch Out for

Picking the player to watch for in a star studded line up like Lyon’s is a bit like drawing a chit from a hat. No matter who you pick, you’re probably right. Wendie Renard, the woman who has played in every single final Lyon have been in, is the obvious choice here. English right back Lucy Bronze (soon departing the club) and her superb wingplay is another. Delphine Cascarino’s brutal pace on the wing is a reality check unlike any other in the women’s game. Saki Kumagai’s elegant shielding in midfield is key to everything they do in possession. The list goes on.

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The correct thing to do therefore is pick the one player few ever talk about, but the one player who  no one challenges when there is a dead ball to be delivered — Amel Majri. 

The Tunisian born Frenchwoman started playing the game using tennis balls on the beaches of Tunisia. Which partly explains her skill with the larger sphere she now gets to play with on the pitch. A midfielder who plays as a left back for Lyon, Majri’s skill on the ball has been crucial for a Lyon side low on match fitness since the restart. 

Consider the evidence. Since the restart, Lyon have scored three goals in two matches. Majri has been involved directly in two of them, and was the initiator of the third. It was her interception that won the ball for Dzsenifer Marozsán to play out Eugenie Le Sommer — whose final pass eventually led to Nikita Parris’ opener against Bayern. It was her free kick that doubled their lead against the Germans, and it was her perfectly weighted, lofted ball onto Renard’s head that helped them knock PSG out. 

In a testy game like a final, results are decided by fine margins. A free kick wide of the box, a clutter of players inside. Amel Majri knows how to pick the scorers out.

Tactical Lines

Lyon play a 4-3-3 on paper, but are much more fluid than that in reality. When they shift to a 4-2-3-1 Kumagai and Amandine Henry become the linchpins of the team, with Marozsán the creative output in the middle. Most of Lyon’s fluidity though comes from the wings, where they have enough talent to fill a few other XIs. Bronze and Majri on either wing are very efficient in attack.

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Le Sommer and Cascerinho in front of them are superb outlets to breach defensive lines. Their big problem will be filling the role of the striker. Their first choice, Ada Hegerberg has been out due to knee surgery for a few months now.

The fill in Nikita Parris will miss the final, having picked up a red in the semi. Those are some big boots to fill, and typically Lyon have someone to do exactly that. Jodie Taylor, the legendary English striker joined them on a short term contract recently. She’s a shoo in for just this sort of game. 

Previously in This fixture

Lyon have not lost a competitive fixture since May 2018 (the French Cup final to PSG) and last lost in the Champions League four years ago. They were beaten by Wolfsburg the first time the sides ever met in competition, but have won every single encounter since — of which there have been four in the past four years. These two superpowers have played each other three times in the finals and Lyon put four past the Germans in their last finals encounter in 2018.   

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