PSG vs Lyon: A game about much more than the Women’s Champions League final

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Marie-Antoinette Katoto Catarina Macario PSG Lyon UEFA Women's Champions League GFX
These two French rivals meet in the UWCL semi-finals second leg on Saturday, and there is plenty at stake

When Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon meet in the second leg of their Women’s Champions League semi-final on Saturday night, it will be the 54th meeting between these two French rivals.

However, despite the latter only coming out 3-2 winners in last week’s very competitive first leg, for a long time, they were not rivals.

Indeed, it took PSG 22 attempts to beat Lyon, first doing so back in 2014 and, even since then, they’ve only emerged victorious a further seven times.

That was understandable. Between 2007 and 2020, Lyon would win 14 successive league titles, a record total in itself. The club also hold the record for most Coupe de France wins, with nine, five of those successive, and the most Women’s Champions League trophies, with seven – again, five of them successive.

Lyon created a dynasty in women’s football, the kind that will never be replicated and have long set the bar for how a club should treat its female athletes.

But last season, PSG made a statement of their own. The Parisians snapped Lyon’s title-winning streak and picked up a first Division 1 Feminine title. Not only that – PSG knocked Lyon out of the Champions League for the first time in seven years.

“I have to say, I was sick of always losing in this kind of scenario here,” said PSG midfielder Grace Geyoro afterwards. It was her strike that sent the club into the semi-finals of the competition.

There, she and her team would lose to eventual champions Barcelona on away goals, but it was a monumental season nonetheless; a first league title, the purging of some demons in this rivalry and a statement that PSG had what it takes to be a serious threat.

Meanwhile, around 300 miles south of Paris, things weren’t so rosy. It would be Lyon’s first trophyless season in 16 years and changes would be made to ensure that didn’t happen again, most notably in the recruitment of Sonia Bompastor, who won 11 trophies with the club as a player, as head coach.

Boosted by the return of Ada Hegerberg, too, those changes have worked. Lyon are well on track to take back their league title and look like their old selves again.

Now, the problems are with PSG. A crazy situation earlier this season saw Kheira Hamraoui beaten with iron bars by masked men and sidelined for a spell as a result.

Later that month, Hayet Abidal, wife of former Barcelona and France defender Eric, announced she was filing for divorce after he admitted to an affair with Hamraoui, following links between the pair on the PSG midfielder’s phone were discovered by investigators.

She has again made headlines this month after an altercation with team-mate Sandy Baltimore in training the day before the first leg of the UWCL semi-final. Hamraoui didn’t play last weekend, and she will not this weekend either.

“In difficult moments, the team has always found the resources to go for qualification,” head coach Didier Olle-Nicolle said on Friday, echoing words Geyoro had said to L’Equipe last week: “We can hate each other outside but, on the field, we have to manage to win.”

Those aren’t PSG’s only issues. Contracts are expiring for some important players, most notably star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto.

Last year, the club lost a number of stars despite lifting the league title – Irene Paredes joined Barcelona, while Christiane Endler, Perle Morroni and Signe Bruun all signed for Lyon. It’s a path that has been well-trodden over the years.

For those players to still sign for Lyon after such a successful year with PSG was a suggestion that the power in France is still firmly held by its most illustrious club – but for the latter, to be the best club in France is not enough.

The seven-time European champions crave success bigger than that and are desperate to reclaim their status as the continent’s best.

Lyon Women 2018

With so much talk of how great Barcelona, the reigning champions, are and suggestions from some that they could create a legacy like Lyon’s, it’s no wonder Europe’s long-standing powerhouse feels a little aggrieved.

"There was women's football before Barcelona, ​​and it was played here for years,” Hegerberg told L’Equipe earlier this month. “We have to win again to regain our place in world football. We have the chance to do it this season. We have never lost against Barcelona."

To face the Catalan side in the showpiece event, though, Lyon first have to dismiss a familiar face. Despite the momentum in France swinging massively away from PSG this season, and the defensive horror show from the team in the first leg, they go into Saturday’s game with a huge chance to progress.

At home, in front of what is anticipated to be a record crowd for a women’s domestic match in France, if not a sell-out, they trail by just one goal.

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The league title and the power might not be with PSG, but to prevent Lyon from reaching the final of the competition they have made their own would be the perfect way to hurt them. After a much-improved year, it would be a devastating result for Lyon.

"We have a lot of qualities in our team," Bompastor said on Friday. "We are ready. We have the qualities to beat this Paris team.

"We have goals in our season and [Saturday's] game is one of the most important games. We hope to have a more important one with the final."