Le Classique Féminin is one of the biggest events in women’s football. The exciting rivalry fixture has even more intrigue about it this season. In France’s top league, Paris Saint-Germain sit atop the table. Only a point separates them from rivals Olympique Lyonnais.
The two giants of French football will come face to face twice this month. A blockbuster event in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. This fierce fixture comes at a time when tensions between the club are high, given the circumstances of a postponed league game.
A mishandled postponement
Lyon should have hosted PSG before the quarter-finals. Scheduled for March 13th, the league tie would have likely determined D1’s champion. The day before the match was due to take place, PSG posted a statement on Twitter.
Three players and one member of staff had tested positive for Coronavirus. The game was resultantly postponed. Though it was the safest option, it went against established protocol.
According to the French Football Federation, for a postponement to be considered, teams needed to have four positive player tests.
Fans were left confused, especially in light of PSG manager Olivier Echouafni’s press conference earlier that day. In it, he insisted ‘Everyone is fine, [the group is] complete.’Embed from Getty Images
Except everyone wasn’t fine. As Echouafni gave his press conference, he knew they had positive tests in camp. Rather than appeal to the FFF for a postponement they didn’t meet the requirements for, the Parisiennes turned to Île-de-France’s regional health agency. An unprecedented move, which led to the quarantining of their entire team.
While the situation was still developing, it is understandable PSG did not publicly disclose their problem. Constant, conflicting updates would only confuse matters further. However, the professional thing to do would have been to alert Lyon’s staff – regardless of the information presented to the press.Embed from Getty Images
Vincent Ponsot, Lyon’s director of football, revealed that had not been the case. “We learned today through [PSG’s] Twitter account that they had these test results Thursday. We had not been informed, as the organizer of the match, until the end of the afternoon today.” From both a logistical and sportsmanship perspective, keeping the hosts in the dark made little sense.
There was a clear breakdown in communication between the clubs. Tensions spiked between fans, worsened by the actions of Christiane Endler. The Chilean international posted pictures of herself cycling around Paris. Her actions clearly broke the quarantine protocol. The update was quickly deleted.
Returning to the pitch
Due to the confinement, PSG could not play the second leg of their tie against Sparta Praha. They forfeited and accepted a 3-0 loss. Ultimately, this had little impact on their progression into the next round. Quarantine has harmed the club in another way though. With the team forced behind closed doors, they have only recently been able to get back onto the pitch for training.
Sessions have been consequently limited. At the start of the week, PSG’s players were still training in small groups. Echouafni wanted to stress that, despite this setback: “The motivation and determination of the players is at the highest level.” PSG’s players have not been able to train as they would have liked for the match. But they are raring to go.Embed from Getty Images
PSG will be relieved to have Sandy Baltimore back healthy after her positive coronavirus test. Baltimore has been immense on the wing this season, and a pivotal player in PSG’s forward line. Bénédicte Simon and Charlotte Voll have also since tested negative, and return to the squad ahead of the tie.
Lyon are without left-back Selma Bacha, who sustained an ankle injury during their game with Brøndby. Griedge Mbock and Ada Hegerberg are long term absences from the squad sheet. Given Lyon’s dip in performance level this season, they’ll be desperate to have them back as soon as possible.
A game of fine margins
When PSG and Lyon last met, PSG were the dominant team. To stand a chance at progressing, Lyon need to pay close attention to Marie-Antoinette Katoto. The young forward is one of the best in the world right now and exemplifies what Lyon are lacking up front.
PSG have been decisive at the back this season. Lyon, on the other hand, have conceded many avoidable goals. Their own players have usually caused their own downfall. Sarah Bouhaddi and Saki Kumagai have both been guilty of playing a ball right to the feet of an opponent. Kadeisha Buchanan is also prone to turning into danger.
When Lyon have these lapses in concentration, their ability to react quickly after losing the ball has been messy. PSG could cause them no end of misery if they make them pay for this sloppiness.
Echouafni admitted he would have rather seen this fixture be the final. Indeed, the stature of this game is behemothic. There is little separating the teams when it comes to individual talent. This season though, PSG’s stars have clicked while Lyon’s have looked lost at times.