UEFA Women's Champions League: Players to watch in the quarter-final first legs
Monday, March 20, 2023
We highlight four players with big roles as their teams chase quarter-final slots.
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With the UEFA Women's Champions League group stage in its decisive stage, we pick out four players crucial to their clubs' hopes in the quarter-finals.
Romana Bachmann (Paris Saint-Germain)
Bachmann is not unfamiliar with quarter-finals in Europe: her first was in 2007/08, when the 17-year-old scored for Umeå at Rapide Wezemaal, and her extra-time winner that took Paris past Bayern München a year go was her 11th different last-eight tie, at five separate clubs. That number includes Wolfsburg, for who she scored against Brescia in the 2015/16 last-eight during her 18-month spell in Germany with a club that had eliminated Bachman's Rosengård at that stage the previous year.
Bachmann came off the bench for that deciding Parc des Princes goal last season but this term, with Marie-Antoinette Katoto injured, the Switzerland forward has often been starting as the central striker, but can also produce goals from deep. She might not be an out-and-out prolific goalscorer like Katoto but Bachmann's all-round play, supplying and sparking attacks, will make her a key threat to her former club.
Klara Bühl (Bayern)
Bayern return to Fußball Arena München to host Arsenal and it would be no surprise to see Bühl strike. In both their previous UEFA Women's Champions League games at the men's stadium, Bühl has found the net, getting a late goal in last season's quarter-final first leg with Paris to give Bayern hope for the return, and then the early opener in the 3-1 defeat of Barcelona in the group stage in December.
The winger, at 22 already an established talent for club and country able to operate on either flank, will be difficult indeed for Arsenal to stop, either out wide or when she cuts inside. Having had to miss the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 final for Germany, Bühl now has the chance to at least shine against an English club side on a big stage.
Lauren James (Chelsea)
Having signed James, still only 19, from Manchester United in July 2021, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes used the attacker only sparingly last season (including just five minutes in Europe, late in a group game against Servette FCCF but she has now unleished her young talent fully. James's two goals in the 3-0 group defeat of Paris are among a string of thrilling performances this season that have also established herself in the England team and ensured Chelsea have thrived even with Pernille Harder largely absent.
Hoping to emulate brother Reece by winning a Champions League title with Chelsea, James first has to take the Blues past holders Lyon, who they visit for the first leg. OL were rumoured to have been one of Chelsea's rivals to take James from United, and Hayes will have been even more grateful to have secured the coveted signature and her superb finish for the English champions when they drew 2-2 with Lyon in the United States back in August.
Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona)
Graham Hansen's group campaign only lasted 39 minutes, as after sitting out Barcelona's opening win against Benfica, she started the following week at Rosengård, only to suffer a thigh injury that was to rule her out for four months. Even for a team as deep in talent as Barcelona, the loss of the brilliant right-sided attacker on top of the absence of Alexia Putellas on the left could have been a clear blow to their aims of reclaiming the trophy lost to Lyon in Turin last May.
But on 5 March, the Norwegian international returned, and in some style as she came off the bench against Villarreal with 25 minutes to go and scored a hat-trick. Having Graham Hansen available at this crucial stage of the season is a huge boost for the Blaugrana, and very ominous for quarter-final opponents Roma.