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Chelsea vs Barcelona: Four players who will decide Champions League final

@BarcaFem

The Champions League final is fast approaching. Chelsea vs Barcelona: two teams who have yet to win the coveted trophy, and who are each looking to wrap up their wildly successful seasons. 

These are the players who will decide which team walks away with the biggest trophy in Europe.

Asisat Oshoala, Barcelona 

It became apparent early on in Asisat Oshoala’s career that she was a player to watch. In her teen years, she impressed for F.C. Robbo and River Angels, two clubs in her native country of Nigeria. Her breakout year in 2014 saw her lead Nigeria to the final of the 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Nigeria ended up losing 1-0 to Germany, but Oshoala was awarded the Golden Ball for being the best player of the tournament and the Golden Shoe for being the tournament’s top scorer. A couple of months later, Nigeria won the 2014 African Women’s Championship, and Oshoala was again awarded the Golden Ball. 

She became the first African player to play in England when she signed for Liverpool in 2015, and a year later, she moved to Arsenal, winning the FA Women’s Cup with the Gunners. After a short stint in China with Dalian W.F.C., where she won two league championships, she was acquired on a loan deal by Barcelona in the middle of the 2018/19 season. 

Oshoala’s performances at Barcelona have cemented her as one of the world’s best. In her first season, she failed to win any hardware with the club, despite having a fantastic individual season, scoring seven goals in her seven league appearances. Barcelona came second in the Primera División, losing the top spot to Atlético Madrid. 

The club had a chance to win their first-ever UEFA Women’s Champions League that season; however, they lost 4-1 to the ever-dominant Olympique Lyonnais. Regardless, Oshoala made history that night, becoming the first Barcelona player and African player to ever score in a Women’s Champions League Final and the first Nigerian to score in any Champions League final, men’s or women’s.

In her second season, she was an integral part of the club, winning both the Primera División and Copa de la Reina. This season, Barcelona are on track to once again win the league, having won every single league game thus far, putting them at a perfect 75 points, with 127 goals scored in 25 games. Their ticket to the Champions League final came from victories in the quarter-final against Manchester City and the semi-finals against Paris Saint-Germain.

Oshoala, as a striker, is one of the deadliest poachers in the game. When she’s in the box, she consistently finishes plays by challenging the opposition defenders for the ball and betting on herself in 1vs1 situations against the goalkeeper. 

Every team has struggled to contain her in the Champions League thus far. Chelsea will need to buck the trend if they want to win.

Lieke Martens, Barcelona

Even if Chelsea can successfully isolate Oshoala, they’ll still have to worry about Barcelona’s star midfielder Lieke Martens. 

Martens spent the first eight years of her career playing all around Europe, accumulating different tactics from different coaches that allowed her to become the versatile player she is today. 

The Dutch native began her career in Holland with Heerenveen in 2009 before moving on to VVV-Venlo the following year. She then moved to Belgium to play for Standard Liege, where she won the Super Cup in 2012. 

Martens then went on to play for Duisburg in Germany and for Goteborg and Rosengärd in Sweden, where she won the Cup and Super Cup with the latter in 2016. 

She also made her senior national team debut in 2011 after becoming the top scorer at the U–19 Euros in 2010. With the senior national team, she then scored the Netherlands’ first-ever Women’s World Cup goal in 2015, at the age of 22. 

She became one of Barcelona’s most high-profile signings in 2017 and since then has continued to impress. The same month, she led the Netherlands to their first international trophy after they beat Denmark 4-2 in the final of the 2017 UEFA European Women’s Championship. She was named the tournament’s best player and was awarded not only the Golden Ball but also the Bronze Boot. 

Her contributions to Barcelona, both in Primera División and in the Champions League, have earned her a multitude of individual honours, including the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award and The Best FIFA Women’s Player. 

As mentioned prior, Martens is an exceptionally well-rounded player with the versatility to play both on the wing and in midfield. Her unpredictability is a nightmare for opponents, and her ability to read the game allows her to dictate the play and tempo of the match in favour of her side. She is also disciplined enough to put in a shift defensively and make sure that the opponent’s attackers do not have any number advantage.

Her positional awareness, dribbling ability and speed are aspects of her game that can push Barcelona over the line to win their first-ever Champions League trophy. 

Fran Kirby, Chelsea

Barcelona may be stacked, with players like Oshoala, Martens, Alexia Putellas, Vicky Losada, and Jennifer Hermoso. But so is Chelsea. 

Fran Kirby has been one of their most dominant players since she signed for the London club in 2015. 

Kirby has always been a goalscorer. Prior to Chelsea, she played for Reading, her hometown club, and in forty-two appearances, she scored 68 goals, averaging 1.6 goals a game. When she signed for Chelsea, expectations were high. 

And these expectations were met. With the club, Kirby has won six trophies, including four FA Women’s Super League titles, the most of any team. 

With England, Kirby was a standout in the team’s third-place finish in the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and was an integral part of the Lionesses win in the SheBelieves Cup in 2019. 

Kirby is another one of those extremely versatile players who can play multiple positions. Initially, Kirby was an attacking midfielder, playing in the number 10 role, which occupies the space right behind the forward players. Her job was to make plays and connect the team’s midfield to the forward strikers. However, over the years, she has been deployed as second striker often, playing more in the penalty box and supporting the number nine in scoring goals. 

Kirby has scored 23 goals this season, with six of them being in the Champions League, the most out of any Chelsea player. Barcelona will have to work tirelessly in defence if they don’t want to concede a goal that Kirby is involved in. 

Pernille Harder, Chelsea

It’s hard to talk about Kirby without talking about Harder, who have been partners in crime on the pitch for Chelsea this season. We already know that Sam Kerr will be a difference maker in the Champions League final, but Harder’s play may have a greater impact on Chelsea’s success. 

Harder spent the early days of her career in her home country of Denmark. Playing primarily as a striker at IK Skovbakken, she scored 22 goals in 27 appearances. By 2012, after five years of playing in Denmark, she decided to move to Sweden to play for Linköpings. Her performances in the Damallsvenskan (Swedish League) are what got her international recognition. In two seasons, she won three trophies and won the Damallsvenskan’s Forward of the Year and MVP award twice. 

By 2016, several clubs had shown interest in acquiring Harder, and in January of 2017, she became a VfL Wolfsburg player. Harder was part of a larger project at Wolfsburg, with the club signing several high-profile players in hopes of being a consistent force in German football and in the Champions League. 

Harder’s time at Wolfsburg did lead to domestic domination. The club won both the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal double in the four consecutive seasons that Harder was a part of the team, with Harder winning the league Golden Boot in two of those seasons. However, Wolfsburg were no match for Lyon, and they lost to the French club in two separate Champions League finals. 

Despite coming second in both 2018 and 2020, Harder impressed during all her Champions League campaigns with Wolfsburg, winning two UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Awards and two UEFA Champions League Forward Awards. 

With her performances in Germany, it was no surprise that she became the world’s most expensive women footballer after signing for Chelsea in September of 2020. The world-record fee saw Harder come to London and join a star-studded attack that includes Kirby, Kerr, and Bethany England. 

Harder has taken Chelsea to the next level; she is a creative and game-intelligent forward who makes her mark through excellent positioning, intricate passing, and on-target shooting. She has the ability to play as a forward, a second striker, or an attacking midfielder.

Chelsea have already won three trophies this season, and both Harder and Kirby have been integral to the team’s success. Barcelona will have to work as a unit to be defensively sound in order to keep the Chelsea offense out.

Tune in: Champions League final is Sunday, May 16th at 3:00pm ET.

PWHL Draft Spurs Controversy for League Champs Minnesota

pwhl draft first pick Sarah Fillier
PWHL New York kicked off the 2024 PWHL Draft by selecting Princeton's Sarah Fillier No. 1 overall. (PWHL)

The 2024 PWHL Draft took place on Tuesday, with Princeton and Canadian national team forward Sarah Fillier going first overall to PWHL New York. 

New York also added two defenders and a goaltender, as well as three forwards to make seven solid additions to next season's roster. 

But it was first-ever PWHL champions Minnesota that created the most buzz, with the draft happening just three days after they announced the abrupt departure of general manager Natalie Darwitz following a league review. 

With the 10th overall pick, PWHL Minnesota took Team USA forward Britta Curl. Fans immediately took to the internet to voice their concerns, citing Curl's social media activity. In the past, Curl had "liked" posts on X that targeted the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly transgender individuals. Her activity also showed support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Wisconsin man who fatally shot three unarmed people, two fatally, during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

When asked about the pick — and whether or not he had consulted with any members of the LGBTQIA+ community prior to making the pick — PWHL Minnesota coach Ken Klee opted to defend Curl.

"Did I speak to anyone from the community? I talk with players, with coaches. That’s tough to answer for me," Klee said. "I spoke with a lot of different people. I mean, at the end of the day, I was told she’s a great teammate, a great person. She’s obviously a great player."

The team also had PWHL Minnesota assistant coach Mira Jalosuo, who is married to a woman, announce the pick.

"We have people in that community and obviously Mira making that selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us," Klee added. "We were just trying to pick the best players available. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from any of those players' experience. It’s unfortunate a little bit at the beginning, but again, it’s okay. People are entitled to their opinion."

Washington Mystics Snap 12-Game Losing Streak

Brittney Sykes #20 of the Washington Mystics shoots the ball during the game against the Atlanta Dream during the 2024 WNBA Commissioner's Cup game on June 11, 2024
Washington guard Brittney Sykes returned from injury Tuesday night to post a game-high 18 points. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Washington Mystics snapped a team-record 12-game losing streak on Tuesday, taking home their first win of the season over the Atlanta Dream. 

Brittney Sykes returned from injury and made an immediate impact with game-high 18 points, four assists, and three rebounds. As a team, Washington shot over 50% from behind the arc.

"The feel is it's been coming," coach Eric Thibault said after the game. "I said the other night that we're turning into a good basketball team and we just haven't had the wins to show for it yet. We've been playing better basketball now for a while.

"We're obviously shooting well, but I think the quality of the shots we're getting is really good."

Still, the team’s slow start isn't exactly in the rearview mirror. With star forward Elena Delle Donne sitting this season out, the Mystics were always predicted to face an uphill climb in what has been described as a rebuilding year. 

But with a franchise-worst 0-12 record to kick off the 2024 season, the Mystics are likely on track for a lottery pick. However, Washington can point to positive performances from star draft pick Aaliyah Edwards and league newcomer Julie Vanloo.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the Las Vegas Aces continued their skid with a surprising 100-86 upset courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx. The reigning WNBA champions were shorthanded this week, falling to 5-5 on the season despite MVP-level play from A'ja Wilson, who scored 28 points in Tuesday's loss.

Minnesota shot over 55% as a team, with Alanna Smith leading the team with 18 points. The game marked the Aces' first three-game losing streak since 2019.

"This is a long, long, long season," Wilson said in her postgame remarks. "I'm not going to press the panic button. I'm still going to bet on us. I know exactly what's in that locker room."

Aces stalwart Chelsea Gray has been out with injury since last year's WNBA Finals run. And while she told reporters on Tuesday that she's set to return before the Olympic break, the team can’t get her back soon enough as they continue to struggle with depth. 

"I don't want them thinking too much; then you get paralysis [by] analysis," coach Becky Hammon said. "We're just not being solid in our base. Just be solid defensively. We're not a very good team right now, that's just reality. But we know we can get better. I still have a lot of belief in this ball club."

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

Arsenal Women Confirm US Tour, Preseason Friendlies

Arsenal's Lotte Wubben-Moy battles with Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea at the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal faced off, the Gunners took home the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Arsenal announced on Monday that it will join Chelsea for a series of preseason friendlies in the US in August. 

Arsenal will be based in Washington, DC from August 15th through August 26th. The Gunners are scheduled to play the Washington Spirit on August 18th, followed by a match with fellow WSL team Chelsea on August 25th. It’s the first time that the two London clubs will meet each other on this side of the Atlantic. 

Chelsea had previously announced their game against Gotham FC, confirming reports from ESPN that surfaced last month.

"We always want to create the best conditions for our teams to prepare and perform at their best in pre-season," said Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar in a statement. "This gives our players an opportunity to play and train in a new environment, in front of our supporters around the world."

Both Arsenal and Chelsea tout rosters full of international talent — formidable opponents for two equally stacked NWSL teams gearing up for postseason action. Arsenal is home to accomplished England nationals Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, and backheel goal-scorer Alessia Russo alongside Ireland captain Katie McCabe and USWNT defender Emily Fox.

The games are set to be streamed live for free on DAZN.

Arsenal's US tour builds off of a trip to Melbourne, Australia at the tail end of the 2023/24 season, where they beat A-League All Stars women 1-0 in front of 42,120 fans.

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