After being a critical midfield engine for most of Lyon’s UEFA Champions League run, Jess Fishlock started again in Sunday’s Champions League semifinal match, going 81 minutes at home against Chelsea. In the leg 1 semifinal, Fishlock’s French club earned a 2-1 win in front of 22,911 fans.
The Reign FC midfielder, on loan to Lyon until their Champions League run ends, was the controlling force in the midfield alongside French holding midfielder Amandine Henry. It was Fishlock who often dictated the pace of the play, skillfully choosing when to make attacking runs into the box, when to unleash a shot from distance, and when to send long balls to switch the point of attack. It was one of those behind-the-scenes performances that often go unnoticed in a match.
Fishlock would have the first shot of the match for Lyon in the 5th minute. It was an ambitious attempt from about 25 yards out, which fell kindly to Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger. While she didn’t get what she wanted on the shot, it set the tone for Lyon’s attack — constant, methodical, and ruthless for the first 30 minutes.
While Chelsea held on strong for much of the first half, Fishlock and Lyon benefited from a combination of great play and some lucky bounces to put themselves ahead. A Delphine Cascarino shot/cross deflected off of Chelsea defender Magdalena Ericsson in the 27th minute, putting Lyon up 1-0. That play wouldn’t have happened without Fishlock’s well-taken long ball to Cascarino on the right, who brought the ball down perfectly, dribbled into the box, and sent the ball toward goal.
Lyon would go up 2-0 in the 39th minute after a corner kick toward the near post whisked by everyone and snuck into the goal. Henry was credited with the goal, as it looks like she brushed it on the way in.
Chelsea had a huge opportunity to get back into the match before the halftime whistle blew. Ramona Bachmann earned a penalty, but Fran Kirby’s attempt was saved by Lyon goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
Fishlock and Lyon controlled much of the second half, but couldn’t get that third goal. Just when it felt like it might be coming, Scotland international Erin Cuthbert scored for Chelsea. Cuthbert, a rising star who had worked tirelessly on both sides of the ball for Chelsea all game, gave the England club a critical away goal with a world-class left footed volley.
Fishlock was replaced by Japanese midfielder Saki Kumagai in the 81st minute, earning praise from the crowd, coaching staff and commentators. Her name was among four included by Lyon in a player of the match poll, a credit to her contributions in the midfield. Lyon would see the match out at 2-1.
The French club now heads to Chelsea next Sunday, April 28 for leg 2 of the semifinal competition. A victory would send them to the Champions League final for a record eighth straight year. That match takes place in Budapest on May 18.
While Reign FC certainly misses the play of Fishlock in the midfield, very few players get the opportunity to play on the largest stage, whether for club or country. With Wales missing the World Cup, this may be Fishlock’s only opportunity to reach a match of this scale. Here’s hoping she returns to Tacoma shortly after hoisting that Champions League trophy on May 18. She’ll have a lot of work to do against Chelsea first.