Lea Schüller center stage as Bayern Munich edge Arsenal
It was hard to decide what the most critical moment of the match was. The towering header for the only goal? The crucial clearance off the line to preserve Bayern Munich's lead? Or, perhaps, the moment the German side’s main threat hobbled off with an ankle injury.
What isn’t in question, is the woman at the heart of all those moments. Lea Schüller was everywhere. She dropped deep to lay on the cross that she then scored from in the 39th minute, denied England captain Leah Williamson in the second half but then hit the turf clutching her ankle with about 15 minutes on the clock.
"I am really happy. To go into the second leg with a 1-0 lead is already good," Schüller told broadcaster DAZN after the match with her ankle heavily bandaged. "It's always nice to play in front of a crowd like that. That's why I'm very happy.”
Though these two clubs had not met in a competitive match before, Schüller and Williamson have, in the final of Euro 2022 last year. The Bayern forward was a late injury replacement for Germany’s talisman Alexandra Popp that day and made little impression on Williamson and her central defensive partner for England, Millie Bright.
Chasing Alex Popp
The Bundesliga’s top scorer last season, Schüller (nine goals) is chasing the leader, Popp (13), in that category this term. Being in the shadow of Popp has, to some extent, been a feature of her career but Schüller’s record bears comparison with just about anyone. Strong, intelligent, tidy in possession and lethal, she’s scored 30 in 45 games for Germany and 32 in 42 for Bayern in her Bundesliga career.
On Tuesday, she and her teammates flew out of the blocks, forcing Williamson in to a double block in the opening minute and unsettling the visitors with a ferocious tempo. But they had to be patient, until Schüller took matters in to her own hands.
"I think it's important for my personal development to play at the top level because you play against the best teams internationally," the 25-year-old said ahead of the game. "Every time they are difficult games in which you must to push yourself to the limit."
Warning signs in the second half
The win, courtesy of Schüller pushing herself to her limit, gives Bayern every chance of making the semifinals and a date with Woflsburg or Paris Saint-Germain. But the second half of a tight match in front of 20,000 at the Allianz Arena also offered some cause for concern.
Arsenal took a territorial stranglehold from the start of the second half until Bayern had opportunities on the counter very late on. But without the injured Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead, the English side lacked a cutting edge.
Bayern had theirs front and center on Tuesday. But as Schüller dropped to her knees clutching her ankle after trying to return from an initial clash, the possibility opened that they may need to find another way in London next week.
Edited by: John Silk