Chelsea will face Ajax in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals next month and, significantly, are also in the same half of the draw as holders Barcelona.
Emma Hayes’s side, who are aiming to win their first European title in what would be her final match in charge, should they reach May 25’s final in Bilbao, would meet either SK Brann or heavy favourites Barcelona if they can get past their Amsterdam-based quarter-final opponents.
Here is Telegraph Sport’s verdict on the knockout stages.
QF1: SK Brann v Barcelona
Managed by former Manchester United assistant coach Martin Ho, SK Brann have upset the odds to reach the knockout stages in their debut campaign in the group stages, but on paper this tie should not be a close call. Barcelona are the continent’s finest side on the ball and with stars including Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati and England duo Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze, they should get through.
QF2: Benfica v Lyon
The Portuguese side are showing improvements this year and they did well to pip Eintracht Frankfurt into second spot in Group A, as well as earning a barmy 4-4 draw, but theoretically their run should end here at the hands of the record eight-times champions Lyon. The French giants have Norway striker Ada Hegerberg back in great form and have won 14 matches out of 14 so far in the French top tier.
QF3: Ajax v Chelsea
This will not be easy for Chelsea, against an Ajax side who came through by far the most competitive of the four groups to reach the knockout stages. Under head coach Suzanne Bakker, who, like Hayes, is leaving at the end of the season, Ajax have been building and they have been attracting partisan crowds to the Johan Cruyff Arena. However, Chelsea will be the favourites and, with the second leg at Stamford Bridge, they should have the squad depth to get the job done.
QF4: BK Hacken v PSG
This might be the tie with the best chance for an upset, as Swedish side BK Hacken are frequently underrated and underestimated, and they have performed superbly to essentially eliminate both Real Madrid and French side Paris FC – who had seen off both Arsenal and Wolfsburg during qualifying – in Group D. Plus, they showed impressive organisation in their 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It would still be foolish to bet against PSG, with their attacking threats such as Tabitha Chawinga likely to give them the edge. PSG should win, but perhaps only just.
QF1 v QF3
QF2 v QF4
In theory, that would mean Chelsea facing Barcelona in the semi-finals in April, with the second leg in London, whilst Lyon would host PSG, and the most likely overall champion from that quartet is Barcelona. However, in this season of persistent shocks in the Women’s Champions League nothing should be ruled out.
First leg: Mar 19-20
Second leg: Mar 27-28
First leg: Apr 20-21
Second leg: Apr 27-28
Final: Bilbao: May 25