Stop me if you have heard this story before: Olympique Lyonnais Féminin have a set piece awarded to them and Wendie Renard rises highest to head that cross home. Once again, Renard was there when Lyon needed her the most yesterday as she knocked in the only goal of the game to send Olympique Lyonnais to yet another UEFA Women’s Champions League final.
The likes of Nikita Parris and Delphine Cascarino had huffed and puffed against Paris Saint-Germain Féminine’s backline, but Irene Paredes and Paulina Dudek thwarted them at every turn, ably assisted by their fullbacks Ashley Lawrence and Perle Morroni. So up stepped Lyon’s stalwart to score her 103rd goal of her career for the club and send them into their sixth consecutive Champions League final.
Of course, Lyon’s progression was aided by Grace Geyoro’s second yellow card/sending off, Lucy Bronze’s run to get the free kick and Amel Majri’s set piece delivery, but when called upon, it was Renard who had the answer as she has always seemingly done throughout her time at Lyon.
103 goals tells it all. Renard’s height certainly helps but her ability to find space and then provide the right precision to beat goalkeepers who are usually very good at stopping goals show that her physicality is only half the reason why she has so many goals as a central defender. At this point in her career, if you see Renard heading up for a set piece, nine times out of ten she will nod it home if the delivery is right.
Yesterday, Renard not only turned up as the winning goal scorer but she was just as effective at her real role, that of a centre back. She, along with Kadeisha Buchanan were strong, agile and positionally aware enough to limit PSG as much as possible and help Lyon keep a clean sheet. With both teams down to ten players late in the match, that cannot be understated. For most of her career Renard has been imperious and although she may have made gaffes here and there, she will go down as one of Lyon and France’s greatest defenders.
Her presence is enough to put most attackers off and her acceleration for someone of her height is usually surprising for anyone who doesn’t watch her regularly. That is not even the most impressive part about Renard’s game. Her passing and technical ability make her the quintessential centre back in the modern game and also helps open up other teams for Lyon. She can play it short, through tight spaces or long and diagonally to set a teammate off in attack. She also exudes calm under pressure, which is needed when you have a goalkeeper as eccentric as Sarah Bouhaddi is behind you, and it has also helped the likes of younger players like Buchanan or Griedge Mbock-Bathy develop their games each year.
However, we are here to talk about how Wendie Renard likes to score goals and when she ends her career, whenever that is, we may never have a central defender that efficient in front of goal for a long, long time. Until then, she and her teammates will be hoping that she will continue on being the danger that she is during set pieces (or penalties) and help them win another Champions League title.
Lyon will now face VfL Wolfsburg Frauen on Sunday and they know how difficult a match that will be, having faced Wolfsburg three times already in the Champions League. Renard’s primary job will be stopping Pernille Harder from getting through on goal but Wolfsburg will have to account for the big centre back when she jogs up the pitch for a corner/free kick. If they do not, Renard will repeat history and help Lyon beat Wolfsburg once again in a Champions League final.