Nikita Parris discusses Lyon-PSG rivalry, possibility of playing in NWSL and more ahead of French showdown

Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain will meet on Saturday for the first time since their Champions League semifinal meeting where Lyon defeated their rivals, 1-0, and advanced to the final and were crowned champions in August. The two teams have a long-standing rivalry in the French domestic league, and are both undefeated in their last five matches. Lyon holds a two-point lead ahead of PSG as they get set to go head-to-head for first place in the domestic table.

Lyon forward Nikita Parris, who has played with Manchester City and England’s national team, remembers the closely contested Champions League match. She recalls not being able to finish due a red card during the semifinal, which caused her to miss the final. Parris is looking forward to the big match on Saturday.

“In the Champions League, I did the start the game against PSG, but didn’t finish it. For me it was a frustrating moment, because ultimately it costs me to play the Champions League Final,” Parris said. “The girls went out there and won Champions League for me. So that was one battle I achieved there, being there was one of the focuses of why I came to Lyon: to win Champions League. Now the most important thing is continue the runs and then trophies and medals and ultimately winning games.”

The calendar year for professional soccer has seen lots of changes in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The constant stopping and re-starting as well as lockdowns have played a role across so many leagues around the world. Outside of keeping fit for football, Parris took time for mental break. She watched Netflix and read books like The Girl Next Door, all while virtually communicating with her family. 

Lyon has been able to play eight games domestically so far in the 2020-21 season, winning all of them. They’ll head to Paris as the visiting side on Saturday, and the familiarity between the two clubs is likely to make for a highly competitive match.

“Preparations have gone really well, and we’re all really excited,” Parris said. “…Obviously, it’s finding the balance between what we’re good at and also what we need to exploit PSG with. So for us, we’re super excited for the game.

“…That’s also in my focus as a striker, wanting to score goals, wanting to create a system with teammates and ultimately help the team win the game. Whether that being the starting 11 or coming off the bench, the most important thing for me is to impact.”

The last two weeks has seen lots of rivalry matches globally for women’s soccer. There were Darbys in England and Clasicos in Mexico. For Parris, she believes the French rivalry ranks as one of the world’s best because of how competitive it has always been between the two clubs.

“It’s two teams that have consistently competed at the top of the French league each and every season,” Parris said. “In England rivalries are very competitive — Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Man United — but depending on the league position, it changes. Whereas the league conditions don’t change in France, it’s ultimately Lyon first, PSG to second, and the gap seems to be closing each and every year. PSG gets stronger each and every year.”

With December on the horizon, Parris will join England for a 10-day camp. The 29-player roster will be split for intrasquad scrimmages instead of actual matches. The international window will also see the U.S. national team in Europe for a short camp and a match against the Netherlands. Parris believes the current wave of America talent in European leagues is beneficial for all involved. 

“I think it’s great. You want the best talent from around the world playing in the different leagues. Brings a different dynamic, a different experience,” she said. “The American girls that went into England, some of them were the World Cup winners. Someone like Tobin Heath and Christen Press going into Man United, to a group of girls that are inspired then to compete at the top of the WSL. You know, the experience and the wisdom that they can bring to those girls is unbelievable. 

“And you’ve got Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle at Manchester City — a rivalry, and they’ll both be combined to compete for the WSL. They’ll bring in massive experience, but they will also learn from the girls at Manchester City, because that’s a winning team right there. They’ve competed consistently over the last five years at the top of the women’s game. It’s a great team what Lavelle and Sam Mewis have gone into and they will help them as well, and grow in a different way.”

In the ever-changing sports landscape, and with women’s leagues evolving with continued growth, Parris believes that it’s an integral part of the game to keep challenging oneself. That includes playing in different leagues with different styles. The forward made the jump from Women’s Super League to Division 1 Feminine, and while she is currently happy with her club, she would never rule out an option to play in the United States in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“I would never rule it out, I think the American league is a different to what I’ve what I’ve played in the past. I mean, for me it’s a fast-paced league, very transitional. You haven’t got a minute on the ball, you’re getting pressed, you’re under high pressure constantly, Parris said.

“…No one team can just have a day off and think that they can win the game. So for me, I’ve spoke to a couple of the girls on Lyon that have played [in NWSL] — obviously Jodie Taylor, England teammates also, and she’s told me about NWSL. Ellie Carpenter also. So, you know I would never rule that out. But I am happy at Lyon at the moment, and I haven’t quite reached the goals that I’ve wanted to here. So that’s why I continue to put my best foot forward each day and really compete.”


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