Sunday sees the first-ever Varsity football double-header, with Barnet’s ground The Hive playing host to both the Women’s and the Men’s fixtures.
The Varsity Match is the oldest regular fixture in world football, having been played every year since 1873, barring the two World Wars. Even though the Men’s fixture has been played as many as 132 times, 2017 marks the first year that it has been played on the same date and at the same venue as the Women’s game.
After a 2-0 Varsity win last season, Oxford’s Men will be confident heading into Sunday’s fixtures. Victory over Cambridge in the 3rd place play-off in inaugural World Elite Universities Football Tournament in Beijing last summer was followed by a 4-2 home win and 0-0 away draw in the league this season.
Joan Crespo surely holds the key to victory for the Dark Blues in 2017. The Spanish visiting student learnt his trade in Barcelona, and his quick feet and ability to find space between the lines have made him the crucial man in the Oxford midfield.
Crespo will look to supply the Dark Blues’ number nine and main goalscoring threat Dom Thelen, who is set to start up top. Thelen has managed 16 goals in just 23 starts this season, and his poaching ability will be tested on Sunday.
At the back, Michael Moneke returns to play his fifth Varsity match at centre-half—impressively, he is set to make an 82nd start for the 1st XI. Despite his mixed injury record, Moneke’s commanding presence will undoubtedly cause problems for Cambridge’s strikers as he lines up in a back three alongside stand-in captain Cian Wade and Sam Hale.
The Women’s side also came out on top in last year’s fixture, with Tina Gough’s early goal securing a 1-0 victory. However, Cambridge’s side have enjoyed a fantastic league campaign this season, steamrolling the Midlands 2B division with ten wins from as many fixtures. Despite sitting in a higher division, the Dark Blues have struggled in the league, and will be hoping that they can put an end to a poor run with victory at The Hive.
Claudia Hill’s presence at centre-back will be crucial for the Women. A tough-tackling defender, Hill will have a task on her hands to shut out a free-scoring Cambridge side, but her authority at the back should mean she is up to the task.
Caroline Ward will captain the side at The Hive after missing the 2016 Varsity Match due to a MCL tear. An energetic midfielder, Ward also has an eye for a key pass, having managed three assists in her seven appearances this season.
However, the team’s main creative threat is Colleen Lopez, who will occupy the number ten role just behind the striker. Originally from California, Lopez took some time to adapt to the physicality and intensity of English football, but has performed with aplomb since fitting in. Despite a lower goal return in 2016/17 than in the previous campaign, Lopez has still managed to create a couple of assists for her team-mates this season, and will look to exploit any space between Cambridge’s back four and midfield.
Tickets are still available for Sunday’s fixtures, and can be bought here.