LYON – On Sunday evening, Olympique Lyon suffered the third consecutive defeat in the Ligue 1, home against Stade Rennes (0-2). The team of trainer Bruno Génésio, who is fourth in the French league, is in a small but dangerous form crisis. After all, only the first three seats are good for a Champions League ticket and the lag behind the third place is now four points. The Europa League tournament, in which the winner receives an admission ticket for the next edition of the Champions League, is therefore of vital importance to Gones class. A story about the house brand, a star with a golden left and weak points.
By Daniel Cabot Kerijk
Olympique Lyon is listed in the sixteenth Euro League finals on 15 and 22 February, opposite Villarreal, which closed the group phase as the winner of Group A and has to give priority in its own country to Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Real Madrid only. L’ OL will therefore have to offer a tour of strength in order to qualify for the eighth finals. Not unimportant either: The Parc Olympique Lyonnais is the backdrop to the final of the Europa League on May 16th, and that will only increase pressure from the outside. The Coupe de France, in which Lyons will take it up against Caen in the quarterfinals in two weeks’ time, is at best seen as a comfort price.
Home brandGénésio led by Olympique Lyon fans are presented with the own brand: offensive football with lightning fast transitions and the confidence of the club and technical staff in potential young footballers. The East French enter a 4-2-3-3-1 system, with a 4-3-3-3-3 formation as an alternative. In the goal, the experienced European champion Anthony Lopes has enjoyed confidence since mid-2013. Kenny Tete is generally preferred over Rafael when it comes to the position of rightback and on the left Ferland Mendy and Fernando Marçal, both very offensively set up, alternate. This season the four of them often caused two-counter-one situations, associating themselves with Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traoré, or three-counter-two-situations, with the help of star player Nabil Fekir. Still, Génésio is trying to introduce more wait-and-see football this season, certainly in comparison with the two previous football journals.
In the centre of defence, Génésio also opts for Marcelo, who was handed over from Besiktas for 7.5 million euros. The former PSV’ there is accompanied in the heart of the defense by 33-year-old Jérémy Morel, who was previously leftback and despite his 1 meter 72 is still centrally placed in the back. The central midfielders combine muscle strength with youthfulness, with Lucas Tousart as a role model. Only Lopes and Marcelo were in competition this season for more minutes on the field than the youth international who is strong in the air, fights every ball and with his box to box qualities is already now sought after by various English clubs. Tousart has no fixed partner in crime; the more technically engineered Hassem Aouar and the also physically strong Tanguy Ndombèlé, both only a year older than Tousart, alternate on the diaphragm. The latter, rented from Amiens, often fills in the spaces that the emerging backs leave behind.
Vedette with Algerian rootsIn an attacking way, four men make up the service: Bertrand Traoré, Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir and Mariano Diaz, with Fekir as the club’s star and figurehead. The playmaker with Algerian roots, one of the so-called future star players of the French national team, can be number ten, outsider or second striker, is sublime at the ball and has an even more subliter shot. No Frenchman made more goals this season than Fekir: twenty, in thirty official duels. The ball sticks to its left foot, its punching power is impressive and its vision of the field is accompanied by millimetre-accurate balls over dozens of metres.
Fekir’s companions are also valuable. Traoré often puts his opponents on the right side on the wrong foot. Although the ex-player of Ajax, among others, is physically strong, he also has quality and an individual action, even though he is still insufficiently involved with goals of his teammates. Like Traoré, Depay gets a lot of space in the Génésio system. The Dutch national Orange often cuts in to the right to extract exactly the way in which he fabricated the winning hit against Paris Saint-Germain in a truly brilliant way in extremis. As soon as the opponent is in possession of the ball, the former PSVs hardly have to perform defensive work there. He is therefore crucial in the fast transition moments from defense to attack.
Mariano Diaz finally reached maturity in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Zinédine Zidane’s favouritism for Karim Benzema led not only to the summer departure of Álvaro Morata at Real Madrid, but also to the retreat of Diaz, for a relatively low transfer sum of ten million euros and a resale percentage of 35 percent. With 16 goals in 31 official duels, Diaz shows that he has acclimatised himself almost immediately, while Benzema’s disenchanting form at least this season proves that the Royal is wrong. Diaz, good for fifty goals in ninety Real Madrid youth duels, also has the advantage that his speed and ball control allows him to move to the flanks as well, allowing Fekir and Depay to play occasionally as points and number ten, respectively.
Weak points and playing style Villarreal, who lost this month of Real Betis (2-1) and Deportivo Alavés (1-2) but won six of the eight matches, will undoubtedly already be aware of the weaknesses of Olympique Lyon. These are mainly the spaces that the emerging backs leave behind. The offensive style of play during the transition from defense to attack has already this season cost the unnecessary countergoals: in the top six of the Ligue 1, nobody has so far had so many hits on their ears as the Gones lesson: 30 in 25 league duels.
The somewhat lesser passing of midfielders such as Tousart and Ndombèlé, and possibly Jordan Ferri, will not have escaped Villarreal either. Génésio will, as usual, oblige his players to keep the lines close together and the central midfielders will have to temper their offensive intentions, in order to give the backs the opportunity to stand up with them. Diaz and Fekir are the ones who may have to disturb positive football of central defenders such as Victor Ruiz and Álvaro González.
Sunday evening’s general rehearsal failed anyway, especially with almost the strongest eleven within the lines. Maxwell Cornet was the exception. Walibi Khazri took advantage of a mistake made by Marcelo early in the race, after which Stade Rennes defended the advantageous margin to the rest with fervor. During the break, Diaz and Tousart made way for Depay and Aouar, but the game of les Gones didn’t get any better. In the final minutes, the seventeen-year-old attacker Amine Gouiri took the place of Ndombèlé, but without a result. It was James Lea Siliki who determined the final score: 0-2.
Who comes a round further?