French football writer Eric Devin‘s new Ligue 1 Talking Points column took the plaudits last week and he returns with five more reflections on last weekend’s top flight action.
Nabil Fékir made a big statement before making a statement last weekend
With Nabil Fekir announcing his decision to represent France internationally, despite strong overtures on the part of Algeria, fans of Les Bleus must be licking their lips at the possibilities for their side in attack, with Alexandre Lacazette and the diminutive attacker continuing to shine for Les Gones.
With Montpellier looking better as of late, and a worrisome defeat for Lyon to similarly counterattacking Lille last weekend, last weekend’s “Grand Match” had all of the potential for an upset, especially with Lacazette struggling to find his best after recovering from an injury.
Things looked dire indeed when Lucas Barrios found the back of the net just five minutes in as the hosts took advantage of some truly shambolic defending from Lyon. Four minutes later, Lacazette was booked, and Geoffrey Jourdren was first to every ball, Montpellier ratcheting up the pressure and putting the leaders on the back foot.
That’s when Fekir decided to take control of the match. Used essentially as an auxiliary striker, instead of behind a front two, his mission on the night was to link the slower Yoann Gourcuff with Lacazette by running with the ball in advanced areas. Fekir did so with aplomb, tormenting Daniel Congre and the centre backs and likewise pinning back Anthony Mounier, all players who have been very influential for Montpellier on the season.
Starting by drawing a penalty (his fifth of the season, best in the league) on thirty minutes, the youngster followed that up ten minutes later by playing a delicious one-two with Gourcuff, sweeping in from the right to score across the face of goal, Lyon having broken from a Christophe Jallet interception.
One really couldn’t ask for a better finish, the ball bending slightly just past the reach of Jourdren and nestling inside the far post, the whole sequence a study in composure one could hardly have expected from a player who had played less than 600 minutes before this season. His path to the first team was blocked back then by a combination of Clement Grenier and Bafetimbi Gomis. An equally well-struck goal made it 3-1 midway through the second half, another one-two with Gourcuff the key to unlocking MHSC’s defence yet again.
With eleven goals and seven assists in 24 matches, Fekir has continually shouldered the load for a Lyon side of whom little was expected six months ago, especially after the departure of Gomis and the injury to Grenier. Now, both players’ absences are afterthoughts, and OL have one of Europe’s brightest young talents at their disposal. But beyond talent is the mental fortitude that Fekir showed on the night. In second place at kick-off with PSG already having beaten Lens, Lyon had the toughest match out of any of their top three rivals this weekend, and with Montpellier’s early lead, it would have been too easy for OL to fold. The unspoken excuse of youth could easily have been plucked out of the air. with The title could have easily begun a slip away from OL last Sunday.
But with Lacazette still looking a bit off the boil, Fekir showed tremendous determination to continue to play in the manner that has brought Lyon so much success this season, putting the team on his back and willing them to victory by doing what was needed.
With Lyon’s Moneyball approach to young talent still in effect, it would not be a surprise to see Fekir move on in the next few years, but at present we should acknowledge our luck in Ligue 1 being graced by a player with massive talent and even greater heart.