Eric Devin argues that Lyon must look for sustainable options in terms of team selection and that OL’s second place in the league is due to the failings of sides around them rather than anything else.
With just under a third of the season in the books and Saint-Etienne coming to the Gerland for this weekend’s grand choc with the two clubs level on points in second, it seems as if all is going to plan for Lyon.
With ten points from their last four matches, Les Gones have shaken off their early-season doldrums to reclaim their rightful place on the Ligue 1 podium. The Champions’ League hasn’t gone exactly to plan, but the club played some nice stuff against Zenit last time out and still control their own destiny in terms of progression.
Couple this with the league’s second-best defence and Hubert Fournier’s second season is off to a flying start, right?
Well, not exactly. Despite an improved run of results in the league, the quality of opposition means that this streak must be considered more carefully. Lyon looked comfortable enough in beating Reims, 1-0 at the Gerland a month ago. Alexandre Lacazette scored from open play, the team dominated possession and looked generally at ease in defeating the team that, at the time, occupied fourth place.
However, even in that match, things were far from as they should be; Lacazette, despite scoring, missed a penalty and spurned several other gilt-edged chances. Reims, by turn, have failed to score in the league in the intervening three matches, further tarnishing the result.
The next weekend brought a 1-all draw against Monaco at the Stade Louis II. Fair enough, considering the defensive solidity the principality club had embodied last season, but Monaco had, until Sunday, failed to win at home, suffering in attack from the losses of Anthony Martial and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
Even at that, Lyon’s goal was a fortuitous header from Rafael, scored after Monaco had gone down to ten men in the wake of Wallace’s sending-off. Thus, a seemingly strong point away to a fellow Champions’ League contender loses a bit of its lustre.
The win over Toulouse last weekend was probably the best in terms of establishing a type of synthesis going forward, but what can one really take from a home victory over a relegation struggler? Sergei Darder seemed to have turned a corner in scoring and getting several fine opportunities in the match, but his contributions were somewhat more muted against Troyes on Saturday.
Especially when compared to Jordan Ferri, his primary competition for his place in the starting eleven. With Maxime Gonalons and Corentin Tolisso dropped into central defence and holding midfield respectively, holding off the likes of Arnold Mvuemba and Steed Malbranque to start is far from an achievement for either.
Indeed, it is these positional shifts that begin this discussion when one considers Lyon’s problems. The club have, if Jeremy Morel is included, six central defenders at their disposal. In addition to the former Marseille player, Samuel Umtiti, Milan Bisevac, Bakary Kone, Lindsay Rose and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa populate the ranks of central defence.
Even Christophe Jallet has played there on occasion, but as the former Paris Saint-Germain man has been so influential going forward at right back this season, it is understandable that he wouldn’t be considered an option for Fournier.
On Saturday, Umtiti was a miss due to his accumulation of yellow cards, whilst Bisevac remains a long-term absentee. Kone remains with the squad, but Saturday marked the first time he has even made the bench in the league since the opening round of fixtures. Rose, meanwhile, down to his incident with Tolisso has likewise been excluded from first team activities.
With a deficit in terms of centre backs, Gonalons has been deputised to play in defence, and has done admirably, and Tolisso likewise in holding midfield. However, even with Henri Bedimo returning from injury at the weekend, playing an arguably integral part of your midfield in Maxime Gonalons at centre back is hardly a sustainable solution for Lyon’s injury woes.
With all of Bedimo, Bisevac, Jallet and Morel on the wrong side of thirty, it is imperative that Fournier sorts out whatever internal issues have kept Rose and Kone away from the first team. As impressive as Umtiti has been this season, he cannot play every match, especially once the cup competitions begin in earnest in the near future.
Deputising Gonfalons at the back, despite his impressive performances there, is not a sustainable situation, as it leaves midfield similarly shorn of options. Too, despite nearly €8M on Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in the summer, the former Roma and Newcastle man has failed to convince.
While Bisevac is expected back soon, having merely suffered a minor setback in his recovery, Lyon’s defence, despite its record, is fundamentally in tatters. The attack has similarly stuttered with the exit of Clinton N’Jie and the injury of Fekir, the sum game of Lyon’s results meaning that they are merely riding their luck, their placement in the league down to the ineptitude of their fellow sides.
This weekend against Troyes provided the perfect example. Even against ten men and the league’s bottom side, Lyon needed a penalty to earn three points, having, as they did against Toulouse and Reims, spurned several gilt-edged chances from open play.
Claudio Beauvue looks uncomfortable having to establish himself centrally rather than drift in from wide areas as he had at Guingamp. Lacazette is still bedeviled by a poor first touch, and now lacks the excuse of the injury which was an issue earlier in the campaign. Even Corentin Tolisso, who contributed seven goals last season, has failed to contribute going forward.
This Sunday brings bitter rivals Saint-Etienne to the Gerland, and for the club, it represents the perfect opportunity to finally lay on a convincing performance.
Christophe Galtier’s teams have always been among Ligue 1’s most solid defensively, but this year, they have been a bit more attractive going forward with the additions of the likes of Robert Beric and Valentin Eysseric.
If Lyon can lay on a performance of the calibre of last year’s 2-2 draw, where they were irresistible prior to the sending-off of Rose, it will do much to not only establish the team as favorites for second place and its automatic Champions’ League qualification but to also to simply give Fournier and his charges a measure of much-needed confidence.