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After an unassuming season, can Nabil Fékir step up in Lyon’s most critical fixture of the campaign?

Sometimes in football, all you need is a bit of luck. On Saturday night, however, Lyon had it by the shedload. Bruno Génésio’s men travelled to Angers at the weekend without Alexandre Lacazette, and with Nabil Fékir deputising as the target man, many were curious about how he would fare. Le SCO had their own agenda, however, Thomas Mangani leading an assault on the Lyon goal at the Stade Raymond Kopa. As Nicolas Pepe and Jonathan Bamba kept Anthony Lopes busy, Lyon struggled to get out of their own half, Maxime Gonalons and Lucas Tousart struggling to impose themselves on a fine Spring evening on France’s Atlantic coast.

Then Alexandre Letellier happened. The coiffed 26-year-old has been in excellent form of late, his heroics against Guingamp helping Angers into the Coupe de France Final. It was his feeble punch, however, that was delivered gratefully onto the knee of Mathieu Valbuena for Lyon’s opener.

Letellier would again be at fault for Lyon’s second, failing to deal with Fékir’s tame free-kick as he let it roll underneath him into the net. Cheikh N’Doye bullied two defenders to respond in the second half, but by then the result was a sideshow, the game morphing into an examination of Fékir’s potential in the forward position.

It has been an inconsistent year for the Lyon forward, whose injury against Portugal in September 2015 did much to derail what had until then looked like an unstoppable rise. After being overlooked for France’s squad for the Euros, Fékir has fought gamely against the likes of Rachid Ghezzal, Maxwel Cornet and latterly Memphis for a place behind Lacazette in the starting eleven.  He is fourth in the scoring charts, and nobody had more assists, but the game against Angers offered a chance to see ‘Lyon’s Messi’ lead the line at last.

Overall he did okay, buzzing eagerly about the Angers defence, doing his best to dispel Génésio’s previous criticism that he had often seemed “not ready to make the effort”. In truth however, the game was a poor stage on which to shine, Lyon’s two goals representing a full quarter of their shots on target.

Not that Génésio will care. The result was the most important thing on Saturday, as Lyon stumble back to form after two consecutive defeats in the league. The result solidifies their fourth place finish, and does much to instil confidence ahead of the club’s glamour tie against Ajax on Wednesday.

Should we expect to see Fékir as number nine in Amsterdam?  With the club continuing to sweat on 31-goal Lacazette’s fitness ahead of the game in midweek, it’s certainly possible, particulary given the relative dearth of other attacking options. Memphis Depay would have been a natural replacement, but his exclusion from European competition helps Fékir’s chances, as does the paucity of goals spread throughout the rest of the team.

Either way it will be fascinating game. For a player once heralded as the best in a generation, it could a latest chance to reinvigorate his reputation. He and Lyon could really use it.

C.W.

 

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