Ligue 1 Review | Miracle or indictment? Lyon’s resurgence poses questions

At the start of December, Olympique Lyonnais were rock bottom of Ligue 1, three points off second-bottom Clermont Foot. Pierre Sage sparked an immediate revival. Having secured seven points in their first 14 games, Lyon won their last three games in the run-up to the winter break. 

However, upon the return of football in mid-January, there was a relapse of sorts. At the start of February, OL occupied the relegation play-off spot. The threat of relegation was still real and the humourous but very real situation in which Taylor Swift potentially kicked Lyon out of their own stadium for a relegation play-off encounter encapsulated where the club was. The giant had fallen and their “banter era” had started. However, it has seemingly quickly passed. 

Fast forward two months and it is incredible the conversations we are now having. Lyon have since qualified for the Coupe de France final, where they will face Paris Saint-Germain at the end of May. A cup run amidst league struggles is not uncommon. Just ask Valenciennes, the Ligue 2 side beaten by Lyon in the semi-final, who are all but guaranteed to drop into the National 1, France’s third tier. 

Les Gones therefore have a chance at European football for next season with the winner of the Coupe de France qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. But what is more astonishing is that Lyon, despite for the vast majority of the season being a relegation candidate, could qualify for Europe via their Ligue 1 standing. Should Lyon lose to PSG in the Coupe de France final, seventh place would be enough for a place in next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League. 

A season of change at Lyon

Currently 10th, Lyon are just three points away from seventh-placed Stade de Reims. Of all the teams around them, momentum is with OL, who have lost just one in their last nine in Ligue 1. In that time, Lyon have done a lot right: altering their hierarchal structure and bringing in more competent figures in key executive positions; leading a successful transfer window that although it screamed of desperation, and in part it was, actually led to a mix of short-term fixes and long-term project players considerably bolstering the quality of the squad; and Sage creating a tactical system in which individuals flourish, Maxence Caqueret in particular has been a benefactor of this. 

However, more than anything else, it exposes the lack of consistency and quality of their rivals. Olympique de Marseille, somehow just one point ahead of Lyon, spent over €100m in the summer. Les Phocéens comfortably secured a podium place last season but have regressed massively. There are mitigating circumstances, granted, but some of those circumstances are in part self-inflicted. 

Floundering giants

Stade Rennais, who last year finished fourth, like Marseille, had a revival when Julien Stéphan first arrived. They, however, are beginning to tail off. After Sunday’s defeat to AS Monaco, their third in the space of a week, Stéphan wasn’t throwing in the towel in the race for the UEFA Champions League, but he ought to. The former RC Strasbourg Alsace manager, who was brought in on a short-term deal, was recently handed an extension; time will tell whether that was ill-advised. 

RC Lens have dropped off and have struggled for consistency and Reims are plagued with the same issues. Given the resources at these two clubs, such issues can be expected and are certainly more excusable, but to be caught by a team that was in crisis and on their third manager of the season by the end of November is still an indictment of their inability to perform consistently. 

Somehow, therefore, Lyon have not one but two chances to qualify for Europe next season. OL were the fallen giants at the start of the season, but other giants are floundering too, and within that context, Les Gones have two shots at redemption.

This week’s Ligue 1 subplots
  • Le Havre AC president Jean-Michel Roussier hit out at Paris Saint-Germain for fielding a weakened side in Saturday’s draw against Clermont Foot. With Les Ciel et Marine also embroiled in a fight against relegation, there was certainly an element of self-interest in his stinging criticism. Read the full story HERE.

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  • AS Monaco’s barren home run came to an end against Stade Rennais on Sunday. Prior to the fixture, Les Monégasques had not won at the Stade Louis II since 3rd December. The win not only furthers Monaco’s Champions League ambitions but severely damages those of Rennes. Read Monaco’s post-match reaction HERE.

  • Stade Brestois are nearing qualification for European competition. The Breton side were heavily tipped for relegation, but a dramatic 4-3 victory over FC Metz on Sunday consolidates their second place with just six games remaining. Brest’s fans sang “Stade Brestois, Coupe d’Europe” to the tune of Pump it Up; the fans are right to get carried away, but Eric Roy’s men still have work to do on the pitch to secure a place in the Champions League.

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GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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