Ligue 1 Review | Olympico victory fuels Lyon’s hopes of ‘mediocre season’

The season so far for Olympique Lyonnais has been nothing short of disastrous. There are few other fitting descriptors for a team that were onto their third manager before the season had even reached Christmas and has spent most of its time floundering at the bottom of the table. 

In November, owner John Textor had been bullish in his aims for the season, “we don’t look down the table, we look up the table. We risk having a very mediocre season. That bothers the hell out of us. But whoever is talking about relegation is just stoking fear and creating stories.

Regardless of the denial, relegation had been the threat that loomed over Lyon’s head since early in the season, and while Textor had previously dismissed the notion that the team could face the drop, a January where the club became the biggest spenders in Europe certainly pointed to a hierarchy not willing to risk their chances. 

The promise and pitfalls of January 

Despite the excitement behind Lyon’s transfer window where they brought in Nemanja Matić, Orel Mangala, Gift Orban, and Saïd Benrahma, January had proven to be a difficult month on the pitch. A promising end to 2023, had seen Pierre Sage guide his side to three consecutive wins and out of the relegation zone, but following the club’s return from the winter break old habits emerged in the league as they lost to Le Havre AC and Stade Rennais. 

A visit from Olympique de Marseille had the potential to drop the club back into the relegation play-off spot. The club needed a victory to stay afloat and provide some breathing space between them and an emerging bottom three consisting of FC Metz, FC Lorient, and Clermont Foot that had begun to take shape at the foot of the table. 

Marseille looked to shock their hosts with a sucker punch from kick-off as Amine Harit’s shot from the halfway line kissed the crossbar. It was a worrying start and Marseille surged forward in the first few minutes to place Les Gones under pressure, but after that brief spell, something rarely seen this season took shape. 

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Lyon show their desire in Choc des Olympiques 

Lyon were good. Assured in both attack and defence. They played a comfortable game that kept the Marseille team safely contained. The debut of Matić after his midseason swap from Rennes was particularly impressive as he provided a calming presence alongside the energy of Maxence Caqueret to develop a balanced midfield. The lone goal in their 1-0 victory came from a beautiful sweeping movement of one-touch passes across the pitch before a scrappy but endeavoured finish from Alexandre Lacazette completed the movement. 

In the second half, the story remained the same as Marseille were left with only one shot on target, that one chance falling to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who rounded the keeper and looked to slot the chance home. And in so many other games this season that one chance would have found the net and this would have been another occasion where Lyon dropped points from a seemingly comfortable position. 

However, this match was different. Ainsley Maitland-Niles cleared the ball off the line and onto the crossbar where it bounced to safety. There was a belief running through the team that they were going to win this match. And after the game, as the cameras peered into the home side’s dressing room you could see how much this moment meant. 

Lyon are far from safe and nowhere near where they planned to be at the start of the season, but a solid performance has fuelled belief and reality has shifted expectations, as the club etch closer to their new hope for a “mediocre season“.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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