Eyes on the prize: Why Lyon could be Champions League’s surprise package

Lyon

When Olympique Lyonnais took to the field against Manchester City at the Etihad last night, few would’ve imagined what was about to unfold. After all, England’s undisputed champions looked too strong on paper for France’s third best team. City might even have been a little overconfident with their team selection.

But what unfolded last night is the stuff of folklore for the French outfit. The team who gets the better of the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea was almost humbled by Lyon. A 2-1 win shocked Europe as Nabil Fekir and co. had the last laugh.

To some, this might look like an upset. But not for people who have been following the French side closely. Because, ever since last season, Lyon has been some team. With the likes of Memphis Depay, Fekir and Bertrand Traore, the French powerhouse of the last decade have been excelling. And at the Etihad, their unity and resilience was on full display with Guardiola’s men failing to contain them.

Lyon’s attack gives one of those ‘cult hero’ vibes. With the two among the three Premier League rejects and a captain who looked set to join Liverpool, Lyon have pulled together a team that plays for the badge and the badge alone. There’s no sense of individualism around. And this is exactly where City made the mistake.

City took Lyon’s attack to be individualistic. Their defence, instead of man marking, gave the French side’s attackers too much space that they exploited via intricate passing in between. And their pressing was extremely impressive as well and that particular element of their game helped them take the lead. With Fernandinho dispossessed in the midfield, Nabil Fekir received the pass from Pape Cheikh. With the first touch, he got away from Aymeric Laporte and delivered a teasing cross. City, more specifically Fabian Delph, shot themselves in the foot as the Englishman fluffed his clearance. The ball then fell kindly to Max Cornet who beat Ederson with a low shot in the bottom corner. Lyon went ahead much to the anger of Pep Guardiola in the stands. The Spanish coach, suspended for his antics against Liverpool last season, couldn’t hide his frustration.

Lyon were compact in the midfield, strong in defence and lethal in attack. The likes of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva couldn’t get the better of Lyon’s fortress. The extremely organised machine that is the backline of the French side was brilliant. From set pieces to the subtle one-twos that define Guardiola’s philosophy to some extent, Lyon absolutely put them to bed. Not even Sergio Aguero could unlock the backline. The attack complemented the stronghold of Lyon and it wasn’t long before they truly took control of the match.

In the 43rd minute, Fekir raced away from the City defence and rifled a shot into the bottom corner. Ederson had no chance. Lyon fans were over the moon. The Etihad was silent and it seemed as if the entire home fans were in disbelief. Guardiola’s deputy in the dugout Mikel Arteta’s puff off the cheeks represented the Citizen’s disappointment.

But perhaps, we’re talking about City too much. Lyon deserve credit. It is most definitely due to the way Bruno Genesio’s side was absolutely bossing the game against one of the Champions League favourites. Even though they conceded one in the second half, Lyon stood strong against the immense pressure from City. And they did get the win at the end.

Lyon has been exceptional in France for some time now. And it seems like Genesio has got that mojo working even in Europe this season. The way he masterminded an immense victory against City asks for some serious spotlight. It’s still early days, but Lyon is looking like some team. Don’t be surprised to see them going on a fairytale run like that of Monaco in 2016-17. Fekir and co. definitely have the ability. Whether they can go all the way? That’s something for time to tell.

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