Olympique Lyonnais is approaching its Champions League quarter-final against ogre Manchester City in the position of the outsider. However, reinvigorated by the qualification against Juventus, Rudi Garcia’s men want to believe in the feat that would lead them to the last European square.
“Anything is possible in a game.” Like their Cameroonian striker, Karl Toko-Ekambi, OL believe in their chances of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. After their qualification against Juventus, Rudi Garcia’s men have the firm intention of continuing their momentum against Manchester City on Saturday 15 August.
Olympique Lyonnais is on a commando mission. OL started their preparation on June 8 in anticipation of a very high stakes summer: lack of coronation in the Coupe de la Ligue, only a miraculous final victory in the Champions League would allow Jean-Michel Aulas’ club to be present in the European Cup next season. Otherwise, it would be his first absence since the 1996-1997 season.
For the Rhone club, the new formula of “Final 8”, adopted to be able to conclude the continental competition after a season truncated by the Covid-19 pandemic, gives a chance to all, the big European cars, like Bayern or Barça , but also the outsiders, like Lyon.
“It is played in a single match, not two, like in the Coupe de France and it is not necessarily the best team to win in this format,” Toko-Ekambi summed up at a press conference on Wednesday.
A 5-3-2 finally roamed
Beyond this Coué method, Lyon still has some concrete arguments to make. Starting with its proven tactical device.
This summer Lyon concedes few opportunities. In 210 cumulative minutes against Paris SG in the League Cup (0-0 ap, 6-5 in tabs) then Juventus (2-1 defeat but qualification thanks to a 1-0 success in the first leg), OL showed their muscles against attackers among the best in ‘Europe. Despite the two defeats, goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, in the League Cup final, and central defender Marcelo, in the round of 16 second leg of C1, notably achieved a hardened steel performance.
More generally, coach Rudi Garcia noted the solidity of his tactical plan in 3-5-2, which he had already tested before confinement. His training, which finished in a disappointing 7th place in the last Ligue 1 exercise interrupted by the pandemic, has gained in maturity and automatisms.
“It’s a system that we manage better and better, and then it’s a hybrid system, because with Maxwel (Cornet) and (Fernando) Marçal in the same team, we can go to four or three in peace during the same match, “admits the technician. “I like this organization which allows us to fight with the best, even if I think we can improve it offensively.”
Return of injuries and talent outbreaks
If the device works, it is also because it is complemented by two young talented midfielders: Bruno Guimaraes and Maxence Caqueret.
The first, who arrived in January, immediately imposed himself, to the point of being summoned by the Brazilian selection for the first time in March (appointment postponed due to Covid-19).
The second, eight matches in L1 before the cut, has chained this summer two successful tenures which made the native of Vénissieux the new fashionable “Gone”. At the height of his 20 years, he was the author of a very solid performance against Cristiano Ronaldo, in the return match against Juve.
With Houssem Aouar (22 years old), OL have a young and technical triplet. Their duel against Mancunien Kevin de Bruyne, one of the best midfielders in the world, will necessarily be enticing.
Rudi Garcia can also count on the returns of Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide … who would never have been able to play the end of C1 without the Covid-19. The interruption of the season gave them time to recover from a serious knee injury that occurred in December, to come back fit in this “Final 8”. With six goals scored in the Champions League (more than half of Lyon’s total in the competition), the Dutch captain remains the centerpiece of the Rhone offensive sector.
“Better than City […] neglects us “
But Lyon were not favored by the draw. On its way stands the Manchester City of Pep Guardiola, a club whose Champions League is the stated goal of its owner, the Abu Dhabi investment fund which has spent billions since 2018 for this purpose.
The Citizens seem to have passed a milestone this season by getting rid of Real Madrid from Zinedine Zidane in the round of 16 after two 2-1 victories in two tactical demonstrations. But Pep Guardiola remains cautious, making his defense the key sector for any success:
“More than conceding goals, it’s the way you concede them” that is a problem, he explained at a press conference. Defensive mistakes in the Champions League “punish you enormously. We know that and we want to improve that gradually and to win this competition, we have to improve in this sector.”
In the round of 16 return, the wait-and-see attitude of defenders from Mancun had almost played tricks on them.
“Better than City […] neglects us so that we can take advantage of it, “Toko-Ekambi hoped before the match. However, this is unlikely to happen: in the fall of 2018, OL beat City in the group stage in Manchester (2-1) before conceding the draw on the return (2-2). Pep Guardiola’s men are warned.
And if, however, the Memphis Depay gang were to triumph, they would not be at the end of their sentences. Another big hunk in the form of Bayern Munich –who humiliated FC Barcelona in the previous round– will stand in their way. That towards the roof of Europe is strewn with pitfalls.