Olympique Lyon challenges FC Bayern Munich

An December 10th, the Olympique Lyon pros were whistled in their own stadium, even though they qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with a 2-2 draw against Leipzig. Now, nine months later, these players have kicked Juventus and Manchester City out of the competition. What a contrast, what a transformation.

Before the second leg against Leipzig, Lyon had the worst start to the season since 2015. The Brazilian Sylvinho, who only started the season, had to leave on October 7th after just eleven games and a record of three wins, four draws and four defeats. He was expected to succeed Laurent Blanc, captain of the 1998 world championship team. As a coach, four-time French champions with Bordeaux and PSG, the former central defender was the fans’ favorite.

But the president of Lyon, Jean-Michel Aulas, and especially the sports director Juninho, preferred Rudi Garcia, the former coach of Lille, AS Roma and Olympique Marseille. An affront for many in Lyon, given the intense rivalry and the way in which Garcia criticized Lyon as OM coach. The distrust of many fans was correspondingly high, and some also mixed anger. “Garcia, our patience will match the respect you have shown the club: none,” read a banner during his first game in Lyon.

From the first game on, Garcia was a lightning rod and scapegoat. If Lyon did not win – and that often happened – their team line-ups were denounced. Above all, however, the biggest point of criticism was that he did not let the young players of the youth center play. Lyon is primarily a training club, alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona and Ajax, one of the best in Europe. Of the 23 French world champions of 2018, three were trained in Lyon: Samuel Umtiti, Corentin Tolisso and Nabil Fékir.

In addition to these names, there are Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial and Ishak Belfodil. The youth center is to the residents of Lyon what the Eiffel Tower is to the Parisians: their greatest pride. But for months only two professionals trained in Lyon have been regular players: goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and midfielder Houssem Aouar. There is no shortage of talent: Maxence Caqueret, Amir Gouiri, Melvin Bard and last but not least Ryan Cherki, who is presented by many as a talent of the century.

Rudi Garcia: From the first game on he was a lightning rod and scapegoat, and suddenly his Lyon is reaching for the stars.

Image: AFP

While Cherki, 17 years old, had a few gigs, Gouiri and Bard didn’t get much of a chance. Garcia even preferred to let the much maligned Maxwell Cornet play as a left-back rather than Bard, who was seen as too young. Even Maxence Caqueret had to wait a little longer before he took advantage of Lucas Tousart’s departure to Hertha BSC in Berlin to gain a foothold.

Not even the draw against Leipzig, after a 2-0 deficit, brought a better mood. Defender Marcelo, criticized for his performance and demeanor, was depicted as a goat on a banner. The climate remained toxic. Against Bordeaux on January 11th, Marcelo went to the fans to apologize. But the results were still mixed, and when the season ended in March Olympique Lyon (OL) was in a historically poor seventh place. Despite Jean-Michel Aulas’ persistent attempts to revive Ligue 1, the season was canceled. For the first time in 24 years, Lyon failed to qualify for a European competition.

There were still two chances: the league cup final against PSG on July 31st. And the Champions League. After the defeat on penalties against the Parisians, it was only one more. Impossible, everyone thought. Then the away goal in Turin was enough to qualify for the finals in Lisbon. And Rudi Garcia suddenly had a key in his hand. With Houssem Aouar, Bruno Guimaraes and Maxence Caqueret in midfield, he relied on a tech-savvy, hard-working midfield, while the back three secured the defensive.

As a left-back, Cornet seems indispensable. Against City, he scored his first goal of the Champions League season, but his fourth goal against Manchester City, in three games in the last two Champions League seasons. In the front, Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembélé and Karl Toko-Ekambi used counter attacks initiated by the excellent Aouar. This Wednesday (9 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the Champions League, on Sky and Dazn), Olympique Lyon is back in the Champions League semi-finals after ten years, and like 2010 it is against Bayern Munich. That also appears to be a monumental challenge. But what is it called on the Rhône? “There is no impossible in Lyon.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *