Olympique Lyonnais is approaching its Champions League quarter-final against ogre Manchester City in an outside position. However, Rudi Garcia’s men want to believe in the achievement that would lead them to the last European square.
“Everything is possible in one game.” Like their Cameroonian striker, Karl Toko-Ekambi, the Olympics believe in their chances of reaching the Champions League semi-finals. After their qualifier against Juventus, Rudi Garcia’s men have every intention of continuing their speed against Manchester City on Saturday 15 August.
Olympique Lyonnais is on command. The Olympics began their preparations on June 8 in anticipation of a very high stakes summer: due to a lack of a League Cup coronation, only a miraculous final victory in the Champions League would allow Jean-Michel Aula’s 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 for the “Final 8”, adopted to be able to end the continental competition after a season truncated by the Covid-19 pandemic, provides a chance for everyone, big European cars, like Bayern or Barça, but also outsiders, like Lyon.
“It is played in a single match, not two, as 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 walked
In addition to this Coué method, Lyon still has some concrete arguments to make. Starts with its proven tactical unit.
This summer, Lyon allow few opportunities. In 210 cumulative minutes against Paris SG in the Coupe de la Ligue (0-0 ap, 6-5 in the tabs) since Juventus (2-1 defeat but qualification thanks to a 1-0 success in the first stage), the Olympics showed their muscles against some of the best strikes in Europe. Despite the two defeats, goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, in the final of the Coupe de la Ligue, and central defender Marcelo, in the round of 16 second leg of C1, in particular 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 the containment. His training, which ended in disappointment in 7th place in the last Ligue 1 practice interrupted by the pandemic, has won in maturity and automation.
“It’s a system we handle 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 that allows us to fight with the best, even though I think we can improve it offensively.”
Return of injuries and talent outbursts
If the unit 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 forced himself, to the point that he was called 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 this summer chained two successful tenants who made Vénissieux native to the new trendy “Gone”. For a maximum of 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), the Olympics have a young and technical triplet. Their duel against Mancunia Kevin de Bruyne, one of the best midfielders in the world, will inevitably attract.
Rudi Garcia can also count on the returns from Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide … who could never have played the end of C1 without Covid-19. The break of the season gave them time to recover from a serious knee injury that occurred in December to return in this “Final 8”. With six goals in the Champions League (more than half of Lyon’s total competition), the Dutch captain remains the center of the Rhone offensive.
“Better than City […] neglect us “
But Lyon did not benefit from a draw. On the way is 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.
Citizens seem to have turned a corner this season by getting rid of Real Madrid from Zinedine Zidane in the round of 16 after two 2-1 victories in two tactical displays, but Pep Guardiola remains cautious, making his defense the key sector for a possible success:
“More than acknowledging goals, that’s how you recognize them” 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 it gradually and to win this competition we have to improve in this sector.”
In the 16th round, the wait-and-see attitude of Mancun defenders 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, there is little chance that this will happen: in the autumn of 2018, OL City beat the group stage in Manchester (2-1) before conceding a draw on the return. Pep Guardiola’s men are warned.
And if the Memphis Depay gang were to win, they would not be at the end of their sentences. Another big piece in the form of Bayern Munich – who humiliated FC Barcelona in the previous round – will stand in the way. It against the roof of Europe is obsessed with pitfalls.