“There’s no particular pressure, except that we must win everything.”
~ Reynald Pedros, August 2017
The confetti has been swept off the field in Kiev, two shiny new pieces of hardware have been added to the bulging trophy cabinet, and we’ve just about stopped replaying the last kick of the Coupe de France final to look for the phantom foul that wiped Lyon’s late equalizer off the board. The summer is wrapping up, and that means it’s time for “l’ogre lyonnais” to awaken from its slumber to lay waste to the competition for another year.
When we last saw les Fenottes…
If you’re just catching up, last year Lyon captured their twelfth straight D1 Féminine title after winning 21 of 22 games (a 0-0 draw away at runners-up PSG the only blemish) and outscoring the competition 104 to 5.
In the Champions League, Lyon edged past FC Barcelona and Manchester City en route to a showdown against German juggernaut VfL Wolfsburg, where a sleepy final suddenly burst to life in extra time. Wolfsburg struck first off a deflection, but minutes later the German side found themselves down a man after Alexandra Popp picked up a second yellow for a silly foul in her offensive half. Popp barely had time to find her seat before Lyon roared back with three quick goals to turn the match around. Lyon never looked back on their way to an eventual 4-1 win after 120 minutes. It was Lyon’s third straight Champions League title, and fifth overall—both records in the women’s game.
A week later, Lyon came out flat in the title game of the Coupe de France against rivals PSG. PSG scored early, and a driving rainstorm and hour-long rain delay did nothing to help Lyon’s comeback effort. Lyon put the ball in the back of the net off a free kick deep in stoppage time, surely sending the game to penalties—but the ref waved it off, claiming a foul (that apparently only she could see), and PSG’s victory denied Lyon a third straight treble.
Back to work
The missed trophy has surely left a bad taste in the mouth of the players, and we can expect that they’ll be determined to make a clean sweep this year. Hard to bet against them, too, as they return the full starting XI from the Champions League final—and an incredible six of the ten players shortlisted for FIFA’s Best Women’s Player award.
But Lyon will have to hope that the hunt for thirteen straight D1F titles doesn’t spell bad luck. And next summer’s Women’s World Cup might just be the curse—or the blessing—that decides how the season goes. While the World Cup final and semifinals at Groupama Stadium will bring global superstars to Lyon next year, it’s done no favors for Lyon’s recruitment efforts this year. Few top players have been willing to risk their chances of making their national team roster if they can’t be assured of consistent playing time with Lyon’s loaded squad.
That helps explain the departures of last year’s super sub Kheira Hamraoui and American midfielder Morgan Brian— as well as the lack of a splashy big name signing to match last year’s acquisition of Lucy Bronze. But for this year’s squad, there will be plenty of motivation for the players to stay in peak form—and they surely won’t mind the opportunity to get comfortable on the field where the final will be played next July.
Preseason results have boded well for a strong start to the season: in the International Champions Cup in Miami, the European champions cruised to a 3-0 victory over Manchester City but fell 1-0 to the North Carolina Courage in the title game, despite dominating for long stretches. Back in Europe, Lyon picked up victories in three additional friendlies against Grenoble (8-1), SC Freiburg (2-0), and SC Sand (7-0).
The road begins Sunday, August 26 with Lyon’s first match of the D1F season away at Lille at 8:45am ET (14:45 local time). Last year, Lille recorded one of just five goals conceded by les Fenottes—small consolation as Lyon walked away with 10-1 and 6-0 victories in the two fixtures.
Before D1F kicks off, let’s take a closer look at this year’s squad.
Head coach Reynald Pedros returns for his second year at the helm. Pedros’s first year was largely a success as the team adapted to his preferred no-holds-barred, quick strike style. The high point for Pedros was the Champions League final where every one of his substitutions was a huge success. The introduction of Delphine Cascarino created immediate danger, Shanice van de Sanden ran wild over an exhausted Wolfsburg defense and contributed three assists in extra time, and Camille Abily capped the evening off with a picture perfect farewell goal just days before her retirement. Just a week later, though, in the Coupe de France final, the team looked to have mentally skipped off a day too early to the end-of-season party in Saint Tropez. Pedros will want to keep the group focused all the way to the finish line this year and will once again confront the eternal challenge with this team—finding minutes for all the exceptional talents on the roster.
With extra time looming in the Champions League final, Lyon fans had reason to wonder if keeper Sarah Bouhaddi’s season would end a half hour too early, as she stayed down after a hard collision with teammate Lucy Bronze in the box. But Bouhaddi gritted her teeth, forced her glove back on, and played the full 30 minutes of extra time—and made a save!—with a broken hand. Bouhaddi’s third straight year of heroics in the Champions League final capped off another very good year for the veteran. While Bouhaddi spends most of the average D1F match watching the action down the other end of the pitch, she is consistently ready to make saves when called upon; she strung together nearly four months from late September to mid-January with nothing but clean sheets for club and country, most notably making key saves to preserve a 1-0 victory over PSG at Groupama Stadium. With her hand having fully healed over the summer, she’s expected to be back in net for the opener against Lille on Sunday.
Newcomer Lisa Weiß will serve as the number two, coming over from German side SGS Essen. Weiß was given plenty of minutes to get familiar with her new teammates during the preseason while Bouhaddi’s hand recovered. While overshadowed somewhat by the miscommunication that led to North Carolina’s decisive goal in the ICC Final, her performance against Manchester City a few days earlier was very good. Weiß seems to be integrating well into the group, and if Pedros holds true to form from last year, we can expect to see her between the pipes for at least the early rounds of the Coupe de France. Youngster Audrey Dupupet rounds out the goalkeeping trio.
Lyon’s rock solid defense starts with its centerbacks—three of the world’s best. Last year, Wendie Renard, Griedge Mbock Bathy, and Kadeisha Buchanan were all named to the Offside Rule’s list of the world’s 100 best players, and all three are starters for their national teams. Captain Wendie of course remains a head above the rest (literally and figuratively!), earning a spot on the shortlist for FIFA’s Best Women’s Player of the year, but both Mbock and Buchanan more than hold their own next to her. Pedros appeared to prefer Mbock for big games last year, and it’s fair to wonder how long Buchanan will be satisfied coming off the bench. But depth at this key position has proven critical even right out of the gate this year, as Renard is injured and will not make the squad for this weekend’s season opener.
Last summer, Lyon upgraded at right back, bringing in Lucy Bronze from Manchester City. Bronze joined les Fenottes for the express purpose of winning the Champions League and certainly did her part to make it happen. She turned in a dream season that made her an instant fan favorite. Bronze was named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year and shortlisted for FIFA’s The Best award, and her decisive goal against her former squad in the Champions League semifinal earned a nomination for UEFA’s goal of the year. If there’s any worry at the position for the coming year, though, it’s that there’s no clear backup for Bronze. Corine Petit’s retirement and Jessica Houara d’Hommeaux’s departure have left Pedros with few options, so he’ll have his fingers crossed that Bronze remains healthy.
One of last season’s great stories was the emergence of Selma Bacha at left back. Bacha picked up her first start for Lyon last October at just 16 years old. By the time the Champions League final rolled around in May, it was clear that the youngster had earned the trust of her coach and teammates, and it was hardly a surprise to see her name penciled in for the start against Wolfsburg. Bacha has continued to turn heads at the U20 World Cup with her confidence on the ball and impressive performance in one-on-one situations, and she was rewarded with Player of the Match honors in France’s 0-0 draw with New Zealand. Bacha was also the only member of les Bleuettes to play every minute of the tournament.
Lyon also added German international Carolin Simon to the squad over the summer as well, and the former SC Freiburg defender has impressed in preseason action, even scoring off a free kick in the final friendly against SC Sand. Once Bacha returns from international duty, this will be one of the more interesting positional battles as we see whether Pedros prefers Simon’s experience to Bacha’s promise and enthusiasm.
Every member of Lyon’s first choice midfield—Saki Kumagai, Amandine Henry, and Dzsenifer Marozsan—made a well-deserved appearance on FIFA’s The Best shortlist, and it’s hard to imagine a more dominant trio. Defensive midfielder Kumagai’s importance is often overlooked, but her absence was noticeable as Lyon struggled to create in a 0-0 draw in the first leg of Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, and her recognition on FIFA’s The Best shortlist was long overdue. Henry’s return from Portland at the winter break last season provided a key boost for the Lyon squad. Her ability to get forward from the number six position has provided a key weapon on offense—never more evident than when she rocketed the equalizer into the net in extra time of the final against Wolfsburg. She’ll battle teammate Ada Hegerberg and Wolfsburg’s Pernille Harder for UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year.
Lyon’s creator-in-chief Marozsan picked up her second straight UNFP trophy as D1F’s best player last year, but she’ll start this year on the sidelines after suffering a pulmonary embolism over the summer. Fortunately, she’s been able to spend time on the exercise bike with her teammates, but a pulmonary embolism is no minor knock, and we have to expect a lengthy absence as the team gives her plenty of time to fully recover.
But while Lyon’s midfield remains as threatening as ever at the top, the team’s midfield depth took a hit with Camille Abily’s retirement, Kheira Hamraoui’s move to FC Barcelona, and Morgan Brian’s return to the United States. Izzy Christiansen, just arrived from Manchester City, looks to be the primary beneficiary from Marozsan’s absence in terms of playing time. Christiansen will be eager to lock in her spot with the England squad for next summer—she’s been on the bubble in recent months—and Christiansen’s preseason performances have looked promising. While Christiansen seemed a step behind early in the ICC—just days after joining the team—she has since settled in and contributed goals in games against Grenoble and Freiburg.
Amel Majri’s days of playing left back look to be behind her, thanks to emergence of Bacha and the arrival of Simon, and she’ll be happy to stay more involved in the attack. Her ability to swing a dangerous cross into the box has been a key element of Lyon’s offense in seasons past. Eighteen-year-old Eva Kouache has also worked her way into the squad to kick off the season.
While les Fenottes maybe lacking depth in the midfield, Pedros has no shortage of attacking options to deploy. Ada Hegerberg, still just 23 years old and already the record holder for most goals in a single Champions League campaign (15), is expected to provide most of the offense, perhaps improving upon last year’s 53 goals across all competitions. A little sibling rivalry will provide added motivation for Ada to rack up the goals in her fifth season with the club, as her sister Andrine joined rivals PSG last winter. Thus far, Andrine has come out on the better side of the head-to-head matchups (0-0 draw in D1F, and 1-0 victory to PSG in the Coupe de France final), and Ada will be eager to reverse the trend.
As always, Eugénie Le Sommer will be by Ada’s side. Le Sommer put together an excellent year for club and country last season, including 17 goals in D1F but somehow escaped notice for FIFA’s The Best list. Perhaps showing the voters what they missed, Le Sommer has been on fire throughout the preseason, scoring 8 goals, including hat tricks against both Grenoble and SC Sand.
Running alongside Hegerberg and Le Sommer will be speedsters Delphine Cascarino and Shanice van de Sanden. Cascarino has worked her way back into the French national team with a series of strong performances on her return from injury last season, and van de Sanden’s three-assist performance as a late sub in the Champions League final will go down in Lyon lore. Further reinforcements will come as Emelyne Laurent and Melvine Malard return from international duty at the U20 World Cup. Laurent’s four goals in the tournament earned her high praise—and a bold comparison to French wunderkind Kylian Mbappé from the legendary Sun Wen. Malard made less of an impact for les Bleuttes, often coming off the bench, but can still serve as a useful weapon. Jessy Danielle Roux signed a professional contract over the summer and will hope to stay with the first team squad but may find herself the odd man out when Laurent and Malard return.
Dates to Circle
Every weekend is another opportunity to watch the best in the world at work—but here are the dates we’ve particularly got our eyes on:
September 12, 2018: Avaldsnes v. Olympique Lyonnais. The holders return to Champions League action with an away leg in Norway. Ada Hegerberg will hope to make an immediate impact on the score sheet upon her return to her home country.
September 26 or 27, 2018: Olympique Lyonnais v. Avaldsnes. Lyon will hope their qualification for the round of 16 is already secure by the time they return home but will surely plan to put on a show for the home fans.
October 13, 2018: Olympique Lyonnais v. Montpellier Herault SC. Last year’s third-place finishers in D1F will be eager to get back to the Champions League, and a win over Lyon would go a long way. Keep an eye on promising American goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who has her eye on a spot with the senior national team.
November 17, 2018: Paris Saint-Germain v. Olympique Lyonnais. Last year’s Coupe de France victory will have PSG believing that this is the year they can finally dethrone Lyon as D1F champs. Marie-Antoinette Katoto will aim to rebound from a disappointing U20 World Cup with a strong season for last year’s runners-up.
December 15, 2018: Montpellier Herault SC v. Olympique Lyonnais. Lyon will want to have left Montpellier comfortably in the rear view mirror by the time Christmas rolls around.
April 13, 2018: Olympique Lyonnais v. Paris Saint-Germain. If all goes well, Lyon will be grateful to face PSG in April rather than in the immediate run-up to the Champions League Final, as has been the case the past two years.
(Dates subject to change)
Who to Follow
Want to stay up to date on all of OL’s news and game day action? Make sure you’re following @OLfeminin, @OLFootFeminin, and @OL_Plus_Fem for scores, schedules, and more. Supporters’ groups @OLAngElles and @KopFenottes69 will get you close to the team, and @willy_pasche is often happy to share videos from the sideline of practices and games. Photographers @drys69200 and @mayamansOLF69 also provide great looks at the action. And, of course, stick with the Lyon Offside team—we’ll be with you all season!
Follow Arianna on Twitter @AScavs.
[Top photo via Maya Mans; in-line photos via Maya Mans and Ryszard Dreger]