For years, Nîmes Olympique has been angling for a seat at the big table. Now that they have it, they are struggling to retain it, but the third Olympique in Ligue 1 has shown it can stand up to giants.
Nîmes experienced a strong start to the Ligue 1 season, including a 3-1 victory over Olympique Marseille. Since then, Nîmes’ progress has stalled, and after a winless run, they are flirting with relegation.
And that sounds like a problem that Olympique Lyonnais could fix.
It is that time of the year again. Fans start biting their nails and Jean-Michel Aulas prepares his laminated Qatari trump card of an excuse. And as is customary, the players prepare to shine on their only preferred stage – the big one.
Lyon travel to Paris following a disappointing week, with more than just dignity to preserve. And just before a two-week international break, a Parisian team in quest for a record-breaking win meets a side that relishes the big nights.
Sunday, October 7th, 2018 Parc des Princes, Paris 3 PM EST (21:00 CST, 20:00 UST)
On Tuesday, Bruno Genesio’s cries echoed eerily around the empty Groupama Stadium. Apparently they never quite reached the players’ ears because they regurgitated another insipid performance against Shakhtar Donetsk. Or perhaps those calls were the reason why OL suffered so much.
Lyon had previously failed to break down a struggling Nantes side, blaming a lack of motivation due to the looming European tie. Yet three days later, they could only salvage a miraculous 2-2 draw to conserve top spot in group F. Perhaps the players were once again lacking motivation ahead of tonight’s match against PSG. If that is truly the case, then the good news is that there are no more games for two weeks, so the focus should be undivided.
While Lyon are in a slump, things have looked considerably different for PSG. A string of eight consecutive league wins has sent any hope for Ligue 1 competition home in tears. Though a win for Lyon will not do much to sway the Parisians, a record is on the line for Thomas Tuchel.
A 3-0 victory against Nice allowed PSG to equal an eight-decade-old record of consecutive victories in the beginning of a Ligue 1 season. Back in 2013, it was up to Lyon to stop – or at least delay – PSG from winning their first Ligue 1 title in the Qatari era. Naturally, they failed, but today they can make amends and stop PSG from a record-breaking ninth consecutive win.
There is nothing strange with PSG’s scintillating start to the Ligue 1 season. Tuchel brought his attacking philosophy with him from Borussia Dortmund, transforming the PSG side with a 3-4-3 formation. The German also gave Neymar a new role, playing as the traditional number 10 behind the striker. The Brazilian is relishing his new playmaking position, scoring ten goals and assisting in three others in his ten appearances so far this season.
The entire team has been on fire under Tuchel’s tutelage. Liverpool has been the only bump on the road, but with 27 goals scored and just 6 conceded in Ligue 1 alone, Genesio will have to cause a small upset to upend the trend.
PSG is coming off a majestic 6-1 win against Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League. A fair warning from the infernal quartet of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di Maria, if OL ever needed one.
To complicate matters further, Tuchel’s squad is almost complete, save for Adrien Rabiot. The Frenchman is suspended after accumulating yellow cards, which will likely see Marquinhos fielded with Marco Verratti in midfield again.
And before Nabil Fekir gets any wild freekick ideas, Gianluigi Buffon is rumored to start ahead of Alphonse Areola.
There were few positives from Lyon’s midweek clash against Shakhtar Donetsk. One of them was Moussa Dembélé, who scored his first Champions League goal for Lyon in his European debut with his new club. On Sunday, it will be homecoming for the ex-Celtic man, who spent eight years of his youth at PSG.
Unlike the Parisians, Lyon did not have the luxury of resting players during midweek – not that it made much of a difference. Like alternating current, Bruno Genesio keeps switching back and forth between good spells and sleep-inducing performances, but this time, anything less than electrifying will not do the job.
Few players are missing from the OL group. Most notably, Martin Terrier is still out with an ankle injury, and it will be some time before Amine Gouiri returns. Kenny Tete is still injured and out of favor, which means that Genesio will have to look elsewhere for someone to tuck Neymar in a pocket.
The good news is that Rafael is back in the team, and will probably replace Léo Dubois after the latter’s passive defensive performance against Shakhtar. Fernando Marçal’s on-and-off relationship with Genesio is currently in the off phase, and the Brazilian has been dropped again.
Lucas Tousart, back from suspension, is back in the group. As is, Jordan Ferri, who must have slipped on the coach traveling to Paris. Presumably, Genesio is too polite to ask him to stay behind.
Like against Red Star, PSG will likely come out with a 4-2-3-1 formation to guard against OL’s offensive bloc. With a congested midfield and a lethal strikeforce to back that up, Genesio will need to congest the midfield and hit PSG on the counter.
All hands will need to be on deck when defending, and with PSG’s wide players able to change the game at any moment, Genesio will likely opt for a similar 4-2-3-1. In the back, the new central duo of Marcelo and Jason Denayer could return for good, and keep the number of own goals to a minimum, unlike last year.
Tousart, who just signed a new contract binding him with Lyon until 2023, could start alongside Tanguy Ndombele, himself called with France’s senior squad for the first time.
Up front, Memphis Depay and Maxwel Cornet might start in the 4-2-3-1 formation, simultaneously looking to defend as well as hit back on the counter. If that does not work, maybe Fekir could finally get a goal against Buffon. A boy can dream.
Rafael – Marcelo – Denayer – Mendy
Ndombele – Tousart
Cornet – Fekir – Memphis
L’Equipe’s alternative is a more conservative 4-4-1-1 formation that pulls the wingers farther back into midfield. If it worked against Manchester City and Shakhtar, why wouldn’t it work against PSG? In that case, Aouar and Bertrand Traoré are likely to start as wide midfielders, with Memphis playing up front instead of Dembélé.
Even if Lyon blossoms with the underdog status, it’s difficult to see PSG dethroned. Most supporters would be happy to be a draw, but realistically, PSG will be the princes at their backyard come midnight: 2-0 for the home team.
Most refer to it as the good old transfer window. Some call it the Silly Season. If you are an Olympique Lyonnais fan, you might know it as Reverse Christmas, or that time of the year when your favorite club is pillaged, rather than showered in gifts.
One year is long – far too long – to be out of the Champions League. Fans have to settle for Thursday night football, players look to move away for more glamorous nights, and most importantly, Olympique Lyonnais’ coffers weep quietly.
It’s fair to say that Lady Luck has smiled upon Lyon in recent Champions League campaigns, though in true Lyonnais fashion, they struggled to capitalize. This time, the draws brought mixed fortunes for Genesio’s side.
To an outsider, Olympique Lyonnais must resemble a stereotypical spoiled child, with its sterling bank balance and its president strutting on Twitter. Internally, however, things are a bit different.
OL has been in dire need of central defenders for over a year. But in spite of their obvious defensive shortcomings, the club procrastinated until the prospect of failure became too real to ignore. With five days left until the transfer window shuts for good, the club’s slow pace to conclude signings has left a defense that is very similar to how it started.