On Sunday night, October 19, Olympique Lyonnais thrashed Montpellier 5-1. Yoann Gourcuff netted a brace with Nabil Fékir, Alexandre Lacazette and Steed Malbranque scoring the other goals. Oddly enough this match was a far tenser affair than Lyon’s 3-0 triumph over Lille.
In the early stages Montpellier looked lively and wasted a golden chance to take the lead, when Lucas Barrios failed to convert a one-on-one opportunity when racing towards Anthony Lopes’ goal.
Olympique Lyonnais, playing at home, allayed the tension racing into a three-goal lead but a sense of unease returned to the stands when Siaka Tiéné pulled one back with a stunning free-kick. Montpellier created a couple of good chances to score a second but paid the price when searching for another goal.
There was a palpable sense of relief within the Stade de Gerland when Lyon scored the fourth to seal the game.
Over the two matches I saw at the Gerland there were a few players that caught my eye and Lyon’s performances were all the more impressive given the number of first teamers who had graduated from their youth academy.
So in the best traditions of knee-jerk snap judgments here are a few names to watch out for.
1. Nabil Fékir – Forward
He’s a player who could have a big future. Over the course of two games he probably made the biggest impression on me. Fékir is a quick, technically sound attacking player who is predominantly left-footed and is comfortable playing either side of the main striker.
At 5ft 8in he is more on the diminutive side but is a stocky player who can handle himself.
He has an eye for a pass opting for quick exchanges whilst being more than capable of sliding in a penetrative through ball and his movement off the ball when going forward is intelligent.
Defensively, he didn’t really seem to get back that much but that could owe more to Lyon’s system that places the emphasis on Maxime Gonalons, Jordan Ferri and Corentin Tolisso to break up any potential opposition attacks.
Fékir has represented France at Under-21 level and if he continues his progress he could well feature in the full international team sooner rather than later.
2. Anthony Lopes – Goalkeeper
In all fairness Lopes didn’t have too much to do in the games that I saw him. It was interesting to note that he bears some similarity to former Lyon keeper, Hugo Lloris, insofar as he likes to dictate the play right from the edge of his penalty area. This forces the defenders to press up the pitch higher and effectively compresses the game.
He didn’t have an opportunity to show if he was comfortable being a sweeper-keeper.
Despite being born in France, Lopes represents Portugal after being capped at youth level. He has yet to make his full international debut but Fernando Santos drafted him in for the recent European Championship qualifiers.
When called upon he made some important saves, which demonstrates his sound level of concentration when on the pitch.
3. Clinton N’Jie – Forward
N’Jie has primarily been used as an impact sub and has pace to burn. N’jie is a full Cameroon international netting three times in four games.
With four assists to his name this season, setting up Lacazette once against Montpellier and laying on another versus Lille, N’Jie is a neat team player who fits in well to the Lyon system and can terrorise defenders with his speed.
His next step is to become an established first team player and that is certainly an achievable goal.
4. Samuel Umtiti – Central Defender
A powerful central defender Umtiti has represented both Cameroon and France at Under-21 level.
Given Lyon’s system, which requires the fullbacks to provide the width in attack, Umtiti rarely steps up and out of his defensive zones displaying an understanding of what his role requires in a tactical sense.
At 5ft 11in, Umtiti is on the smaller side when it comes to players in his position. This may in part explain his tendency to try and nip in to intercept balls rather than opt for outright physical matches.
It is a dangerous game to play. Umtiti was nearly punished by Montpellier when he gambled and failed to intercept a loose ball, which resulted in Lucas Barrios having a clear run in on goal.
Playing alongside the experienced Milan Biševac will benefit the young defender but the tools are there to see Umtiti develop into a solid centre-back.
5. Maxime Gonalons – Defensive Midfielder
This is cheating a little, as he is well known and has already represented France on the international stage a number of times, but it has to be said the Lyon captain is a classy operator.
Operating as a defensive midfielder, Gonalons is not the kind of player to dive into tackles but prefers to close down space. He is an expert at shepherding opponents away from his goal, reading the play intelligently and making interceptions.
At just under 6ft 2in Gonalons is decent in the air and can play physically if need be. His passing is exceptional, as is his technique especially in tight areas and he exudes an air of calm whilst looking elegant on the ball.
Rumor has it that Arsenal is interested in Gonalons and he wouldn’t be a bad investment if Arsène Wenger decides to strengthen in January. Gonalons is not a Patrick Vieira type player by any stretch of the imagination but he could be the right man to give the Arsenal backline some much-needed protection.
6. Alexandre Lacazette – Striker
This is cheating a little bit too, as Lacazette has been an established member of the Lyon first team for a number of seasons and is a full French international to boot.
He has started this season on fire, scoring eight times in 10 league games, which included a hat-trick against Lille.
Lacazette was linked with a move in the summer to Newcastle United but opted to extend his contract with Lyon instead.
He is a clinical finisher as his numbers suggest. More often than not against Lille and Montpellier he put away the chances that came his way. He is comfortable with both feet and is quite adept at heading too.
Moreover it’s his movement off the ball that allows him to ghost unnoticed into decent positions. Lacazette is good at peeling off his defender when they’re focusing on the ball to give himself the extra yard required to fashion dangerous goalscoring opportunities.
He’s not just a goal scorer though. He is effective at linking up play and creating chances for others. Indeed it was Lacazette who provided the pass for Fékir to score against Montpellier.
Lacazette is still young and a productive season will see his stock rise and quite possibly earn him a move to a bigger league next summer.
It was great seeing these players play live and some have real potential to play on a bigger stage. Naturally, they may struggle if they make the step up into more demanding leagues but they have the tools to succeed if they maintain their level of progression.
I was a little disappointed not to see Clément Grenier play but looking at how Lyon is playing he will have a difficult time getting back into the side.
OL will need to be on top of their game and will need the players above to fire if they are to get a result against their next visitors. Marcelo Bielsa’s Marseille will visit the Stade de Gerland at the end of the month.
Now that’s a game I wouldn’t mind watching.
Lyon vs. Lille
Lyon vs. Montpellier
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