There was a point during Lyon’s match against Bastia at the Stade de Gerland where the crowd felt that things were not going to go the home side’s way. Nabil Fekir was having an underwhelming game, Alexandre Lacazette was becoming increasingly exasperated with his side’s inability to break down the impressively organized visitors, whilst on the sideline coach Hubert Fournier was looking on hoping for a chance to materialize.
In what looks increasingly like a two-horse race for the Ligue 1 title Les Gones required a win to reclaim top spot and keep the pressure on Paris Saint-Germain.
Since the turn of the year Lyon have won seven games, drawn four (three of which came against Monaco, Marseille and Paris Saint Germain) and two losses. PSG have a near identical record winning seven, drawing three and losing two. The pair are almost inseparable.
On an injury front Lyon have been suffering. Key defensive duo Milan Biševac and Christophe Jallet are both out, the former for the rest of the season, whilst captain Maxime Gonalons and Yoann Gourcuff both injured their hamstrings in the defeat to Nice. To lose four key players is a big blow for any team but their absences take on a more significant meaning given the experience and calm they bring to what is a young Lyon team.
So with just under half an hour to play Hubert Fournier rolled the dice and brought on a player who last saw Ligue 1 action at the end of the previous season. Clément Grenier finally managed to grace the Stade de Gerland pitch after suffering an horrific year-long injury (and medical) nightmare which saw him suffer an adductor muscle problem, bacterial infection and groin injuries.
In the 77th minute Grenier set-up the vital opener collecting the clearance from his initial corner and crossing the ball back in for Mohamed Yattara to slot home. The sense of relief was as palpable as the outburst of joy as Bastia’s stubborn resistance was finally broken. Lyon went on to win the match two-nil with Lacazette finishing off a lightning quick counter-attack instigated by Clinton N’jie.
Grenier did look rusty and slightly off the pace which is understandable given his lengthy absence but he combined neatly with his teammates and tested the Bastia keeper Alphonse Areola on top of making an assist. If he can stay fit between now and the end of the season Lyon will be in with a real chance of lifting the Ligue 1 title.
Grenier’s return is vital as he can slot into the No. 10 role and allow Nabil Fekir to play further forward alongside Alexandre Lacazette. Grenier is also the closest like for like replacement for the gifted but unfortunately injury prone Yoann Gourcuff.
Gourcuff and Grenier are both skillful, technically adept players whose in-match awareness makes them tailor made for the playmaking position. They have an eye for a pass and a shot and are comfortable table on either foot and their styles of play compliment the predatory instincts of Alexandre Lacazette and the trickery of Fekir.
The importance of Grenier’s return cannot be understated as he provides a balance as well as danger that appears to be lacking when he or Gourcuff are out of the side.
Hubert Fournier has tried different players in the No. 10 role ranging from Fekir to Steed Malbranque but neither have looked quite as effective or at home in that position as Gourcuff or Grenier. With the talented Grenier back in the fold Fournier has the luxury of putting his attacking players in positions that best suit their skills whilst knowing that the Lyon No. 7 is more than capable of setting up chances as well as scoring the odd goal or two.
Lyon’s next match is against local rivals Saint-Étienne in the Rhône-Alpes derby at the Gerland this weekend. It probably is too much to expect Grenier to start the match but there’s no better way of announcing a return than scoring the winner against your local rivals and don’t bet against the Lyon star having the final word in the derby.
Moreover, for Les Gones Grenier’s return couldn’t have come at a better time as they look to claim an eighth Ligue 1 title.
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