“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Those were the sage words of Joni Mitchell and it certainly applied to Olympique Lyonnais’ case, the big yellow taxi excepted of course.
On a cold, rainy evening yesterday at Stade de Gerland, Hubert Fournier’s team huffed and puffed but were left frustrated against a well-drilled and disciplined Lille team superbly prepared by Hervé Renard.
With the start of their Champions League campaign on the horizon, Les Gones lacked a cutting edge, they were short of a spark and they were missing Nabil Fekir. The Lyon star ruptured his anterior cruciate ligaments against Portugal in a friendly for France and is expected to be out for six months.
The 22-year old who enjoyed a superb 2014/15 season with Lyon was hoping to build on his impressive breakout campaign. He seemed to be on his way with a hat trick against Caen but now faces the reality that he may miss out not only the Ligue 1 season but Euro 2016 as well.
His absence was missed at Stade de Gerland, where the crowd sang his name, as Lyon struggled to create many meaningful chances against Lille as the game finished 0-0. Even when they did the bar, the post and the exceptional Vincent Enyeama were on hand to deny the home team.
The mood of the stadium became gradually more restless as the minutes ticked away. There was exasperation at the referee who didn’t give the natives the decisions they wanted, at the Lille players who broke the up the game whenever they could but perhaps most tellingly the source of the frustration was the fact that Lyon didn’t do enough to win the game.
The creative burden with Fekir out rested with the diminutive Mathieu Valbuena, a summer capture from Dynamo Moscow. The little attacker was at the heart of everything positive for Olympique Lyonnais with his set pieces being the home team’s most dangerous weapon. He had Lyon’s best attempt five minutes from the end of the first half when his free kick hit the angle of bar and post of Lille’s goal with Enyeama beaten all ends up.
The midfield consisting of Maxime Gonalons, Jordan Ferri, and the impressive Corentin Tolisso controlled the middle third hustling and winning the ball back though Lille’s midfield four were more concerned in retaining their shape rather than contesting.
Tolisso for all his good work was guilty of wasting a couple of gilt edged openings to put the home side in front. His best opportunity came in the 53rd minute when he left unmarked in the box from a Valbuena corner. The Lyon number 8 though could only head the chance wide.
Alexandre Lacazette has thus far been struggling to hit the heights of last season’s campaign. The OL striker was often isolated and failed to affect the play providing only sporadic moments of magic to engineer space and create half-chances. With Fekir out of the picture Lacazette will need to shoulder the goal-scoring responsibilities and hope that the likes of Claudio Beauvue (who had a quiet game) and Valbuena score 10 or more goals this season.
Lille looked dangerous on the break as Anthony Lopes was forced into making a couple of smart saves to deny the visitors. The luckless Florent Balmont had a great opportunity to break after Lille cleared a Lyon corner but the midfielder’s hamstring gave way just as he was striding into the home team’s half.
It was interesting to study the habits of goalkeepers Anthony Lopes and Vincent Enyeama when the ball was at the other end of the pitch. Lopes, Lyon’s custodian in net, was always on the go doing little training drills whilst observing the action whereas Enyeama was a picture of concentration studying the development of play. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the pair are probably the best keepers in Ligue 1 and in the case of Lopes it seems like a question of when, not if, he moves to a bigger club such is his ability.
Lyon coach Hubert Fournier was becoming ever more agitated in the home dugout and threw on three attacking subs bringing in Gnaly Cornet, Aldo Kalulu and Rafael.
The ex-Manchester United fullback came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock heading a Valbuena free kick onto the post during the dying stages of the match.
Alexandre Lacazette was urging the home fans to make themselves heard and inspire the home side to one final push. There nearly was a winner for Lyon but Enyeama was on hand to deny Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa right at the end.
As the ref blew to bring the match to an end the home fans at the Gerland whistled their disapproval with his display. It was a disappointing end to a frustrating display.
Last season Lyon were the surprise package of Ligue 1 playing expansive attacking football. This time around teams are cannier to Lyon’s style of play and look happy to sit deep and defend against Les Gones. That’s where a player like Nabil Fekir is so important because of his ability to create something out of nothing.
The staff at Olympique Lyonnais will need to figure out how to compensate for Fekir’s absence, no easy task.
Walking out of the Gerland one couldn’t help but think ‘what if Fekir was there?’
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