Lisbon (AFP) – Moussa Dembele broke his Champions League drought in timely fashion in Lisbon on Saturday after Maxwel Cornet again proved a thorn in Manchester City’s side with his fourth goal in three games against the Premier League heavyweights.
Quite remarkably, no player has struck more often versus Pep Guardiola’s City since the start of the 2018-19 season than the Ivory Coast international, with only Tottenham forward Son Heung-Min breaching their defence as many times.
Converted into a wing-back this season by Lyon coach Rudi Garcia on the left of a 3-5-2 formation, Cornet has adjusted seamlessly to the new role after spending most of his time at the club as a right-sided attacker.
While Cornet’s magnificent first-time finish gave Lyon the lead against City on 24 minutes, it wasn’t until the introduction of top scorer Dembele that the French side administered the knockout blow to one of the competition’s favourites for the title.
Despite a haul of 22 goals in 44 games this term, Dembele had failed to register in eight Champions League outings and was again relegated to the bench as Lyon stuck with the same line-up that overcame Juventus on away goals last week.
“When you’re on the bench it’s not always easy but you’ve got to keep your spirits up and make sure that when the coach brings you on you play your part,” Dembele told RMC Sport after Saturday’s 3-1 win.
He did that and more, running on to Houssem Aouar’s pass to put Lyon back ahead within four minutes of his entrance — and then delivered the coup de grace three minutes from time after City goalkeeper Ederson spilled a tame shot in the area.
– ‘Extraordinary’ –
Lyon, understandably viewed as rank outsiders following a dismal seventh-placed finish in a Ligue 1 campaign cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, had shown what they were capable of last season by taking four points off City in the group stage.
However, that was close to two years ago, and Lyon’s team in the latter encounter included three key players who have since departed.
Captain Nabil Fekir, part of France’s World Cup-winning squad in 2018, was sold to Betis, while midfielder Tanguy Ndombele left for Tottenham Hotspur and left-back Ferland Mendy is now at Real Madrid.
Lyon have reinvested money from those sales to acquire young, burgeoning talents such as Bruno Guimaraes, the Brazilian midfielder tipped by club legend and current sporting director Juninho to become “one of the best in the world”.
It wasn’t the new arrivals who swung the tie in Lyon’s favour at the Estadio Jose Alvalade but Dembele has proved another shrewd purchase, joining from Celtic as a 22-year-old in August 2018 after two largely prolific seasons in Scotland. Cornet, meanwhile, cost a mere 400,000 euros ($475,000) when he arrived from Metz five years ago.
Former France youth international Cornet, now 23, was close to joining Wolfsburg at one point before staying put, a decision that has played out favourably for both player and club.
“These are extraordinary games to play in. A Champions League quarter-final doesn’t coming along every day,” said Cornet. “It’s true it fell against City and tonight was another success for me.
“We play these matches to play against the best in the world, we’re lucky to do it. If we’re here, it’s not by chance. We worked a lot in preparation, and that was seen today.”
Lyon could conceivably meet Paris Saint-Germain in an all-French final on August 23, but first must find a way past an irresistable Bayern Munich — the same opponents who ended their run in the 2010 semi-finals.
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