Why Lyon is worrying

A poorly handled transition

We have all seen that Lyon has been struggling recently.The following question is of course, why? Of course some attacking players (Bastos, Ederson) are underperforming. Of course, Jean II Makoun is not exactly the best midfielder that the club has ever had.

But the true problem is the defense. They can not be blamed for everything, but Lyon’s back four holds a great part of responsibility in Lyon’s recent poor stretch.

For a club that has always bases its successes on strong defense, and for a coach known in Lille for his tough defending teams, there is definitely a problem somewhere. The turnover that Claude Puel imposes, uncertainties on the right flank and in the center, a lack of leadership, have all been cause for trouble. You also know a team is in trouble when the best defender so far has been your … midfielder. I am talking about Jérémy Toulalan.

So let’s breakdown the defense, position by position, and see why things are going awfully wrong, and why Lyon is the 4th worst defense in L1 with 22 goals scored against.

Side-backs

Anthony Réveillère (30 years old, RB-LB) : Probably the only player (with Cissokho) who is beyond reproach. He has always worked the right flank with success. He is speedy and always well positioned, and not too mistake-prone. He is also a capable attacker and has always provided offensive support to whomever he was paired up with on the right side. He is that much more valuable that he can also play as left-back when needed. He has admitted suffering from the competition with François Clerc that had been going on for the past three years. Now the true starter, he seems to have locked the position for the next season, at least.

François Clerc (26y, RB) : Has been Réveillère’s competition for the past three seasons. Gérard Houllier effectively pitted the two players against each other, by each playing them every other game. This mode of operation has been a problem for the club, as no true starter had emerged before Clerc suffered a pretty serious injury and Réveillère took over. Clerc, when playing, has been far from the level Réveillère has shown. He is pretty slow and not a very able attacker, which is a big part of Lyon’s game. He is also prone to blunders, like the one in Lille last Sunday. He seems to have pretty much given up on Lyon : his contract is set to expire at the end of the year and he doesn’t seem to bein much of a hurry to resign, but nor does the club look very willing to have him back next year. Lots of Lyon supporters are looking forward to his departure, but the next question is : will his replacement provide competition to Réveillère, and will we have the same situation again?

Lamine Gassama (20y, RB) : Was thrown into the fire by Puel when neither Réveillère or Clerc were available. Still very raw, but is capable of good performances. He does remain very irregular : he can have a solid game or just get crushed and look like he’s giving up (like he did in Lille). He was supposed to be sent on loan to RC Strasbourg at the beginning of the season but that fell apart. I personally do not think Lyon will stick with him past next year.

Aly Cissokho (22y, LB) : the future. Only 22, and well worth his €15 million transfer fee. Seems to never be tired, consistently shuts down the opposing wingers, thanks to his raw speed and strength. He is the prototype of a modern side-back, who can go up and down the pitch constantly during the game. Sends great crosses in the box and gifted technically. His first goal against Debrecen yesterday is not a surprise. He will be staffing the left-back position until a bigger club comes with a huge amount of money.

Thimothée Kolodziejczak (20, LB) : He was recruited by Lyon at the beginning of the 08-09 season to provide cover for now-Juventino Fabio Grosso. Has shown decent promise when he was played by Puel, but has not had enough playing time to make a point. He is a good backup in a position where Réveillère can also slide in case of necessity.

Central defenders

Cris (32y) : 4 years ago, after an exceptional match in which Cris shut down Robinho and Raul, Zidane dubbed him “the best central defender in Europe”. But that was 4 years ago. Since tearing his ACL against Toulouse at the beginning of the 07/08 season, he has never seemed to be the same. He has lost in vivacity and does not make up with, at best, average anticipation skills. His positioning remains excellent but he is getting slower and opposing forwards have learned to take advantage of it. Cris was also supposed to take on the captaincy after Juninho’s departure, but Puel seemed hesitant about that and toyed with the idea of leaving the honor to Sidney Govou. The Brazilian made it clear that he did not appreciate Puel’s flip-flopping, and his influence on the team seems to be waning. He has another year in him, but does Lyon want another year of sub-par Cris?

Jean-Alain Boumsong (30y) : The Frenchman recently came back from a pretty nasty muscular injury that cost him 2 and a half months. So far, he has been looking more like the JAB of the Newcastle/Rangers worst-of videos on YouTube than like the top defender he has shown flashes of being at Lyon. Nonetheless, even for a central defender, he is not exactly young, and suffers from the same shortcomings as Cris : pretty slow, not a great play-reader and a “weird” (to be nice) passing skills. If Lyon wants to make it past the round of 16 in the Champions League this year, they will need a top-form JAB. I don’t see him as a long-term solution ; at best, a good backup. Boumsong has stagnated and Lyon cannot afford to have these kind of players if they want to make it big, which they do.

Matthieu Bodmer (26y, CM,CM,ACM) : Bodmer is the type of “child of football” player that tends to infuriate supporters. Coming from Lille on a hefty transfer fee and with a pretty solid reputation as a central midfielder, big things were expected from him. Unfortunately, his injury-plagued career is fledgling in Lyon. Puel, who coached him in Lille, sees him as a central defender, something the player himself had a very hard time coming to terms with. He began the season as #2 in the hierarchy, and did not show that he was worth the trust. Coaches say Bodmer reminds them of Laurent Blanc, which is true insofar as he has way above average ball handling and passing skills, as well as great anticipation. But his positioning is erratic, and he simply cannot manage to stay focused for 90 minutes, which has cost Lyon more than one goal this season. He also lacks in the aggressiveness and speed department, something that can easily be linked to him being brought up as an attacking midfielder, but which is insurmountable for a central defender. Once again, I do not see Lyon sticking with someone they could not trust.

Cléber Anderson (29y) : The Brazilian was brought to Lyon to replace Cris when he was injured. In 6 months, Cleber was so convincing that Lyon brought in Boumsong and shipped Cleber to Brazil at the end of the season, a loan from which he came back injured. Will probably be sent back to Brazil sooner than later.

As you can see, my depiction of OL’s defense is pretty grim. I cannot expect Aulas, Puel, Lacombe to not have noticed these huge problems. Lyon can not afford to lose their best defensive midfielder in order to plug holes in defense again. Of course, injuries (Boumsong, Bodmer, Cleber) have not given Lyon any chance to really build a team so far this year, but with great ambitions and supposedly good players, OL cannot afford to let this situation persist.

There is an obvious need to recruit new players and I hope that we have set our eyes on a new Brazilian or African gem for as soon as January.

The sense of urgency can not be underestimated here ; otherwise, Lyon might go from disappointment to disappointment, and Lisandro Lopez will not score 3 goals every game to keep the hope alive. A simple look at Bordeaux’s defense (and the votes they got in our All-Star XI) shows where differences are made between the Girondins and Lyon. Defense will be clutch in winning back the title this year, and Lyon is not exactly scoring high marks on that.

I’m now calling on you readers for any names of recruits you might have in mind (no Sol Campbell!). I’ll transmit everything to Jean-Michel Aulas myself.

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2 Responses

  1. Rafael(?) Toloi. Young, Brazilian, talented, and cheap. He’s a dm/cb, so he could help the defense or fill in for la Toule if need be.

  2. […] out a bigger and better club. Of course everything is not perfect -yes I’m thinking of the defense here – but the staff is competent, and if the need is felt to reinforce the squad, then it […]

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