Real Madrid – Lyon : time to shine

OL's practice at Bernabeu

Since the 1st leg, the return game hasn’t left Lyon’s minds. Ligue 1 has been a mere distraction that had to be dealt with, a task the team managed to acquit itself with pretty well, except for a sad scoreless tie in Boulogne last Saturday. Left-back Aly Cissokho admitted very honestly that playing Boulogne and Real Madrid “doesn’t exactly imply the same kind of motivation”, as to say that minds were already set on today’s big game.

How to blame the players? Even if Lyon still has a chance to do something in L1, the challenge they are to face tonight is of epic proportions. Facing star-struck Real Madrid is not an easy task, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the euphemism of the year. The Spaniards were publicly shamed by their supporters and by the press after the 1st match and they are now out for blood – and goals. Following their come-from-behind victory against FC Sevilla, Real Madrid is feeling powerful (again) and confident (too much?).

Guti, who is slated to start tonight in lieu of a suspended Xabi Alonso, predicted a “3-0 victory” against Lyon, which he called ” a good team, but by no means a European giant”. Coming from a team that hasn’t made it past the round of 16 in 8 years, Lyon is entitled to take this comment with a pinch of salt. Cristiano Ronaldo went all out since right after the first leg and predicted an easy victory, saying that Real would easily get the best of a Lyon and make it to the next round. The Spaniards seem to only think of the final that will take place on May 22nd at Bernabeu, and act as if they were automatically qualified for it.

OL needed no further encouragement and motivation to prove Real Madrid wrong. In press conference yesterday, Claude Puel and Cesar Delgado appeared to be calm, cool and collected. They fully understand the challenge they are presented with and remain very confident in a team that showed what it was capable of in ’10. They rose up to the challenge when they needed to, 3 weeks ago at Stade Gerland. Minds have since been set on Champions League, and so have bodies. Puel acknowledged that physical training had been set up in order for the players to peak around the period of the two games against Madrid. The Gones will therefore be able to physically battle with Madrid, but will they be able to answer the tactical challenge?

The first game showed that Lyon was a match for the Spaniards. In order to qualify, OL will need to do no less than reproduce the same game they played at Gerland. Lyon caused major problems to Real Madrid’s defense by attacking on the wings, and we have to hope that Delgado and Govou will be in top form again. Madrid’s left-back Marcelo, who looked more like a liability than anything else a few weeks ago, is suspended for today’s game, and Ramos will take over for him, which is a good and a bad thing for Madrid. Govou will have lots of work to do containing Ramos’ offensive runs which proved lethal in the France-Spain game, and the latter will be a more difficult opponent for Govou whom will have lass wiggle room than against Marcelo. On the other hand, Ramos sliding to the left means that Madrid loses quality in the center, where Ezequiel Garay and Raul Albiol will try to deal with Lisandro Lopez’s endless energy and activity.

Lyon’s control of the midfield was a key to their victory in the first game. Mahamadou Diarra, Xabi Alonso and Granero were unable to provide sufficient cover and support to an overworked defensive four, and Lyon was able to control the ball. And a Real Madrid without the ball is in real danger, as witnessed by the fact that a 1-0 defeat was a happy and lucky result for a team that could have had a much more difficult task to face tonight had Lyon showed more of a killer instinct 3 weeks ago. Tonight, Lassana Diarra, Esteban Granero, and Guti should start in the midfield. The former should provide the defensive balance that his Malian homonym wasn’t able to bring in the first leg, whereas the latter should provide the offensive spark and act as a relay between the midfield  and the magical Ronaldo/Higuain/Kaka trio.

Lloris should have some work to do tonight

Lyon will also need to show the same defensive strength that was on display a few weeks ago. As Dave and I discussed in the podcast, Lyon has a new-found defensive ability that has translated into remaining unscored on for 620 minutes and counting. Real Madrid has a tendency to underutilize the wings, Kaka and Ronaldo showing game after game that they are attracted to the center of the field in order to try and serve Higuain or take a shot on goal. This also means that they have a tendency to lack in the defensive part of the game and Lyon will need to use that, especially since Madrid will be all out tonight and this tendency might very well be reinforced according to how the game plays out.  The Cris-Boumsong pair will have to keep on being strong and weather Higuain’s assaults. If the midfield manages to control distribution to him, he will likely be isolated and less dangerous.Hugo Lloris remained surprisingly untested the last time, and I would expect this to change tonight. If he rises up to the level that he’s shown at Anfield Road earlier this season, then Lyon should stand a good chance.

The match is simple: if Lyon scores a goal, Madrid will need to score 3. They’ve proved this season that they can score 3 goals, but Lyon has also proved to be very solid defensively. And the team knows the importance of scoring once. Lyon is an experimented team on the European scene, that has hopefully learned from the mistakes it made when it faced the likes of Milan AC, Manchester United and Barcelona. Eliminating Real Madrid would be huge, especially for a team – and coach – that’s faced lots of criticism. It would also prove the vitality of French soccer : with 2 teams in the quarter-finals, it would show that despite not being a top 4 league, France is capable of producing quality soccer, that matches that of the so-called top clubs. If Lyon doesn’t make it, as is widely expected, it wouldn’t be a disaster, but Aulas’ dream of having the club enter the heart and collective mind of the French like ASSE and OM managed to would once again face a setback.

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3 Responses

  1. […] To catch up on all the details- check out Offside-Lyon’s preview as well as Martin’s preview at French Football/Ligue 1 Talk here. […]

  2. DONE DEAL LYON HAS MADE IT

  3. Hi Martin, I think you mean “star-studded” rather than “star-struck” Real Madrid, they mean quite the opposite. Also – not an easy task is an understatement, not a euphamism.

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