Real Madrid 1 – Lyon 1 : all bets are off

The hero

What the majority of soccer followers thought couldn’t be done didn’t take into account the way Lyon is able to completely metamorphose itself when they are presented with the opportunity to make history. The word may seem strong, because it is only the round of 16, but this is the matchup that Lyon needed to win in order to enter into French soccer history and in the collective mind of the population. This long-avowed objective of Aulas’ needs to be confirmed, but yesterday’s gritty performance will have captured some.

As I wrote yesterday, the challenge presented to Lyon was huge, and the victory in the first leg gave Lyon a reason to hope, but with the knowledge that they would need to come up with another big game at Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid players went all out in the press, seemed confident of an easy victory and were already looking forward to the final that was going to bed played at Bernabeu. As Lyon players admitted after the match, these declarations were discussed in between them and they added the extra motivation that was necessary to pull off a big game. What seemed like a clear lack of respect emanation from Bernabeu transformed itself into a weapon that OL managed to use, even if it may have gone a bit too far. There was some fighting in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms after the game, but it shows that the game was tense from the beginning, as Real Madrid knew right from the get-go what they were risking in case of an elimination. That would include, but not limited to ; the wrath of Bernabeu, the firing of their coach Pellegrini, Florentino Perez “wasting” €250M.

Lyon knew that they couldn’t let Madrid get into the game, because they would then be nothing short of unstoppable. Things didn’t exactly start off well when after a mere 30 seconds, Lloris had to rush out in Kaka’s feet and put a first stop to Madrid’s assaults. The Spaniards had set the tone of the match and it came as no surprise that at the 6th minute, Guti did what he did best, which is to say deliver a beautiful through ball to Ronaldo, who ran past Cris and Ronaldo and easily beat Lloris with a well placed left-footed shot. From then on, a terrible ordeal was promised to the Gones. Lloris showed he recovered from the conceded goal by saving a Kaka shot, but then came out too late on a through ball that Higuain got to first, but the Argentinian striker inexplicably put the ball on the right post, and Lyon was still in the game.

Madrid easily dominated the first half, especially since the midfield managed to hold the ball and control the pace of the game. The trio made up of Guti, Lassana Diarra and Granero was much more in control than the players who started at Stade Gerland. The team seemed more lively, and confiscated the ball from Lyon. The only solution for OL was to try long balls to Lisandro Lopez, a fruitless tactic that looked more like a waiting game, knowing that better opportunities would come. As soon as Lyon went up the field as a team, as opposed to Lisandro and Delagdo trying to make miracles happen on their own, Madrid was in danger. Albiol and Garay didn’t look exactly confident, something Claude Puel seized on. If Lyon made it to half-time at 1-0, then they would have a chance to score one and change the face of the game. Higuain’s post was already in everyone’s minds, and it gave Lyon confidence. Révillère admitted that had Higuain scored, Lyon would probably not have stood a chance to qualify.

Claude Puel and Sidney Govou had strong words at half-time that managed to motivate the team. Far gone were the days of the lack of leadership in the locker room. At half-time, Puel made some radical decisions. Makoun was replaced by Källström in an attempt to provide an offensive spark and link up the midfield and offense more efficiently, whereas Jean-Alain Boumsong, who came down with a muscular injury, was replaced by youngster Maxime Gonalons. Jérémy Toulalan dropped back to center defense, conjuring images of 2009.

The second half therefore started totally differently, and Lyon seemed to show something promising. 5 minutes after the restart, a succession of passes between Källström, Delgado and Cissokho saw the Swede deliver a nifty pass to Govou, who unfortunately skyrocketed the ball into the stands. Despite the miss, Lyon showed that it was back into the game, and that Real Madrid was even flakier than in the first half. Their midfield stopped providing coverage, with the sole Lassana Diarra tracking back to help his defense. Toulalan and Gonalons added extra aggressiveness to the team and managed to control Kaka better. Thanks to this physical presence, Pjanic was relived from the majority of his defensive duties and managed to hold the ball more, which he distributed with talent. Madrid did not react well to the changes brought on by Claude Puel at half-time, and it seemed as if a goal was only a matter of minutes, as Lyon was controlling possession and finally creating opportunities.

Pjanic scores - the game changes

Finally, at the 75th minute, Delgado and Källström combined again on the left, the Swede put the ball in Lisandro’s feet who luckily managed to pass it to Miralem Pjanic, who beat Casillas with a quickly executed half-volley. The goal meant that Madrid had to score 2, something that is well within their reach, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Kaka exited the field under the boos of the fans, replaced by Raul who brought nothing extra to the team. The Spaniards totally collapsed after the goal and were not dangerous at all. Lisandro and Delgado missed one-on-ones that would have sealed the deal, but that didn’t change much to the game. Lyon was holding on to the feat nobody had ever imagined they were capable of.

Thanks to two strong games, Lyon managed to knock out one of the very best teams in Europe. Puel’s choices at half-time were key and provided Lyon with the balance the team hadn’t managed to find in the first half. In contrast with Pellegrini’s choices, Lyon’s coach needs to be applauded today. He was under lots of criticism in the winter and he refused to see yesterday’s victory as a personal revenge, a classy attitude that can be contrasted with that of Madrid’s players, whose pre-game taunting did them a huge disservice.

Speculation can now start about Lyon’s future opponent in the quarter finals. We will not now before next Friday but it is an understatement to say that it will not be easy. Arsenal’s victory was impressive by all means, and Manchester’s machine-like winning habit is frightening to say the least. But after beating star-studded (thanks t’OM) Real Madrid, Lyon can hold their head high and not be impressed by anyone. As I mentioned in my previous pieces, I was expecting Lyon to have learned from the mistakes that they made against Barcelona and Manchester in the previous competitions, and it seemed that it might have been the case. Lyon did not present itself at Bernabeu as an expiatory victim, but came with confidence and courage, which paid off.

I’m running short on time, but my man of the match goes to Jérémy Toulalan who rose up to the challenge ; and my flop of the match to Kaka, who seems promised to a Shevchenko-like fate if he doesn’t start being more decisive. Madrid unarguably has some of the best players in the world and it is a shame, for the sake of soccer, that these players don’t get to express their talent on the European scene. Special mention goes to Sergio Ramos who is an incredible defender and counter-attacker, and whom I would put over the likes of Maicon/Dani Alves ; and to Maxime Gonalons who entered the fray at half-time with confidence, remained unimpressed with Ronaldo and Kaka whom he managed to shut down, and played his 45 minutes like a veteran. He makes me think of Vieira, and I obviously wish him the same career.

Lyon now needs to translate this passion in Ligue 1. There is no time to rest, as a big game is coming up on Saturday night. Lyon is playing host to Saint-Etienne, in the famous derby. Supporters will want nothing less than a victory against their rivals, especially since Auxerre’s victory in Bordeaux means that Lyon is now 4th.

Let me know what you thought of the game ; whom you would chose as man/flop of the match and whatever else you feel like commenting on.

Historical!

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2 Responses

  1. According to French media, Réveillère and Nasri are back in contention for a WC roster spot. What do you think about it?

    my answer DUH!! there both world class

  2. french clubs are on the rise LILLE has so much DEPTH WOW PS LIVERPOOL IS CRAP what a waste

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