Lyon 3 – Bordeaux 1 : French soccer at its best

2 goals tonight for Lisandro : enough for a spot in the semis?

Those who thought that this game would just be another Ligue 1 boring game were proved wrong tonight. Lyon and Bordeaux offered a superb display of soccer, that is by all means Champions League material. These two teams have nothing to envy to the 6 other teams that are still qualified. The game was a model of intensity that every soccer fan expects from a 1/4 final.

Lyon comes out of this game with an edge, on the scoreboard as well as psychological. The ever-so-important away goal gives Bordeaux a glimmer of hope, and the ability to create opportunities that they’ve shown tonight could very well play in their favor next Wednesday at Chaban-Delmas. Especially since Lyon will be without Lisandro and Govou who both picked up yellow cards and will be suspended. These absence could end up being as important as Diarra’s and Planus’ were tonight.

Observers were worried – and I was too – that the teams wouldn’t be able to go beyond the all-French aspect of this series but the teams proved them wrong with a lively match, with lots of scoring opportunities, so-so defenses (especially Bordeaux’s) and oh-my-god-how-did-he-do-that saves by goalkeepers. This game looked like Champion’s League, and Stade Gerland was boiling from the beginning. The game faces were on, a qualification for the semi-finals at stake, and Lyon quickly proved to take control of the midfield, something we had identified in the podcast as being one of the keys of the game. Jean II Makoun and Jérémy Toulalan were picking up balls relatively high on the field, and were able to quickly serve the two wingers, Cesar Delgado who shined as usual and Michel Bastos who was chosen over Sidney Govou, a choice Claude Puel will congratulate himself for making.

Bordeaux came to Lyon without their sentinel Alou Diarra, who was replaced by Jaroslav Plasil, and Marc Planus for whom Ludovic Sané took over. The first impressions of the match pointed to a very weak and unsteady central defense, in which Mickaël Ciani and Sané had a very hard time with their positioning, and whom Lisandro consistently harassed in their attempts to transmit the ball to their midfielders. It turns out that Bordeaux very often had to play either laterally or send long balls towards Chamakh, who despite being an incredible ball-magnet can’t every aerial challenge, especially versus tough clients like Cris or Matthieu Bodmer who filled in for Jean-Alain Bousmong tonight. Lyon effectively managed to deprive Bordeaux of the control of the ball, since they were forced to jump over Gourcuff who was forced to defend for a majority of the first half, and that’s not exactly his favorite task nor the one he is the most talented for.

The slightest of touches makes a goal : that's a real striker!

Lisandro : pure class

Lyon was dominating and in control of the game. Ciani and Sané were having the hardest of times and seemed to be at breaking point anytime a ball came their way. It’s no surprise that Lyon’s first goal comes on a mistake by Ciani : a deflected cross elevated itself high up in the air, fell on Ciani’s head who was unable to clear it anywhere but softly on the right side, where the ball landed in Bodmer’s feet who launched a laser cross to Lisandro who slightly deflected the ball, enough for it to get out of Cédric Carrasso’s reach and into his side-net (10th min). It was pandemonium at Gerland, and the game was broken open in the best of fashions. Lisandro proved with this goal that he is a world-class striker and that he has an incredible feel for the game.

But Bordeaux was determined to prove that they needed to be counted on and that the beginning of the game was a fluke. They reacted like an experienced team does : they didn’t panic, and calmly restarted. 4 minutes later, after being in control of the ball and finally putting some pressure on Lyon’s defense, Gourcuff worked his magic, eliminated Toulalan with a dribble only a few players in the world can perform and launched a state of the art left-footed cross onto Marouane Chamakh’s head who jumped higher than Cris and easily scored. All it took for Bordeaux to come back in the game was one opportunity, and when you have a player – Gourcuff – who is one of the best 10 players in the world and a lethal striker (at least, with his head) like Chamakh, then these things are bound to happen. Bordeaux took advantage of Lyon’s lapse in focus that all teams tend to have after a goal.

The magical duo strikes again ; game tied

The tempo never fell after the equalizer, and at that point it was really anybody’s game. Bordeaux had the edge – they scored that important away goal and could hope that their defense would finally start performing at the level it is known for. But Ciani and Sané were ever so febrile and Lyon was picking up on that, sending lots of crosses through the middle in order to take advantage of the center-backs’ poor positioning.

We all saw it coming Michel!

What was bound to happen happened : at the 32nd minute, after a very nice team movement by Lyon, another deflected cross went over a jumping Benoît Trémoulinas who was too short ; Bastos got a hold of the ball at the right corner of the goal-kick lane, put himself on his left foot, and unleashed a hell of a shot on which Carrasso was helpless. The stadium went crazy again, Bastos was running around in joy and Lyon was up again. For a team known for its defensive strength, Bordeaux was surprisingly weak and committed a slew of errors that Lyon took advantage of.

Things got a little more crazy a few minutes when with another ball though the middle on which Sané was nowhere to be found, Delgado stepped in front of Carrasso who made a miraculous save. No time to breathe, because the ball was already on the other side of the field, where Tremoulinas managed to pass into the box to Yohann Gouffran, who with a “Madjer” forced Hugo Lloris to make a diving save, the first of many. Delgado hit the crossbar on another well-constructed movement where Bordeaux’s defense seemed to be acting like traffic cones, but he was called offside.

Bordeaux was therefore happy to go into the break with only a one goal deficit. Lyon had been the better team and the defense was a serious problem for Laurent Blanc, who undoubtedly had strong words in the locker-room. That was symbolized by the fact that Bordeaux came back on the field with totally changed intentions.

Bordeaux controlled the ball for the first 15-20 minutes and instilled a fake rhythm in the game. Lyon was hesitant between the necessity to preserve their lead and not let Bordeaux equalize again, and the desire to score another goal and make their task easier the week after at Chaban-Delmas. With more control of the ball, Gourcuff shined again and his talent was on display. Perfect passes, that arrive on target in the right timing, intelligent decisions : the kid is a pleasure to watch, or not, but that’s only if you are a Lyon supporter who’s stressing in the stands – that would be me. Fortunately for Lyon, Bodmer and Cris held on pretty well and managed not to give Chamakh too much space. But Bordeaux’s sidebacks were pushing up higher and higher and they were constant threats, thanks to the quality of their crossing. Puel chose to align a more offensive-minded team with Bastos and Delgado on the wings, and their defense is not as good as Govou’s, for example. When Puel saw this, he decided to reinforce his team by replacing Pjanic who had disappeared in the 2d half with Källström, and Govou for Bastos. The two players provided more cover for their defense and allowed Lyon to pick up a few more balls. Delgado was constantly looked for by Lyon players, and the Argentinian worked miracles again. I’m repeating myself here, but his ability to keep the ball, to dribble in reduced spaces, to open up the space is a key to OL’s success in the Champions League this season. He was at the origin of almost all of Lyon’s opportunities, and finished the match exhausted.

Crazy in love

Bordeaux was more consistently dangerous than Lyon and the equalizer was getting closer as the minutes passed. The Girondins proved tonight that they have the ability to create chances, something they’ve only very rarely shown this season. But the teamwork is impressive, and they are machine-like when they attack. Yet, I am tempted to say that there is a little something missing from this team, a little speck of extravagance in their game that, as efficient as it is, remains quite predictable. Lyon was able to weather the attacks, but Bordeaux is talented – and so is Lloris. On an umpteenth cross from Chalmé, the unmarked Chamakh extended his foot and met the ball with the outside surface of his boot, only to see Lloris get his arm to it with an unreal reflex that’ll be shown again and again. The Girondinds were getting closer, and on a beautiful chest pass from Gourcuff to Wendel, the Brazilian’s half-volley rattled Lloris’ crossbar. Bordeaux would have deserved that goal but the luck was with Lyon…

From then on the game wasn’t the same, as if Bordeaux’s luck had passed. Lyon was regaining confidence from the fact that they had preserved their lead and were looking to expand that lead, playing any and all opportunities with more conviction. On one of Aly Cissokho’s countless offensives rushes, the left-back unleashed a shot that Chalmé tried to block like a diving hockey player, only to touch the ball with his elbow. The German referee Felix Brych pointed to the penalty spot, and few Bordeaux players protested. Upon review, the elbow was certainly not voluntary, but Chalmé himself recognized touching the ball, so the call won’t be too controversial. The designated penalty taker Lisandro coolly slotted the ball into the net and gave Lyon a definitive advantage.

It was the 77th minute, and Bordeaux was torn between the necessity to get at least a goal back and the fright of Lyon expanding their lead more and making the return game an impossible task. The Girondins did put pressure on Lyon, but not like they had before the 3rd goal, and Govou even got a few inches away from getting Lyon even closer to the semi-finals.

The return match at Chaban-Delmas will undoubtedly be of the same quality. The tensions that Champions League brings along makes these kind of matches possible and with Bordeaux having to score two goals, the game will be open like it was tonight and we’ll again see top-quality soccer. Bordeaux’s away goal gives them this glimmer of hope that the team has the quality to take advantage of. Blanc declared that he’s rarely seen his team play so well than tonight : will they be able to repeat the same performance? Lyon can’t afford to make the mistake to wait for Bordeaux either : the Girondins can score anytime and Lyon would be stupid to face the wrath of Gourcuff and Chamakh for a full 90 minutes. Bordeaux’s defense has proved to be surprisingly weak and Lyon needs to take advantage of that again.

Next week, Lyon will be missing Lisandro and Govou. These losses can’t be stressed enough : Lisandro, besides being a formidably skilled player and striker who constantly harasses defenders, is the soul of this team, insofar as he sets the tone of the game with his restlessness ; and Govou can provide Lyon with some much needed cover on the flanks, something that came in very handy tonight against a lively Trémoulinas. For Bordeaux, Alou Diarra will be back. The team isn’t the same without him : his ability to anticipate and read opponent attacks was missed tonight, and his absence is probably one explanation as to why Bordeaux’s defense performed so poorly.

Ciani will have to step it up next week

Bordeaux looked negatively impacted by their loss in the League Cup final versus Marseille on Saturday. Things are not exactly going well for them right now, and this defeat only goes towards confirming their poor form in 2010. Whether they have the ability to turn around this compromised situation next Wednesday will be their ultimate litmus test as a great team. Keep in mind that Chamakh is leaving at the end of the season, and so should Fernando ; and you can’t rule out a huge offer for Gourcuff and/or Carrasso. So it’s pretty much now or never for them.

As I’ve mentioned in the pre-game talk I took part in, experience played an important part tonight. Lyon’s players, and even the coach, are used to the rigors of Champions League and to the two-match format. Almost all of Lyon’s players have some sort of high-level experience, something Bordeaux can’t benefit from. Ciani, and especially Sané, seemed to totally crumble under the pressure and were MIA tonight. That could also very well play next week : Lyon has already faced a similar situation when they went to Madrid to defend a one-goal advantage, and they seem to be comfortable with this scenario. The team looked fairly collected during all the match and never seemed to give signs of panic despite Bordeaux’s chances. That is good news before the return game. I’ll be in Bordeaux for what will be a historical event for any of the two clubs who make it through. Tonight was a great night for French soccer and a positive light will be shined on Ligue 1 through this series.

I’ll leave you with the UEFA review where you can see the goals and read the coaches’ reactions.

Do you think the score was fair, or might Bordeaux have deserved better? Who do you think will make it to the next round?

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