Bayern Munich – Lyon : Lyon faces the road, and then, history

Happy faces at Allianz Arena despite a long bus trip

According to Google Maps, Lyon drove about 850km/530m to get to Munich. They left Monday morning from Lyon, spent the night in Stuttgart in the hotel where they stayed when they won their last Champions League game in Germany, and finished the road yesterday morning. The worried part in any Lyon supporter will look at Barcelona’s performance yesterday and think that a long road-trip maybe isn’t the best preparation for such an important game. Nonetheless, the players all insisted that the trip, as long and painful as it was, was a great team-bonding experience. Ederson even had a smirk as he exited his mini-van, since he won 7€ playing poker with his teammates. Spirits are good and ready to take on Lyon’s biggest challenge in the history of the club.

This semi-final is indeed the high point in the history of the club. Lyon had taken part in 3 quarter-finals but had never made it through, to the despair of Jean-Michel Aulas. Reaching this stage was totally unexpected this year, but a quick study of the history of the competition shows that surprises are the norm. When Claude Puel was chosen as the new head coach two years ago, Aulas admitted that the Ligue 1 objectives would be set aside in favor of a good showing on the European scene. After two failures last season, not much was expected this season, especially after the departures of Juninho and Benzema. But the team has the ability to rise to a very different level in Champions League, and will build on its European success to get closer to the final. The opponent, Bayern Munich, despite its history, isn’t exactly the strongest opponent. They are no Inter or Barça, and Lyon can for once claim itself lucky with the draws it was handed after eliminating Madrid. It’s easy to think that the Germans are lesser opponents than were the Girondins de Bordeaux, who twice beat Munich in the group stage. But Munich has developed into a whole different team in the knockout phase, thanks to the miracles of Robben. The Dutchman essentially handed the qualification to Munich with two wondergoals in both return legs, against Fiorentina and Manchester United, and nothing points to the fact that he isn’t capable of scoring another one against Lyon. In both these matchups, Munich faces compromised situations that they were able to save themselves from. The feat at Old Trafford has to be celebrated will all due respect.

The two teams look fairly similar, and it is hard to say who has the edge here. Lyon has the edge over Bordeaux because of experience, and that might still be the case here. It looks like Bayern, especially without Van Bommel, has less experience than the Gones.

There are lots of questions to be asked about Bayern:

– goalkeeper : Hans-Jorg Butt took over during the season, because Michael Rensing wasn’t performing. Oliver Kahn hasn’t been replaced, on and off the field. Butt is old and slow (look at the goals at Old Trafford) ; Michel Bastos and Kim Källström will have every interest in shooting from a distance and catch Butt off guard.

– left-back : the regular starter, Badstuber, who isn’t exactly of the highest caliber, will be replaced by the inexperienced Diego Contento. Look for Delgado or Bastos to take advantage of his weaknesses and Lyon to insist on their right flank.

– center-back : Daniel Van Buyten is good but not exactly the best a club like Munich should have. They never replaced Lucio, and Demichelis and the Belgian are not exactly complimentary, both tall and slow defenders. Lisandro’s constant harassing of defenders should cause them to make a few mistakes.

– Defensive midfield : Bayern plays a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Robben and Ribéry on the flanks, Thomas Muller slotting himself behind Ivica Olic. Since these players aren’t natural born defenders, the burden for the two defensive midfielders is pretty important. In the absence of Mark Van Bommel who is, according to me, the cornerstone of Bayern this season, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Daniel Pranjic will team up. Both lack the defensive skills and physical volume of Van Bommel, as both are reconverted offensive midfielders. Since Jérémy Toulalan has to play in defense tonight, Lyon welcomes Van Bommel’s absence with great pleasure. Gonalons, Makoun, Källström will have an easier time controlling the midfield with this configuration.

The key matchup will be on the wings, where Munich’s biggest strengths are located. Cissokho will need to control Robben, while Réveillère will face Ribéry. If Lyon can shut down those two, danger should be relatively limited, except for the usual set pieces where the two central defenders can do some damage, à la Bordeaux. It will also be crucial for Lyon to win the battle of the midfield and control the ball tonight, maybe less than against Bordeaux. Forcing Ribéry and Robben to backtrack and defend, which they don’t do too often and/or well, will annihilate Munich’s offensive firepower.

There is one big danger for Lyon : yellow cards. 7 players are in jeopardy and will miss the return leg if they get a yellow tonight : Cissokho, Cris, Toulalan, Gonalons, Pjanic, Delgado and Källström. It is hard for players to play a game with this mindset, and the problem is especially true for defenders. Lyon has a huge injury problem with defenders right now, with Bodmer and Boumsong out. If Toulalan and Cris both get a yellow card, who will play next week knowing that the other two will probably not be back? Can Lyon afford to play with this in mind, or do they need to watch it and maybe give Bayern more chances in order to keep their chances for the return leg, where they will still be under the threat of a yellow card that would deprive them of an eventual final. Players will need to play with their brains even more than usual, and since Bayern Munic knows this, I am fairly sure they will be looking for the fouls and cards that would considerably weaken Lyon for the return match.

There is also another question that needs to be asked : will Ribéry be mentally ready to play? The Frenchman is caught in the midst of a sex-scandal involving an underage prostitute that he allegedly fell in love with. The club, players, coach insist that he is fine and untouched by the affair. I believe that players, when they have to, can separate private life and “the job” ; but who knows what will happen in Ribéry’s tortured brain.

This being said, it looks like the teams are 50-50. Willy Sagnol and Bixente Lizarazu, ex-Munich glories, favor a Munich victory and their opinions have been given lots of press by the French media. Lyon is once again seen as the underdog by the “specialists”, and after being treated the same way against Madrid and Bordeaux, I’m sure the Gones will have in mind to finally live up to the club’s history and once again prove the pundits wrong.

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4 Responses

  1. The 7 yellow cards thing is really scary for me, although without Van Bommel in there to piss everyone off perhaps it will be ok. I am hoping OL got all their cards out of their system against Bordeaux last weekend.

    ALLEZ OL!

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  4. Well, Toulalan didn’t get his card out of the way against Bordeaux. Damn they will miss him!

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