The Olympico: Lyon vs. Marseille Preview.

As we mentioned in our Matchday 34 preview, there will be a number of matches that will have European qualification implications. But even with that being the case, all other matches have been overshadowed by the battle in the Stade de Gerland on Sunday night, simply known as The Olympico.

Both Lyon and Marseille have not had the easiest times this season. Both have been battered with a number of injuries this season, and this weekend’s game will be no exception.

Therefore, who has the edge? A Marseille win means great momentum going into the last four matches of the season to try to secure a second Ligue 1 title in as many years. A Lyon victory means taking a little bit of an edge in the race for third place with Paris St. Germain, in addition to some possible outside hope to win the Ligue 1 title, depending on what happens in the Lille vs. Nancy match.

Goalkeeping: Usually, one would say that Lyon has the advantage with Hugo Lloris in goal. And even in this match, that is the case. But in recent weeks, Lloris hasn’t looked like the most steady keeper in the league. Many Lyon supporters get nervous with Lloris’ risky saves. But in the past, he has proven that he is up to the task when making those risky saves. In the last few weeks…not as much.

But even with people questioning Lloris, he is still the better option over Steve Mandanda. Unlike Mandanda, Lloris is perfect when it comes to positioning. In addition, Lloris usually (with the exception of the last few weeks) does a superb job at holding the ball, while Mandanda allows some ugly rebounds that can lead to opposition goals. Therefore, while Lloris isn’t playing his best football right now, a slumping Lloris is usually a better option over a good Mandanda.

Advantage: Lyon

Defending: This is where predicting this match becomes tricky. Both teams have suffered a number of injuries in this area. Lyon will be without Jeremy Toulalan and, more than likely, Cris. Stephane Mbia and Cesar Azpilicueta are out for Marseille. This is where the depth of the bench becomes important.

For Lyon, the will still have to rely Pape Diakhaté and Dejan Lovren. Diakhaté continues to play average, with both moments of brilliance and disappointment. Lovren is still young and needs another year to develop to his full potential, but does show promise. But still, these players can’t make up for the lost of Cris. As far as the Toulalan injury, there really isn’t a player that can replace the French international in the deep defensive midfielder role.

In addition to injuries, Aly Cissokho will also be absent from this game, as he received two yellow cards in the last match against Toulouse. Timothée Kolodziejczak is a likely replacement for Cissokho at the left back position, but we will have to wait and see what coach Claude Puel does.

Luckily for Marseille, they seem to have dodged a bullet, for now. If any action is to be taken against Taye Taiwo, it won’t be this week. Therefore, he will be available for the match at Lyon. In addition, the back line will still have Gaby Heinze, Rod Fanni and Souleymane Diawara. And since Lyon doesn’t have the services of Toulalan, who can turn a counter attack quickly, Marseille shouldn’t have any problem with controlling a slower paced match that Lyon will more than likely bring.

Advantage: Marseille

Midfield play/holding: Again, the loss of Toulalan will hurt Lyon when it comes to productive midfield play and controlling the ball. Depending on who Puel starts, this could be where the game is won or lost for Lyon. Yoann Gourcuff isn’t the best ball control player, and the defense of OM might be able to pounce on him once he has the ball. Miralem Pjanić is returning from suspension. If there is any match in which Pjanić is the better option, this would be it. In addition, Gourcuff might not even be available for this match, so Pjanić  might be Puel’s only option.

In their last match against Toulouse, Lyon ran a 4-2-3-1, with Bastos on the left side of the Lyon midfield. And, again, getting two yellow cards in a space on one minute against Toulouse, Bastos will be absent from this match as well. Therefore, does Lyon go with a 4-3-3 instead? Puel rarely does it, but might be forced to with the absence of both Toulalan and Bastos.

As for Marseille, while some experts say that midfielders like Lucho are having “less than great seasons” (which I disagree, look at his stats), the midfield can still hold their own. Even though Mathieu Valbuena is classified as a “forward” in most formations, he plays back enough to really be considered a midfielder (which he is, in fact). Lyon doesn’t have the players that can hold on to the ball in the middle of the field and control play like Marseille. Therefore, OM has the advantage in this area.

Advantage: Marseille

Attacking: This is one of those areas that could be debated for weeks. Both teams do have amazing strikers. Both teams also have amazing midfield support that can make their strike force even more dangerous. Therefore, who really has the advantage?

For Marseille, we really don’t know who is going to start. Last week, we had the Ayew brothers working with Valbuena. This week, because of the absence of Toulalan and Cris, Gignac, who is able to muscle his way though the defense, might be the better option for Didier Deschamps. Therefore, it is hard to make any assessment on what the OM attack might do, because we have no idea who will start.

And, in reality, we really don’t need to do the assessment on the OM attack because Lyon have the edge. Whereas Marseille have the depth in defense, Lyon has the depth in offense. They have a number of options up front, with all of them being viable options as well. While having a few hiccups, Lisandro Lopez and Bafe Gomis are still having solid seasons. And, if we want to be frank, Lisandro and Gomis are just better players than any option which Marseille has up front.

As far as scoring from the midfield, both teams a pretty equal. OM can bang in the ball from the midfield positions as easily as Lyon can. Therefore, with the scoring midfield being a wash, one has to look at the strikers up front, and Lyon does has the advantage.

Advantage: Lyon

Coaching: Both of these coaches have had their critics over the last two years. While any criticism of Didier Deschamps is unfounded (due to the fact that he has won two League Cups, one league championship and possibly on the way to another), the criticism against Claude Puel are legitimate. In his three years there, Lyon has yet to win anything. But with those issues being put aside, who has the better coach in this match?

First, lets look at Puel. Not only is there a sense of “losing confidence”, but there is also the fact that mistakes and miscues which happen on the pitch usually result in bad coaching. For example, while at Bordeaux, Laurent Blanc was able to squeeze every bit of available talent out of Yoann Gourcuff. As far as Puel, he has yet to use Gourcuff in a productive manner. Gourcuff has the talent, we know that, but it is coaching that will make that talent shine. Puel hasn’t been able to do that.

In addition, Puel relies on a few players to make big plays instead of the eleven men on the pitch playing well as on unit. Rarely can someone watch a Lyon match and say the whole team did well. Usually, it is the result of one or two players exploding. Take last week’s match against Toulouse…TFC played a great “team” game, which is the reason they were able to pull off the victory against Lyon.

As for Marseille, Didier Deschamps knows how to win. Maybe OM supporters get a little nervous on how he wins. If he gets a one goal lead, he doesn’t mind playing defensively and holding on to that one goal lead.

Still, this is a tactic than can work against Nancy, but it won’t against a high-powered offense like Lyon. Luckily for OM, Lyon is still suffering a number of injuries, as well as their counter attack being slowed down with the absence of Toulalan and Cissokho.

Advantage: Marseille

Overall: While this sounded like a good match on paper a few weeks ago, Lyon has really taken a pounding in the injury/suspension department. And while they are a good team, as well as deep, they still aren’t able to equal what OM has available. And when a team is at a disadvantage regarding player availability, then coaching is even a more important factor. And even in this regard, Marseille have the edge.

Prediction: Marseille over Lyon 1-0.

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