Ask The Opposition - Manchester City vs Olympique Lyonnais (w/ LyonOffside)
With Manchester City potentially just three games away from an inaugural Champions League title, Olympique Lyonnais will be the Blues’ opponents in the last eight of the new-look competition, following a second successive 2-1 victory against 13 time winners of the competition Real Madrid last week.
An exemplary Manchester City completed a job they started back in February, when Pep Guardiola’s side secured their place in Portugal with an impressive 4-2 aggregate victory over Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium last Friday.
Lyon, who played just their second competitive game since early March themselves, pulled off an impressive win on away goals last Friday, with a 2-2 aggregate draw against Italian champions Juventus. A win that would ultimately cost Juve manager Maurizio Sarri his job just hours later.
When asked about the French side after the win over Los Blancos, Pep Guardiola said, "I just spoke with the scouting department about Lyon and they told me to be alert,” and although it may not be the CFA’s scouting department, we spoke to the extremely knowledgable Sam Harris from LyonOffside, to get the lowdown on the French outfit ahead of Manchester City’s third consecutive quarter-final in the competition.
Thanks for joining us Sam. One player who connects the two clubs involved in Saturday's clash is former Manchester City defender Jason Denayer. We’re really interested to know what you’ve made of the Belgian international and how he’s developed during his time with the French side.
Jason has been one of the success stories of the now departed Florian Maurice, who was our head of scouting before the arrival of club legend Juninho Pernambucano in the sporting director role.
Jason has been huge for us - we’ve always struggled to find good central defenders with a reluctance to focus funds and resources in this area, but Jason has been the exception. Not many OL fans were particularly excited by his arrival (myself included), and it seemed a very lacklustre and “lazy” signing by the club, for a guy who had been forgotten playing in Turkey with limited scouting of him.
However, Jason has been the rock of our defence. His quick integration and dedication has completely changed our back line. His concentration, poise and reading of the play made him an undisputed player in the spine of the squad. Not since Umtiti have we had such a trustworthy defender.
It was reported to be a very busy summer of transition for Lyon, with several players being linked with a move away. One name that was strongly linked with a move to Manchester City was/is Houssem Aouar - how highly do you rate the midfielder and what do you make of the rumours themselves?
Houssem Aouar is the golden child of the club, ever since his early teens. He is often referred to as the prince of the club. His elegance on the ball and his vision of the game is very special along with his versatility - he is by definition a complete midfielder, capable of playing in a double pivot in midfield to a 10, 8 or even as a winger. During his breakout season/s, he was known for elegance on the ball and dogged work off the ball in defence, and wasn’t afraid do a little dirty work. However, in the recent season/s he has lost this work rate and has become much more of a flair player, which in my opinion has halted his progression a little.
No doubt his ascension in status has brought about a change in attitude as he has been guilty of choosing his matches and therefore showing inconsistencies in his game. He formed a brilliant partnership with Ndombele and the two complimented each other brilliantly, as Manchester City fans may still remember. No doubt the talent is there and I think in his head, he is already thinking about his next club and has been for some time, so I fully expect him to go on and have a great career as one of the most talented players France has to offer.
A lot has been made about the club’s finances, but how much of a transitional summer could this be for the French outfit - who do you expect to leave the club and how do they ensure they go back to challenging at the higher end of the table next season?
OL is one of the strongest clubs financially in France and it’s all thanks to the club president Jean Michel Aulas. Despite COVID-19 and the Ligue 1 finishing early, the club still remains stable financially. The club is very business-minded and with that you get the pros and the cons. The cons are that sometimes there appears to be a higher priority towards the business side of the club, at the detriment of the sporting ambitions.
A reluctance to attract highly-rated coaching staff and management has been something missing from the club. A dedicated role in the management hierarchy to focus on integrating the production line of young talents coming through the academy be it in the form of loans or otherwise. I think once there is more effort and resources dedicated to the management of the sporting aspect of the club, we will start to see more leaps towards challenging more consistently for the top of the league.
Judging by the Ligue 1 table, it’s been a pretty disastrous season for your side, finishing 7th in the league. What exactly has gone wrong for Lyon domestically, considering your Champions League run has been such a contrast?
Its been a very difficult year for the club. After so much hype over the appointment of Juninho and our new coach Sylvinho, we thought change and ambition had finally arrived at the club and that we were moving in the right direction. However, things did not work out and despite a promising start, the team struggled to produce any results under Sylvinho.
Many factors are to blame, but ultimately it was he who was put on the chopping block after a derby defeat to St. Etienne. I had hoped that the club wouldn’t be too disheartened by their attempt at being ambitious with Sylvinho, but ultimately we went back to our old ways of playing it safe and appointing Rudi Garcia - an old enemy of the club and former coach of rivals Olympique Marseille.
He represented everything we as supporters didn’t like about former coach Genesio - an old fashioned, French approach to the game, focused on freedom to express and hard work with little tactical implementation. His appointment steadied the ship, but the team remained largely inconsistent and lost its ability to compete with teams above them, which is something OL is known for in France.
Being 7th in Ligue 1 however is not a true representation of the ability of the team. The team is always guilty of switching off for the small teams and playing up to the bigger teams, so our form in the Champions League has not been surprising to us OL supporters.
Both sets of fans will comfortably remember the most recent meetings between these two sides, when we met on two occasions last season. What’s changed for Lyon since those meetings, both in terms of personnel and in terms of tactics and style of play?
Yes, we were the first club to beat Manchester City at home last year, and we remain undefeated against you guys thanks to our beloved Maxwell Cornet - who put in two of his best performances in an OL shirt.
Things have changed drastically since then. The departures of Mendy, Ndombele and Fekir and their quality have been greatly missed in the squad and no doubt to the pleasure of Manchester City and the fans. There are new faces - some new young talents and a new post-COVID system that focuses on defence and counter attacking football - very different to the pressing, ball playing system employed against City last year.
Maxwell Cornet will play again however, in his new role as a left-wing back, as part of a five-man defence. OL will most likely use the same system as was used against Juventus - a 5-3-2/3-5-2 that will crowd the middle areas and look to counter at pace. With difficulty in attack, we will most likely look to remain solid at the back and look to frustrate Manchester City into leaving space behind to counter, whether it be by long balls or quick transitions by dispossessions higher up the field.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, how can Manchester City fans expect Lyon to approach the game and what players should we be most concerned about in your side?
The strength of OL is it’s midfield of Aouar, Caqueret and Bruno Guimarães, who have the ability to press aggressively, work hard in defence, but also resist the opposition press to launch play through the middle. Caqueret and Guimarães are excellent at protecting the defence, as well as winning the ball and looking to play forward with great passing ability.
Caqueret has been a real revelation since the return and is one of the players that will look to annoy De Bruyne as much as possible. He combines a low centre of gravity on and off the ball that allows him to be adept at stealing the ball, but also beating the press. His work rate is comparable to Kanté, to whom he is already drawing comparisons to.
Aouar likes to play off either one of these guys and provide that link between the attack and midfield, while also providing more control and possession of the ball when the others are pressed. He has a much more free role in the midfield and will drift wide and centrally to occupy spaces between the lines.
Since COVID, the team has struggled to create chances and the side lacks a lot of match rhythm, which will be the teams weakness. Very few chances created and the chances that are created are poorly managed by the attackers, whether that’s Moussa Dembélé, Karl Toko Ekambi or Memphis Depay returning from injury. Whatever chances OL create or find will have to be finished if they are to hope for anything during open play. With almost no threat from set pieces, chances will be slim pickings against a match fit Manchester City side in full confidence.
Starting XI prediction?
I predict a 3-5-2 formation with a starting XI of Lopes; Denayer, Marcelo, Marçal; Dubois, Caqueret, Guimarães, Aouar, Cornet; Memphis & Dembélé
Possibly though, Jeff Reine Adélaïde could play instead of Moussa Dembélé, pushing Memphis to play as the main striker with Adélaïde in the support role for his dribbling and hold up play.
I’m predicting a 1-1 draw and penalties!
You can follow us on twitter for live match coverage here: @City_Xtra