Premier League champions Manchester City get their Champions League campaign underway on Wednesday with a home clash against French outfit Olympique Lyonnais.
When the draw was made last month in Monaco, many City supporters rejoiced at what they described as an ‘easy draw’. In truth, they were not wrong – compared to other years, where City have met the likes of Barcelona and Bayern numerous times, this draw is not as tough on paper.
Despite this, Les Gones (The Kids) are a solid side that managed an impressive third place finish last season to qualify.
Lyon qualified for the Champions League group stage for the 15th time, which is more than any other French club.
Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk make up the other two teams in the group – on paper, three relatively even teams join Manchester City. For Lyon, the trip to Manchester will not define their chances of qualification massively, more so the games against the other teams who seem to be battling for second.
Let’s have a look inside our French opposition…
POTENTIAL LINE UP
Managed by Frenchman Bruno Genesio, Lyon have a relatively young team made up of up and coming prospects that City fans may know the name of, but know little about.
One man they do though a lot about, however, is defender Jason Denayer, who finally departed City on a permanent deal this summer. The Belgian is expected to retain his starting berth in the Lyon defence alongside Brazilian stopper Marcelo.
Either side of those two, Lyon like to play with attacking full backs. On the right, ex-Manchester United man Rafael da Silva is likely to start ahead of Leo Dubois, who signed from Nantes in the summer. On the other side is the oft-discussed Ferland Mendy, the 23-year-old who’s playing style is not too dissimilar from City’s Mendy. He is a constant source of attacking threat and City will have to be careful.
The midfield has the same theme, in terms of players City fans may have heard of. Tanguy N’Dombele is a name that has repeatedly linked with a move to Manchester. The French youngster is earning praise across the league and has been rewarded with a new deal this week. Alongside him is another young hot prospect in Houssem Auoar, who has been touted to be on the radar of the likes of Barcelona. Born in Lyon, Aouar has architectural traits on the ball and is a key figure of this side.
As for the forward line, Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are the favoured wide men, either side of the star of the transfer saga in Nabil Fekir.
Lyon lost their forward Mariano Diaz to Real Madrid towards the tail end of the window, replacing him with Moussa Demble from Celtic. The 22-year-old made his debut this weekend in the draw against Caen, so may not be thrown into the starting lineup at the Etihad.
If this would be the case, Memphis Depay will be deployed in a central striker role, with 21-year-old forward Martin Terrier slotting in as a wide forward.
THE DANGER MAN
He was going, he was staying, the deal was on, the deal was off. Ultimately, Nabil Fekir remained in Lyon after a summer long saga linking him to Liverpool. He has been publicly quoted as being ‘gutted’ about this, but life goes on for the World Cup winner who will be looking to reproduce his form of last season that made him such a sought after player in the first place.
Fekir loves to dribble. With the ball at his feet, he is a menace and can cause disastrous consequences for defenders. Last season, he completed 3.1 take-ons per season in the league. Fekir is much more than a show-off with the ball at his feet sort of player, though. He uses his cultured left-foot to produce chance after chance for his team-mate, be it from a central position or when he drifts wide. One more thing: he knows where the goal is and is not afraid to take a shot. Think of Philippe Coutinho and how most of his goals tend to be long-ranged bullets into the goal, this is what Fekir is known for. In fact, he took 1.5 shots per game from outside the box, last season.
Should Fekir be on his game, the clash at the Etihad will be exciting for the neutral and not as easy as City fans may think.
VIEW FROM THE OPPOSITION
To gain further insight into the exciting French side, I caught up with French football expert Eric Devin on behalf of Get French Football News. Eric is a football writer who focuses mainly on Ligue 1, writing and podcasting for many respectable publications such as The Guardian, WhoScored and FrenchFtWeekly.
I asked Eric about all things Lyon: their domestic campaign so far, whether they can qualify for the knockout stages in Europe, and who he would pinpoint as the man to cause City problems on Wednesday evening.
Lyon have 7 points from their opening 5 league games – is this about right or are Lyon playing better than their inconsistent start suggests?
It is about right, and maybe even worse. Lyon looked decent in their wins over Amiens and Strasbourg, but neither of those sides is up to much, as their other results show. Lyon have too often needed moments of individual brilliance, such as Nabil Fékir’s free kick against Caen at the weekend, or Memphis Depay’s against Amiens, to secure the results that they have recorded. There is clearly talent in this side, but for the moment, with a shaky defence and no out-and-out striker, Lyon have struggled as much, if not more as their record suggests.
City, Lyon, Shakhtar, Hoffenheim – City enter as the obvious favourites, but do they have what it takes to qualify for the knockout stages and even trouble City for top spot in this group?
In a word, no. Even without Kevin De Bruyne, City showed at the weekend in their win over Fulham that even at half-speed, they are still frightening given their wealth of attacking options. Lyon do have players in Fekir and Depay who can offer a moment of brilliance which could turn a match, and a fine goalkeeper in Anthony Lopes, but their play this season has simply been too uneven, with Tanguy N’Dombélé and Houssem Aouar in particular both some way off from their best form of last season. Were Shakhtar themselves not in a period of transition, Lyon would be lucky to have a shot at the Europa League, to say nothing of progressing.
One man that Pep Guardiola has been keen on is Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndomble, who has just signed a new deal at the club – can you tell City fans a bit about him and his playing style?
N’Dombélé is a tremendous talent, a really complete midfielder. He has ability with the ball at his feet, and great strength to complement meaning, he is very difficult to stop on the dribble, and also has a lovely range of passing. He isn’t the quickest in general, but has good acceleration, making him a real catalyst in terms of Lyon playing on the break. He is decent defensively, but would ideally play in a three or alongside a true six rather than himself being a defensive midfielder. There is some suggestion that he may be unhappy, given mooted moves to both Spurs and Roma failed to materialise, but it’s hard to bet against him raising his level at the Etihad.
From a French perspective, what do you make of Manchester City and Pep Guardiola? Where would you say they rank in terms of the best teams in the world?
here’s really little to say after what Guardiola has achieved with this side over the past few years. He has them as tactically flexible as his best sides at Bayern Munich, but with far more in attack with Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero. They certainly miss De Bruyne, again, but should qualify comfortably in first place, and if the Belgian can come back into good form by February, the changes underway at the likes of Real Madrid should just about make City favourites for this competition, although Liverpool, Juventus and Barcelona are all in the discussion as well.
What Lyon player is most likely to cause problems for City?
Memphis Depay. He can be absolutely maddening, but if he is motivated, and he likely will be, given he, like N’Dombélé, was heavily linked with a move away in the summer and will relish an opportunity to prove himself in this competition. He scored some really spectacular goals for Lyon last year, including a smashing winner against PSG, and is also a threat at set pieces. After only coming on at the weekend following his time with the Netherlands, he should be well-rested and fired up for this match.
Finally, how do you see the meetings between City and Lyon going? Predictions for Wednesday’s game etc.
I think a score draw is the best Lyon can hope for. Lyon play a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-2-3-1, and besides Lucas Tousart, none of their midfielders are really defensively solid on their own merit. That’s not to say Aouar or N’Dombélé can’t control a match with their ability on the ball; the pair may even be able to trouble Fernandinho, but it’s unlikely that Lyon return home with so much as a point. 3-1, City.