Lyou haven’t won any of their last four Ligue 1 matches. After their 1-1 draw in Lorient on Sunday, The team led with the headline “missing in action” and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment. Martin Terrier and Bertrand Traoré left the club this summer, and Karl Toko Ekambi, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde and Maxence Caqueret were all unavailable for the trip to Lorient due to injury, but they were facing one of the worst defenses in the league. and should have done much better.
With the Coupe de la Ligue abandoned and Lyon having no European commitments, they were hoping to focus on the league this season. They had expected to ride the wave of unity they displayed in the Champions League and finish in the top three, but that hasn’t been the case so far. They haven’t won in four matches and Léo Dubois’ late equalizer was their first open-game goal since Memphis Depay scored against Dijon in late August, lasting nearly 400 minutes. For a team with the third best attacking in the league last season (only PSG and Monaco scored more goals), something really went wrong. Given the promising departures from Rennes and Montpellier, Lyon face a significant challenge to turn things around.
So who is to blame? Manager Rudi Garcia was quick to raise his hands after the game. “We were missing in the first half because I didn’t field the right team or use the right system,” he said. “With more offensive players, we were much better.” While it’s refreshing to hear a manager come up with such a daring mea culpa, was he too quick to pass judgment? His decision to adopt a new 3-4-3 formation failed as it meant Memphis Depay was dropped and Houssem Aouar was played as a nominal left winger, with Rayan Cherki on the right.
Aouar and Cherki are both better suited for playing in central areas and they were poor, failing to establish a creative rhythm and often ceding possession on the cheap. Neither Jean Lucas nor Bruno Guimarães are fit to take the ball out of midfield to bond with Moussa Dembélé, so the former Celtic striker (who has yet to score this season) made an isolated figure. Unable to combine with another striker who could make descents and create more space, Dembélé was easily outnumbered by Lorient defenders.
The absent would have clearly helped. Toko Ekambi would have used his rhythm on the flank to open up more space for Dembélé, and Caqueret or Reine-Adélaïde would have offered more creativity in the midfield, but an obvious question hangs over this game: why Garcia didn’t it not started Depay? To be fair to the manager, the Dutchman didn’t offer much more than Cherki or Aouar when he entered the second half, doing nothing to dispel the idea that he has an icy relationship with Dembélé. This may explain why Garcia avoided a 3-5-2. But his overly cautious tactics did not bring the best of his players. And, when it comes to his top two goal scorers, shouldn’t he be able to bridge the gap between them on the pitch?
And what about the players themselves? “There’s not enough hunger in their game,” Garcia said in his post-match commentary, which was delivered amid lingering rumors linking Depay and Aouar to departures. “It’s not normal to think that the transfer window can influence the motivation of the players, but when I see certain behaviors I wonder,” added the manager. Garcia is right to question himself, but only to a certain extent. As a manager, it’s his job to make sure his players are focused on the task at hand and organized into a cohesive system. Despite his brilliant man-management against a succession of richer clubs in the Champions League, he seems unable to do the same in Ligue 1. He is currently following the path of his predecessor, Sylvinho.
A word must also be offered to Lorient, who finally seems to take back the organizational principles of Christophe Pelissier, even if their 5-4-1 (which became even more cautious once Enzo Le Fée was forced) was a paragon of negativity. They’ve got enough pace from players like goal scorer Yoane Wissa to stretch teams on the clock and, after a few tough weeks, this composed performance has put them back on track. However, Lyon’s disappointment is of their own making. Despite what Juninho may conceive of in the transfer window, the club legend may soon find himself forced to change managers again. To have sacked a manager at the start of last season, sacking another at the start of the season would be an indictment of the present and the future of the club.
Ligue 1 results
Ligue 1 results
Bordeaux 0-0 Nice
Angers 3-2 Brest
Dijon 2-2 Montpellier
Monaco 3-2 Strasbourg
Nîmes 1-1 lens
Lorient 1-1 Lyon
Reims 0-2 PSG
St Etienne 0-3 Rennes
Marseille 1 – 1 Metz
Lille 2-0 Nantes
• Monaco showed great determination in their 3-2 victory over Strasbourg at the Stade Louis II on Sunday. It was a good response after their terrible loss in Rennes last weekend and it took them to European places. Wissam Ben Yedder has scored two goals and the young side seem to take Niko Kovac’s principles to heart fairly well, but the manager must deal with his side’s lingering discipline issues. Axel Disasi and Aurélien Tchouameni were sent off against Strasbourg, leaving Monaco to hang on to a one-goal lead for nearly half an hour. It is a common problem. Monaco collected 10 red cards in last season’s truncated campaign. If Monaco are to reach the top three, the players will need to show more control.
• Rennes continued their impressive run, beating the hitherto undefeated Saint-Étienne at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium, with Eduardo Camavinga once again in charge. Now two points ahead of the lead and one of the only two undefeated teams, Julien Stéphan’s team seems to be picking up speed. They are driving in the back while playing with even more freedom to move forward. Playing in the Champions League will test the depth of the team but, for now, the way they combine youth and experience to produce an extremely entertaining style of football makes them a fantastic advertisement for the league.
• Finally, a word for Ignatius Ganago. The young Cameroonian struggled to make an impact in Nice last season, but has now scored four goals in as many appearances for Lens. He thrives in Franck Haise’s very pressing 3-4-1-2 lineup, where he plays alongside physique Florian Sotoca rather than being misused in a big role. His transfer of 6 million euros now looks like a snip. Lens are comfortably seated in European positions, and their very modern combination of pressing and physicality makes them a team to watch this season.