Lyon’s Nabil Fekir in action with Manchester City’s Fernandinho. (Reuters Photo)
MANCHESTER, SEPTEMBER 20 (REUTERS): A day after Paris St Germain were beaten 3-2 by Liverpool, a far less fancied French side, Olympique Lyonnais, produced the surprise result of the Champions League’s opening round by beating Premier League winners Manchester City.
PSG have won all five games in France’s Ligue 1 and have the most expensive strike force in the game with Brazilian Neymar, French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe and Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani costing the club around 415 million pounds ($551 million).
Lyon, in contrast, are seventh in their domestic league, with just two wins from five games, and travelled to Manchester on the back of a 2-2 draw with Caen with questions surrounding the future of their coach Bruno Genesio.
Genesio’s attack was made up of Memphis Depay, who cost a reported 14.4 million pounds after a disappointing spell at Manchester United, and Nabil Fekir.
The 25-year-old Fekir was signed on a free transfer seven years ago, although he was linked with a 50 million pounds move to Liverpool in the close season.
The danger with PSG’s strategy of spending disproportionately in creating a potent forward trident has always been that it could unbalance the team, forcing their German coach Thomas Tuchel to play three attackers at all times.
There is an evident drop off in quality when PSG’s midfield and defence are examined and while that has not proven to be significant in domestic matches it certainly matters in Europe’s elite club competition.
There was little recognisable tactical plan from PSG at Anfield other than to get the ball to their forwards and hope they would use their undoubted skill to create something.
Yet with Neymar looking short of his best — and well looked after by Liverpool’s young right back Trent Alexander-Arnold — and Mbappe rarely threatening until his goal made it 2-2, PSG looked ordinary.
“It was not the moment to make this a tactical game. For me, if you play at Anfield, it is not a tactical game,” said Tuchel, who suggested his players needed to go with the flow of the passionate atmosphere generated in the stadium.
Yet 24 hours later Genesio and Lyon showed how wrong Tuchel was by delivering a tactically astute display to win 2-1 against a City team that some bookmakers have made favourites to win this season’s Champions League.
It was not a radical approach to dealing with City’s attacking, possession play — defending in numbers and looking to break on the counter-attack has been tried, mostly unsuccessfully, by numerous Premier League teams.
Yet Lyon executed the plan perfectly, taking advantage of a low-key, one-paced, City performance, threatening on the break and taking their chances. Depay led the line with pace and directness while Fekir was clever and incisive.
“We managed to get out all we had in us this evening. We proved that Lyon are always a threat. We all did it for the coach, who was a bit in trouble,” said goalkeeper Anthony Lopes.
While Lyon showed that effective tactics and disciplined execution matter far more in Europe than on the domestic front, it has to be noted that they faced a far less intimidating atmosphere than PSG.
There may be only 35 miles between Liverpool’s Anfield and City’s Etihad Stadium but they are on different planets in terms of the noise and passion they generate on European nights.
Despite generous discounts on normal prices, there were still empty seats at the Etihad and those inside the ground produced only a fraction of the atmosphere that Liverpool’s supporters, who relish Champions League encounters, enthusiastically created on Tuesday.