Lyon’s deadly trio, and Lille’s bark is worse than their bite
Round 16 in France’s premier football division took place this weekend, proving as a test to see which of the top four were contenders, or pretenders.
Olympique de Marseille were looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Stade Rennais on Wednesday, Dec. 16, which saw a team that was not lacking in the creativity department, but simply needed to be more clinical in the final third. Andre-Villas Boas’ men have looked like contenders for the majority of the season, but December would be the true test, as a large amount of fixtures in such a short period would no doubt be difficult for a “Les Olympiens” team that does not have the depth of, say, a Paris-Saint Germain.
The team in snow white and sky blue welcomed Stade de Reims to the Stade Velodrome on Saturday, Dec. 21, needing a victory if they wanted to solidify themselves as legitimate title contenders. Despite hopes of a miracle, it would be anything but a dream start, with Marseille left back Yuto Nagatomo putting into his own net to make it 1-0 Reims at the midway point of the second half.
Despite the poor start, the “olympien” side had put the opposition on the back foot, and would continue to do so even after conceding. Forward Dario Benedetto had a golden opportunity after winger Dimitri Payet played him through, leaving him one-on-one with goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic, who used his knee to prevent the Argentine’s shot from going in. The goal would finally come for Marseille at the end of the first half, when Center attacking midfielder Valentin Rongier played a beautiful ball to Benedetto at the far post, who headed it across goal to winger Florian Thauvin at the near post, with the French international smashing it home to level it up at one a piece.
From then on it would be all Marseille, continually putting “Les rouges et blancs” on the back foot. However, Reims would successfully hold onto dear life, splitting the points away from home and remaining 17th in the table with 14 points. “Les Phoceens” also stayed put, as Boas’ men continue to sit in fourth with 28 points.
Thauvin expressed his frustrations about the team’s staunch conservatism after the match to French media outlet Telefoot.
“We never take risks, we play too laterally, passes backwards … we deserve this result, that’s it,” he said. “There are too many things that are not going right.”
These comments will certainly not bode well with manager Boas, who was essentially stripped naked for all to see by one of his star players.
In like fashion, Olympique Lyonnais also battled it out on Saturday, traveling to the Allianz Riviera to take on an OGC Nice team with a new manager at the helm: Adrian Ursea. Although he was given the job, it is only until the end of this season, meaning he’ll have a couple of months to convince the board to keep him long term. However, this was not made easy after Saturday’s 4-1 pummeling at the hands of “Les Gones.”
Lyon took advantage of a Nice team that has struggled defensively for the majority of their season. Rudi Garcia’s men would continually cause havoc in the final third, exposing a weak point that was the catalyst in former manager Patrick Viera’s sacking. The breakthrough would come early, with winger Tino Kadewere attempting to get on the end of a ball inside the box before being pulled down for the penalty. With ice in his veins, forward Memphis Depay scored the penalty off a panenka that froze Nice goalkeeper Walter Benitez in the middle of the goal. Soon after, Kadewere would pounce on a horizontal back pass in Nice’s final third, easily putting it into the bottom left corner and giving the team a 2-0 lead just before the break.
Despite the fact most football fans would agree that Nice were done and dusted, a belief amongst the players still existed; forward Amine Gouiri got on the end of a cross into the box, heading it into the back of the net to cut the deficit to one just before the half. Even though momentum would be on “Les Aiglons” side, Garcia’s front three were simply too much to handle. Winger Karl Toko Ekambi made it three at the halfway point of the second half, before center midfielder Houssem Aouar made it four to clinch a decisive Lyon victory.
With this win, Garcia’s men move into second with 33 points, while Nice fall to 13th with 21 points.
Sure, these games were intriguing and made for great viewing, but the match that was in the minds of everyone going into Round 16 was the battle for Ligue 1 supremacy between LOSC Lille and Paris-Saint Germain.
The Parisian sophisticates traveled to the Stade Pierre Mauroy on Sunday, Dec. 10 to take on a Christophe Galtier squad that had only lost one game all season going into the contest. On the other hand, Thomas Tuchel’s PSG have had multiple bumps in the road this season, both as it relates to results on the pitch and injuries. Yes, they did defeat FC Lorient midweek, but they played extremely poorly, and struggled to put away a side that is fighting relegation. Nevertheless, a statement win against “Les Dogues” would send a message to the rest of the league that, although they may not be at their best, the Qatar- backed club is still the best team in French football.
A statement win would be quite difficult, as center attacking midfielder Neymar Jr. isn’t set to return from injury until early January, and forward Kylian Mbappe was also dealing with a knock, and would begin the contest on the bench.
Above all, the massive hype going into this contest was for naught; it ended in a stalemate between the two sides, with each side attacking trios not showing up for the contest. Paris, albeit, will get the benefit of the doubt, as they had to go with a front three that consisted of winger Angel Di Maria, forward Moise Kean, and winger Rafinha Alcantara; however, there is no excuse for Lille, who lined up with forward Burak Yilmaz, center attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici, and winger Jonathan Bamba. These three players simply could not find the spaces that have been open to them throughout the majority of the campaign, and that may simply be due to the fact they are facing the best team in French football.
Nonetheless, they were able to get some counterattacks going, but they simply were not deadly enough to scare or even discombobulate a three-man defense made up of Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos and Thilo Kehrer. Kimpembe would be the player that ultimately saved “Les Parisiens” from defeat, making a last-ditch effort on Yilmaz as he was set to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Keylor Navas towards the end of the contest.
Overall, this result really contradicts the statement I made earlier, which affirmed Tuchel’s desire to win. The reality is that the German manager had to find a balance between putting his team out there and remaining conservative; he may have noticed how susceptible the team was to an opposition goal due to the large amount of absences and may have altered the game plan as the match went on.
This result keeps Paris in third with 32 points, while Christophe Galtier’s Lille side return to first with 33 points and will go into round 17 of France’s premier football division as league leaders.