After another European exit, Lyon find themselves under pressure in the domestic title race.
By Howard Johnson in Paris
So Claude Puel’s Lyon suffered the same Champions League fate in 2009 as Alain Perrin’s side in 2008 and Gerard Houliier’s outfit back in 2007. Blown away by Barcelona in a second leg first-half that saw the French champions concede four goals, Lyon have exited the competition at the first knockout round for the third consecutive season.
It’s true that Barcelona were sharp and highly motivated for the match, but Lyon’s 45 minutes of misery owed as much to their own farcical defending as it did to Barca’s genius. Lionel Messi scored a goal befitting of his status as the world’s number one player, but the French defence of Francois Clerc, Cris, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Fabio Grosso showed moments of such comical ineptitude that they could easily have shipped twice as many goals by half-time.
Lyon’s Champions League exit rounded off a thoroughly wretched week for the French outfit. First they went out of the French Cup, beaten 3-2 by Lille. Then they suffered a 2-0 league defeat at the hands of the same team, before being given that harsh lesson in the Camp Nou with a 5-2 beating that saw Puel’s side knocked out 6-3 on aggregate.
What will perturb mouthy club president Jean-Michel Aulas even more than exits from the domestic cup and humiliation in Spain will be the fact that there are suddenly no guarantees in France’s Ligue 1 either.
The domestic championship has been more or less a cakewalk for Lyon these last seven years. But with perennial laughing stock Paris Saint-Germain suddenly bursting into life with six wins in their last seven matches, Lyon suddenly find their lead at the top cut to a solitary point with just 11 games to go.
Losing the title after being dumped out of every cup competition (Lyon lost to second division Metz in the League Cup) would be nothing short of a disaster for Aulas and will put massive pressure on coach Puel, who only arrived from Lille at the start of the season.
A season without any silverware would be a massive blow to a club that trumpets its objective of becoming a member of Europe’s elite both loudly and often. Plus there’s the issue of a brand new stadium that has finally been green-lighted and should be completed in 2013.
The project has been given the go-ahead following immense pressure exerted by the Lyon Chairman, who claimed that France could forget about staging Euro 2016 if he didn’t get his ground built with a large dollop of public money. No doubt the finance has been handed over on the promise of a continually-improving team that will bring massive commercial benefits to the city of Lyon.
The trouble is, if anything the team has gone backwards over the last three or four years.
Lyon have traditionally sold their best players, but have also exercised a successful recruitment policy overseen by Aulas’ consigliere, the former French international Bernard Lacombe. Yet despite buying the best players in France in the last 12 months, which would in theory strengthen their own side while at the same time weakening the opposition, the likes of Jean Makoun, Ederson, John Mensah and Frederic Piquionne have all failed to shine and Lyon have looked anything but invincible.
It’s true that they boast the highly-rated yet inexperienced striker Karim Benzema up front, but Lyon have looked worryingly short of an attacking cutting edge. With perennial bad boy Brazilian Fred having flown the coop for Fluminense they’ve clearly lacked a foil for Benzema, someone who can really take a game by the scruff of the neck.
So with a defence that looks positively porous when it comes up against decent opposition it’s not hard to see why Lyon are currently struggling to match up to their lofty ambitions. And it could yet turn into a very nasty old end to the season