In truth, they weren’t supposed to be here, at least that’s what everyone thought when the draw for the Champions League group stages was done 12 months ago. Lyon were slotted in Group G alongside RB Leipzig, Benfica and FC Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Finishing second signalled a tougher test in the knockout round for Rudi Garcia’s men. And so it was as Lyon were tasked with going past Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. Despite both legs being separated by six months due the Covid-19 enforced lockdown, Lyon found a way of progressing on away goals.
Unlike other opponents, Ligue 1 teams failed to complete their season after the French Federation suspended the league due to Covid-19. Essentially, that meant French teams such as Lyon will head into Lisbon for the quarter-finals after not playing competitive football for close to four months.
Luckily, Lyon enjoyed 120 minutes of eagerly contested football when they faced PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue final, only to lose on penalties. However, fortunes from that game hinted at one thing, and that’s how resolute Lyon are as a unit.
With unprecedented circumstances in Lisbon for the Champions League, the mutual expectation was for Pep Guardiola’s Man City to finally step up. An expectation which was quickly turned into red herring after the French side trampled upon the Blue moon.
The perception of Lyon still remains the same despite beating two heavyweights to make the semi-finals. They go into this game against Bayern Munich not just as underdogs, but also without any form of recognition. Realistically, when your opponent has won every game in the Champions League so far scoring 39 goals, it’s no longer about you.
Moussa Dembélé, the hero in the semi-final knows that Lyon can compete with every team despite being labelled as underdogs.
“It’s not our choice, we can do nothing about it. We have proved that we are a big team and that we can compete with everyone. The most important thing now is to be focused and give everything on the pitch”
“We’re playing football, there’s no reason to be afraid. Of course, Bayern is a great team and they showed that against Barcelona. But we’re confident in our qualities, we’ll give everything on the pitch and see what happens in the end,” he added.
Although Lyon being labelled as underdogs does not sit too well with Dembélé, goalkeeper Lopes revels in it.
“It’s incredible because we’re clearly the surprise team,” Lopes explained to RMC Sport in the aftermath of the victory against City. “No-one expected us to be at that level. We’ve got the right to continue to dream, to believe in what we can do.”
The Lyon-born Portugal international, meanwhile, knows that he will be called into action against a very attacking Bayern side.
“I’m not worried. I’ll try to do my job. We’re a team. If I have less work to do, that means the team is working well. But I’ll try to do my best to help the team”
What a team work! A proud moment for the players, staff, president, Club, and supporters!!! Tonight’s victory shows that with dreaming and believing you can achieve things! Also dedicate this victory to Prince Kadewere! Rest in heaven 🙏🏽🕊 pic.twitter.com/NQdwuFrCyH— Memphis Depay (@Memphis) August 15, 2020
Lyon working well as a team will depend on the tactical tweaks Rudi Garcia makes tonight. He will need to find a way of keeping the front four of Bayern quiet whilst also plotting a way to thwart the high line of the Germans.
“Bayern is a complete team. But if we looked at Manchester City’s stats before the match, we could’ve said there wasn’t much to do for us. It’s the same tomorrow. We’re underdogs, but we know we have a chance. We must take our chances when we get them”
“I don’t think we should pay much attention to the stats, otherwise we should just stay at the hotel. We know they don’t have many weaknesses, but no team is perfect. We are capable of causing problems for Bayern. We’re underdogs but we’ve already beaten big teams.”
Garcia seemed confident but club president Jean-Michel Aulas was a bit more cautious, following advice from his technical staff.
“It’s difficult to anticipate things. What the team and the staff have achieved against Juve and City is already exceptional. We still have a one in four chance, but our analysts tell me that we have gone from 0.5 to 2%, or even 4,” he revealed.
Michael Essien who spent two seasons at Lyon (2003-2005) sits in between a confident Garcia and a cautious Aulas. The Ghanaian during his time in France, won Ligue 1 twice with Lyon and he thinks that although Bayern might be strong, the circumstances could favour his former side.
“It’s possible [for Lyon to win], especially in this one-off tournament format, anything can happen in 90 minutes so you can’t rule them out,” Essien told TV3.
“In the Champions League, they have the same old traits of hard work, belief and good organisation. They play to their strengths regardless of the opposition and that’s why they are doing so well.”
A colossal challenge awaits the Lyon fraternity tonight, but the city is hopeful and that is perhaps all that they might have as they seek to overcome yet another hurdle in this historic Champions League campaign.
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