How are Lyon Looking Under Sylvinho?

When writing my massive preview for the season, Lyon were a team I spoke about. For years they have looked able to compete with Paris, but inconsistency has always been their problem. They were able to create plenty of chances through Depay, Fekir, Aouar and Ndombele, but struggled to convert those chances. Moussa Dembele’s arrival did bring that clinical edge to the side but had minor injury problems throughout the season.

A lot has changed at Lyon over the summer, with Bruno Genesio being the most significant change. The Frenchman struggled at times to find a place for all of that attacking talent, which meant the likes of Traore and Cornet struggled for consistent game time. Genesio never seemed like the guy to take that group of players to the next level. He did oversee his side pull off some magnificent performances, with a 2-1 win over PSG and beating Premier League champions Manchester City at the Etihad.
The Lyon hierarchy could have appointed a more experienced coach but opted to take a massive risk in selecting Sylvinho. The former Arsenal defender has had little experience in management, with his most recent job being assistant manager to Tite for the Brazil national team. No one knew what this Lyon side would look like with Sylvinho at the helm. Would they continue to be the free-flowing attacking side of the past, or sacrifice that entertainment for a more pragmatic approach? This will be the focus today, to see what Sylvinho has changed during his early days as the new Lyon manager. I cannot stress this enough, but these views are not final. These are just my first impression on what Sylvinho has implemented thus far, so all opinions are not final.

Before looking at their first game of the new Ligue 1 season, let’s review their summer window. Their sales, rather than their purchases, attracted all the attention. Les Gones sold some of their prizes assets in Tanguay Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir for a combined £115 million, a considerable profit on players purchased for less than £10 million. All three players added a lot to the side. Ndombele was an all-action midfielder who added strength, energy, composure and a large amount of ball progression in midfield. He was what every club wants from their midfielders, and he arguably left the most significant void in the team. Ferland Mendy was another excellent talent. The former La Havre defender was another perfect example of excelling in your position. Mendy was not only solid defensively, but was arguably one of the best dribblers in Ligue 1, from a defensive position. Nabil Fekir, while not gaining a similar profit as their other sales, was a massive player for Lyon. The club captain was arguably one of the best attackers in Europe back in 2017. However, due to injury problems, struggled last season and didn’t have the same impact as seen in previous years. Fekir had that element of unpredictability about him that made him such a threat. A fantastic dribbler and chance creator, it made him one of the most complete attackers in Europe.

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Lyon’s arrivals were one of plenty of discussions, starting with the midfield, which saw Thiago Mendes arrive from Lille for £18 million. Ndombele is a tough player to replace with a tiny group of playing possessing a similar skillset to the now Tottenham midfielder. It was a sensible move to pick up Mendes. While he didn’t have the same fantastic ball progression as Ndombele, he did add better defensive numbers and still possessed similar creativity.

With Ferland Mendy’s departure, it meant left-back was one of the most critical positions in terms of recruitment. His replacement was Youssouf Kone, another player signed from Lille. While not offering nearly the same attacking output as Mendy, he did provide some outstanding defensive work, putting in over 5 tackles and interceptions for Lille last season. It’s another move that seemed realistic for Lyon. Finding a full-back with equal qualities to Mendy is insanely difficult. Taking a punt on a relatively young full-back and hoping those low attacking numbers improve in a better side is a risk worth taking for £8 million.

Last but not least, let’s talk about their best signing of the window, Danish defender Joachim Andersen. He is the first signing at centre-back that I would consider promising after Marcelo and Morel are finally being phased out of the team. Andersen was an in-demand player throughout the summer, with Arsenal, rumoured to be heavily interested. Moving to Lyon makes a lot of sense. The loss of Ndombele cannot be understated, and bringing in a ball-playing centre back to add that extra bit of ball progression is vital. Anderson is a gifted passer who is very comfortable on the ball. The Danish defender completed 15 dribbles last season, the 4th highest out of centre backs in Serie A. What he can add in position is impossible to argue. Andersen isn’t great defensively. However, for £21 million and still being only 23, he has time to improve.

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The combination of Lyon’s sales and arrivals made me wonder how they were going to set up throughout the season. While seemingly putting faith in the talent currently at the club is understandable, there is a vast amount of pressure on some of these players to step up. Cornet and Traore have always looked great when given chances, but can they be relied on throughout the season? It begged the question if Lyon were being a bit too confident in terms of assessing their own talent. There is now more pressure on Aouar to continue with his excellent ball progression and improve now Ndombele has departed. The issue with this group of players is some of the players they are putting faith in. I like Dembele a lot, but his history of injuries is still concerning, even if he has been a monster to play against whenever he has stepped foot on the pitch. The full-backs also worry me. Full-back pairings have usually worked with one taking an attacking role, and the other taking a more reserved part. Last season, it was Mendy who excelled in attack, and Dubois who blossomed on the defensive side, but now I have my doubts. Kone and Dubois have never shown the ability to play in that attacking role, leaving the team with even more pressure on the wide players to create and carry the ball.

If going off their 3-0 win over Monaco, there are plenty of elements to be excited about. Defensively, Lyon remained on the front foot, consistently using Aouar and Mendes to press the opposition during buildup play. Depay and Traore would drop deeper to change the formation to a more solid 4-1-4-1. While both are consistent tactics used by many coaches across the continent, it worked well. It could be down to Monaco continuing their poor performances into the new season, but Sylvinho’s side does deserve some praise here. Lyon used Mendes and Aouar to press the opposition defenders and force the ball into the wide areas, with Les Gones having a numerical advantage in those areas. It also got the best out of their full-backs. As we’ve covered, Dubois and Kone are not the most attack-minded defenders but are fantastic defensively. Forcing Monaco to attack down that side made them easier to nullify. The 2017 Ligue 1 winners only managed a single shot on target, showing how much they struggled to break Lyon down. The early signs of Lyon improvements defensively are bright, but it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against some of the sides in the Champions League. The different attacking teams could be challenging to contain.

While the defensive improvements give reasons for optimism, it’s in the attack, and primarily buildup play, where I have early reservations. During the first game of the season, Lyon attempted to transition the ball through their centre-backs recycling the ball, waiting for a chance quickly switching the ball towards the wide players. They use their excellent dribbling to attack the opposition. This makes a lot of sense. Andersen and Denayer are some of the best distributors of the ball in France, so building the ball up using their strengths is advantageous. The problem at the moment is the lack of ball progression through the middle. It’s the biggest hole that Ndombele has left the club. Aouar is a fantastic dribbler and seemingly the only midfielder who can. It puts a lot of pressure on him to drop deep if the wide options weren’t available. This might be different from Adelaide’s arrival from Angers, but at the moment they have looked dependant on Aouar to carry the ball. The other issue that became apparent at times during their first game of the season was their poor shot locations. This is likely due to the red card given to Cesc Fabregas, which forced Monaco to sit much deeper. Their 6-0 win over Angers did show a much better attacking side, but Lyon did massively overperform during their first 2 games of the season. At the moment, this isn’t too much of a problem. It is still in the extremely early stages of Sylvinho’s reign.

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I do imagine a lot of those early problems will be resolved as the season continues. This side seems built to be more accustomed to tougher opponents, and the emphasis on playing out from the back and a smaller squad could be a sign of harmony among the players. There was a reason why Lyon were one of my teams to watch. A new manager, the apparent significance of the fringe players and a better defence make them a team that all must keep an eye on this season.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Tanguay Ndombele and the Mousa Dembele Effect

The evolution of the defensive midfielder is a fascinating one. From the physical destroyers in Keane and Gattuso to intelligent readers of the game in Alonso and Busquets. The next step in this evolution was Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele. He arrived in the Premier League as an attacking midfielder for Fulham. After a relatively successful spell for the Cottages, he arrived in North London, signing for Tottenham. While he was good under AVB, it was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino that transformed him. He decided to move Dembele deeper, using his superior dribbling to help transition the ball from defence. This truly changed what a defensive midfielder could do. Since his fantastic 2015/16 season, we’ve seen the emergence of players with a similar skillset to Dembele, with Kondogbia, Sangare, Kovacic and Allan. These players who combine elite dribbling with solid defensive output have made them a player in high demand. Clubs are ready to spend a lot of money on players with these skillsets.

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Dembele’s importance to that Tottenham side can be seen how much they’ve struggled in midfield this season. After Dembele’s defensive work slowing down each season, it was an area where they needed to strengthen in the summer. However, as it’s well documented, they didn’t sign any players. While Dembele has shown his age, no one expected such a huge drop-off. He looked a shadow of the player he once was, and his usefulness to Pochettino was dwindling. Some midfielders will reach this drop-off, especially those focused on their hard work, energy and defensive output. It left Tottenham in a real conundrum. They were lacking any midfielder who could effectively transition the ball from defence into attack. The solution they found just continues to highlight the genius of the Spurs manager, being able to get every last drop of quality out of both Winks and Sissoko, forming a midfield partnership that would solve the issue on the short term. It has given them a huge problem in attack, however. Without Dembele’s elite dribbling, it has forced Alli and Eriksen to come deeper to receive the ball, which has weakened their output and has put more pressure on them defensively. Pochettino has opted to place either Alli or Eriksen in central midfield, with his options that low. It has highlighted their midfield as the area that is in desperate need of improvement.

This is where Tanguay NDombele fits in. The Frenchman was one of the breakout stars of the 2017/18 season, establishing himself as one of the brightest midfield prospects in Europe. In a young and exciting Lyon side, Ndombele has been given the platform to flourish. His signing deserves a lot of credit from whoever handles Lyon’s transfers. In a summer which saw them lose both Tolisso and Lacazette for nearly a combined £90 million, it left a challenge for the club. They acted smartly in bringing in Mariano for less than £10 million, and NDombele on loan. It’s what makes NDombele’s arrival so strange. He arrived on loan and was signed for £7.2 million before the 2018/19 season, a true bargain in today’s market. Nothing was well known of him at the time and only made 3 starts for Amiens before leaving for Lyon. The club has been known for finding players in obscurity before. They’ve taken risks on older players like Marcelo and Jallet, while also ready give the younger players a chance. During the 2017/18 season, Genesio was starting Tousart, Aouar and NDombele in a midfield three. All were young and excelled in their bid to secure Champions League football. NDombele was the stand out of the trio. His maturity and strength showed him to be above his peers in terms of importance for the side. He was essential in giving the side defensive stability, while also using his incredible ball retention skills to help push Lyon further up the pitch. Lyon is a side full of great dribblers. Aouar, Fekir, Depay, Traore and Mendy are all excellent in moving the ball into the final third, but NDombele stands out. He’s been averaging over 70% success rate for dribbling, a high figure for a player who usually receives the ball in crowded areas. It’s actually one of his most impressive qualities. No matter how many players attempt to stay tight to him, he will always find a way to avert pressure. During their impressive 2-1 win over champions Paris Saint-Germain, NDombele had one of his best games. He would constantly find space to receive the ball and would drop deep to drag the opposing players in areas they did not want to go. He completed 3 dribbles, made 58 passes, the highest in the side, put in 3 tackles and completed 4 long balls. A well-rounded performance that helped show his best qualities. There is no player in Europe with such a similar skillset to Mousa Dembele. Good defensive numbers, a solid passer, a fantastic dribbler and a player who is press resistant make NDombele a player who is sought after.

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Can Tottenham sign the highly rated Frenchman? It is a possibility. If they are finally ready to spend money and show the rest of the league that they are ready to challenge both Tottenham and Liverpool, they have to. Ndombele was heavily linked to PSG, Barcelona and Manchester City for months. However, with Barcelona signing Frenkie De Jong, Manchester City looking at Rodri from Atletico Madrid and PSG focusing their attention on Allan, it has left Tottenham with a chance to sign him. It does beg the question of if they can afford him. He’s been rumoured to cost over £65 million. While that would be a fee that Tottenham could pay, the issue is there are other areas of that squad that need attention. If Trippier departs for Napoli, they will need another right back. If Alderweireld does decide to leave, as well as Eriksen, Rose, Lamela and Llorente, it leaves a lot of players that need replacing. While signing NDombele is possible, signing him while also needing to find replacements for all the players listed (as well as a goalkeeper with Lloris showing his age). When I spoke about the midfielders that Tottenham need to sign, I didn’t mention NDombele because I thought the idea of signing him was extremely unlikely. Spurs have a gift of having a manager who is able to get the best out of the talent at his disposal. The club might decide to look at players more in line of Billing, Grillitch, Anguissa and Lemina. Players who won’t cost an extraordinary amount while still improving the squad. If Tottenham do want to be taken seriously, it’s time to start buying the best players around, to show the ambition they claim to have.

 

Why Barcelona Have Been Underwhelming – Lyon vs Barcelona -UEFA Champions League Preview

These previews have been some of the best posts I’ve put out, and judging by the views they are attracting, it seems others agree. With only 3 left, it seems we are finally so close to finishing them. Let’s look at one of the final previews, being Lyon’s huge game against La Liga leaders Barcelona. With both teams having game defining players, it could be a very memorable tie.

Let’s begin with Lyon, who are having a fine enough season so far, but I have had some problems with them. It just bothers me when they drop points against such poor opposition, and with Lille 4 points clear and Marseille and St Etienne not far behind them, it begs the question of why aren’t Lyon doing better? Well defence is a massive problem. While their full backs are actually pretty solid, with Mendy, Tete and Dubois all performing very well, it’s put more pressure on Lyon’s defenders. While I think Marcelo is a solid defender, I don’t think Denayer is not a good player in the slightest. Jeremy Morel is now 34, and is still getting plenty of game time. It worries me that a team with such a good attack, might be held down by a central defence that is old and easy to expose. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of their manager, Bruno Genesio. I can give him sympathy for having deal with a club who aren’t willing to spend much on defenders, which is why Denayer is even at the club. He has also added some impressive flexibility to the side, with Lyon deploying 8 different formations this season. It has mostly worked, but it was more to get the most out of what he has, and he seems to be unsure on what his best team even is. He’s played Aouar, Depay, Fekir and Traore in so many different positions, because he doesn’t know where to fit them all in. He’s tried Fekir and Depay as a striker, mainly due to both lacking a great work rate. However while both have played a lot of games there and can work on the occasion, they are better behind the striker. Depay is an amazing creator, so having him on the left or behind the striker is much more effective. Fekir is similar. He loves to get on the ball and run at defenders, and his shot locations aren’t great, with half of his total shot coming from outside the box. He’s another who shouldn’t lead the line. While Genesio’s masterclass against Manchester City and PSG is very impressive, I just don’t think he has taken advantage of Marseille and Monaco falling off as much as they have, in the same way Lille have capitalised.

What cannot be denied about Lyon is they have some of the most desirable players in Europe, starting with Memphis Depay. The Dutch international is in the form of his life at the moment. It has actually surprised me why a club like Chelsea or Real Madrid have not even considered him. While I did say I do not like him as a sole number 9, he is still an absolutely amazing attacker. He is taking 2.9 shots a game, creating 3 chances and completing 1.7 dribbles. These are all signs of a complete forward. Since Lacazette’s departure, he has been the main man at Lyon. With Fekir having consistent injury problems, Depay has been so important for everything Lyon have been doing. With his versatility, arrogance and ability, he makes for a forward who could fix any attack. It’s just so good to see Depay finally reach that potential we all knew he had. Barcelona might truly struggle to deal with him, because he can just do so much. He is so unpredictable. While Fekir and Traore could all be huge threats in this game, Aouar deserves some praise here. With incredible XGBuildup numbers and a great dribbler, it’s just amazing he’s still only 20. He is one of the best young players in Europe and has continued his amazing form from last season into this one. What has made him more impressive is the drop off of his teammates. Tousart and Ndombele have both not been nearly has good as they were last season, so it’s made Aouar look even better. I just love how good he is on the ball, and how good he is when it comes to transition. Ndombele’s dribble numbers have dropped, so it’s helped massively that Aouar has actually improved. A lot of clubs have been looking at him too, and it’s so easy to see why. He is a guy with a bright future, and is vital to Lyon getting a result in this game.

Let’s look at Barcelona. I have titled this post why Barcelona have been underwhelming, and I’ll explain. This La Liga season has been very confusing. With Villarreal and Valencia all dropping off a cliff this season, one would assume that a team that brought in huge talents like Malcom, Lenglet, Arthur and Arturo Vidal, you’d think they would be so much further ahead than they are. Real Madrid are having their worst season in years, yet they’re only 6 points behind them. While they have been winning and mostly deservingly so, but there have been consistent problems, and it all comes back to Valverde. His time at Barcelona can only be seen as satisfactory. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he is a bad manager. He is a very good manager, but isn’t a Barcelona manager. Thanks to Cruyff and Pep, they have such a high standard for the football that is being played, that anything that isn’t at the level, isn’t good enough. He has had a mostly successful time in charge, but he has individual moments that have soured his relationship with the fans. Letting Messi leave early last season for a friendly, which lead to the club losing their unbeaten run on the last day of the season against Levante, losing 5-4 in humiliating fashion. While that was bad, losing a 3 goal advantage against Roma in a truly awful performance in the Italian capital. It’s these moments where the fans and neutrals get frustrated, because he just struggles on the big stage at times. While I can see this as his biggest fault, the biggest problem is definitely his player managment. I do think he has been given players he doesn’t neccessarily want (I’ll get to that) and he has nearly no idea how to use them, and has instead relied heavily on Suarez and Busquets, and playing them even if they are tired. Both are aging and need to be managed carefully. Rakitic is another who is loved by Valverde, but wants to play him so much, that the fans are becoming tired of him. These are all good players, but they are all becoming old, and shouldn’t be relied on as much as they are. He has massively struggled with dealing with some of the bigger signings, starting with Coutinho. His signing in the first place was strange, because there wasn’t neccessarily a place in the squad for him. He was seen as an Iniesta replacement, but I don’t think they are as similar as thought. He cannot play as an 8, because he isn’t good defensively as an 8 should be. He also isn’t and has never been a winger, but can play there. He is a 10, but Messi occupies that area so where does he fit? He is useful to have in the squad, but Valverde seems to have no idea what to do with the £142m player. Malcom is a much worse situation, because Coutinho at least plays. But that blame is more on Malcom that Valverde, because he should be at Roma, but decided to go to Barcelona, when there wasn’t even a place in the squad. Valeverde is struggling in some aspecs in one of the hardest manager job’s in the world.

Talking about Messi as a key player is pointless, because of course he is. He’s the best player in the history of the game, so he’s easily the biggest threat on the pitch. Let’s look at someone else instead, that being Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman’s time in Barcelona has been mixed. Don’t get me wrong, he has been amazing whenever he has played, but because of his issues with Valverde, and the board seemingly not liking him, it’s taken a while for him to establish himself in the side, but he’s been great. His performances in the Champions League have been outstanding. His shot numbers, chance creation and dribbling went supernova. He scored 2 in the group stages, with only Messi scoring more. He adds that creativity from the wide areas and is one of the dribblers in Europe. He is still such a promising player, and it’s good to see him finally showing it for a side that don’t deserve him.

If Lyon wish to win the round, they must deal with Busquets. The Spaniard is the best defensive midfielder in history, but he is 29 now. He is such a smart player but if Lyon attempt to deal with him, it’ll make Barcelona so much easier to deal with. The other is to hope Sergi Roberto is playing. He is good offensively, but is so easy to expose. They have to attack fast and keep hold of the ball. If they fail to do that, Messi and co will punish them.

If Barcelona want to advance, they have to play 2 in the middle. Lyon advanced as one of the few unbeaten teams, but only managing a single win. Those defenders are old, so if they play Messi and Suarez together, it might put a lot of pressure on the players at the back. Denayer and Morel aren’t good defenders, and Barcelona should find it easy to break them down. They need to use their experience. This team still has plenty of the winners from their 2015 Champions League win, and need to beat a side full of young players. Show them how winning is done. It’s why I think they will win. While a shock could definitely happen, I think Barcelona just have so much going for them to lose in the same way as last season.