Wednesday, February 28

Ligue 1: Lyon’s win at Marseille opens door to late European push

Olympique Lyonnais can still dream of European soccer next season after a stunning 3-0 win away at Olympique de Marseille moved them to within five points of OGC Nice in fifth in Ligue 1. With three games left to play, OM have also conceded late ground to Stade Rennais in the race for second place in the French league.

Second-half goals from Castello Lukeba, Moussa Dembele and Karl Toko Ekambi produced an impressive victory at Stade Velodrome on Sunday night for Peter Bosz’s men. Dembele set up the first before scoring the second from a Malo Gusto assist and Tete laid on the third for Toko Ekambi.

Although referee Antony Gautier will come in for criticism due to some dubious decisions, there can be little doubting the impressive nature of OL’s strong second 45 showing. What makes it so surprising is the poor campaign Les Gones have been suffering as part of their recent decline.

Bosz has struggled to impose his ideas at Groupama Stadium this term amid a power struggle behind the scenes. Club legend and former sporting director Juninho Pernambucano has already walked while president Jean-Michel Aulas has been at odds with fans after UEFA Europa League heartache vs. Westham.

Bruno Guimaraes leaving midseason for Newcastle United did not help, although it did fund Romain Faivre’s arrival and Tanguy Ndombele’s return. This, though, is for a club who spent 2020-21 out of Europe altogether — a first since 1996-97 — just after a UEFA Champions League semifinal run.

Lyon’s problems are not recent, and this former powerhouse of French soccer has not won a major trophy since the 2012 Coupe de France. This season’s Europa League was a golden chance to end that drought, but West Ham United extinguished those hopes to leave OL facing relative obscurity.

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Clearly the rot had set in enough that longstanding partners spanning decades decided to call it a day which has forced Aulas to seek new investors for around 40% of the club’s shares. A second campaign out of three with no continental soccer would be unthinkable for this proud club.

It is not all doom and gloom, though. Lyon’s academy is as fertile as ever with Lukeba scoring the opener in Marseille and Gusto setting up Dembele with both recent graduates along with Bradley Barcola. Houssem Aouar and Anthony Lopes are also OL products.

The talent production has rarely been an issue, though. The problem of late for the seven-time French champions has been keeping the best graduates with Nice pinching the likes of Amine Gouiri, Melvin Bard, Myziane Maolida and threatening to do so again with Rayan Cherki this summer.

Put simply, Lyon cannot afford to fail to reach Europe again and this unexpected win away at Marseille offers them a late shot at securing it again this term. Doing so might enable them to rebuild around the likes of the absent Maxence Caqueret, Lukeba, Gusto and Barcola.

Should they fall short between now and the end of the season, worse could be set to follow for the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes giants and their success-starved fans. FC Metz, FC Nantes, and Clermont Foot 63 are reasonably favorable run-in fixtures which Bosz’s men must now capitalize upon.

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