Lille and Lyon show that Champions League race should keep Ligue 1 interesting

With Paris Saint-Germain so dominant this season in Ligue 1, its easy to be dismissive of what French football has to offer.

But while it may be a one-horse race domestically, Lyon reminded us on Tuesday night that others in the French game have plenty to offer.

Les Gones should have beaten Manchester City at the Groupama Stadium in their Champions League Group F clash.

Ultimately, Bruno Genesio’s young side let Pep Guardiola’s men off the hook, but could certainly be proud of their efforts against the side who have been cutting a swathe through the Premier League this season.

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Indeed, the point picked up after an enthralling 2-2 draw was the fourth they’d taken off the English champions in their two group encounters – and saw Guardiola remark on how the French outfit were the best side they’ve faced this season.

Liverpool fans may protest, but Lyon are the only club to beat the Citizens this term.

And perhaps just as noteworthy are the four goals they bagged in the process – only two less than the combined total recorded by the 14 Premier League sides who have faced David Silva and co this term.

On Saturday evening it was back to the pain et beurre of Ligue 1 and a tough trip to Lille.

The home side, who last season barely survived relegation in a torrid campaign, sat in fourth place at kick off, just a point behind their second-placed visitors.

Were PSG not so pumped up with QSI’s performance enhancing dollars, this may have been a clash with meaning in terms of the destination of the French title.

Instead, with the Parisians already 15 points clear of Lyon at kick off and surely beyond anyone’s reach, the meeting of second and fourth was necessarily about the two remaining Champions League spots.

Last term, after an early spring slump, Les Gones secured the third qualifying berth on the last day of the season. This time round they are well fancied to go one better.

That said, a mighty battle is taking shape in the race to the Champions League promised land.

Going into the weekend’s fixtures, only four points separated Lyon in second spot and Patrick Viera’s Nice in seventh.

But Lille hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Lyon, winning only one of their last ten visits. Saturday evening’s hard-earned draw made it one from eleven.

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The hosts executed Christophe Galtier’s game plan to perfection in the first half, allowing the visitors come on to them before hitting them hard on the break.

Goals from Loic Remy and Nicolas Pepe saw them two up inside 28 minutes, as Lille exploited Lyon’s unsurprisingly heavy legs and their propensity to over commit in attack.

However, much to their credit, the visitors stuck to their task, shook off Memphis Depay’s penalty miss early in the second period, and were rewarded with a point after a much-improved display.

Depay, who has been rebuilding his reputation impressively in the last 18 months (33 goals and 33 assists in 87 domestic and European appearances, according to whoscored.com) deserves credit for his own show of resilience and for the moment of brilliance that sparked the Lyon comeback.

The Dutchman, who believes he is destined to outgrow the French club and achieve greatness, set up Bertrand Traore for their first on the hour with a delicious back heel.

The 24-year-old has thrived as a result of Genesio’s decision to play him in a central striking role since his arrival at the club.

And he may well be proven right about his longer-term prospects should he maintain the form and consistency he’s displayed this year.

Provided he can temper the worst excesses of a personality that can ruffle the feathers of friends and foe alike!

Lille noticeably flagged after Traore’s tidy finish, and it seemed only a matter of time before Lyon would fashion an equaliser.

Inspired and energised by the introduction of quality substitutes Moussa Dembele and Nabil Fekir in the last quarter, Lyon finally drew level on 86 minutes when the two combined cleverly down Lille’s right before the former Celtic star gleefully converted Traore’s pull back.

The result saw Lyon drop a place to third after Montpellier’s win at Monaco, but the skill and resilience shown in the last seven days should offset any disappointment and augurs well for the battles ahead.

Author Details

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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