Olympique Lyonnais can press ... and they do it well
Now that it’s confirmed that Bayern Munich will face Lyon in the semi finals of the Champions League, Hansi Flick might be getting a little hot under the collar. The French side are no Barcelona — they can press, and they do it really well.
With Manchester City lining up in an unconventional 3-5-2 formation, Pep Guardiola was clearly plotting for an upcoming semi final against Bayern. Bernardo Silva and Riyadh Mahrez were left on the bench, while the Spaniard shifted Raheem Sterling to the left (and therefore out of Alphonso Davies’ firing range). The formation was clearly experimental and lacked the ability to create offensive pressure. Rudi Garcia and Lyon knew exactly how to knock them off balance.
Lining up in a 5-3-2, Lyon employed a medium press that harassed and harangued City’s mids every time they were on the ball. This kept the Citizens from bringing their usual rhythm and flow to the game, and kept Pep’s system from producing those 2v1 situations on the wings that it’s known for. De Bruyne couldn’t move into positions where he could support his forwards, and with him struggling to make an impact, City’s offense sputtered.
Maxwell Cornet was especially potent in the defensive aspect, using good anticipation and physicality to turn the left half-space of the Lyon defense into a virtual no-go zone. Keen observers will note that this is where Thomas Muller loves to make his impact — the battle between him and Cornet will be a key duel on Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola shows us what NOT to do in a UCL knockout
A new formation, benching some of your best players, and a suicidal high line. Bayern Munich fans are keenly aware of Pep Guardiola’s failings in the Champions League, and it seems that the Spaniard refuses to learn. Manchester City fans might be quick to defend their coach, but the evidence is undeniable. Since leaving Munich in 2016, Guardiola has failed to make the semi finals even once — suffering some humiliating eliminations along the way.
Given that this is an article about what Bayern can learn from the game, the main takeaway would probably be that a high line is susceptible to long balls and quick releases from midfield, and Lyon are capable of both. Flick’s extremely high defensive line has been noted as a point of concern by fans and pundits following Bayern’s 8-2 demolition of Barcelona on Friday, and concerns were raised about how someone like Raheem Sterling or Kevin De Bruyne might exploit it.
Now that those aforementioned players have been knocked out, the narrative is unlikely to shift, as Flick’s style strongly resembles Guardiola-ball in the defensive phase. If Lyon manage to play their way out of Bayern’s counterpress, they are more than capable of punishing the Bavarians with pace and lethality. This is a young, physical team — not old and slow like Barcelona. Hansi Flick had better watch out.
Lyon had two plans, and they were executed to perfection
Lyon will certainly give Bayern Munich loads of problems. Rudi Garcia prepared two plans to nullify and dispatch Manchester City, and he’s unlikely to make many changes come the Bayern game on Wednesday.
Plan #1 involves the scenario where Lyon are level with the opponent. The entire team pushes up cautiously, up beyond their own third, and directly fights for the ball with the opposition midfield. Whichever balls are won are immediately sent forward to the attackers, either by hoofing it up the pitch or sending a through-ball to the forwards. The forwards roam between the opposition center halves, looking for the moment to strike.
It’s fiendishly simple, but a good choice against a possession-based, offensive system like that of Guardiola (or Flick). However, if Lyon played like that the entire game, they’d be gassed by the 70th minute. That’s where Garcia’s second plan came in. Upon scoring, the French side immediately gave ground and settled into a low-medium blow, with the forwards pressing the City defenders and dropping back to defend when needed. This system was more defensively stable, and also preserved the stamina of Lyon’s midfielders as it required far less running.
It’s a credit to Lyon that they were able to switch between plan 1 and plan 2 at the drop of a hat. When De Bruyne scored an equalizer, most would’ve expected City to establish a stranglehold on the game and choke the life out of Lyon. But Les Gones immediately came out of their shell and started pressing higher up the pitch, eventually forcing City into conceding the second goal, which effectively killed the tie.
How these tactics will hold up against Bayern Munich remains to be seen. Flick’s system is much more intense than Pep’s, with more gegenpressing — but that also means that it leaves more gaps behind the defenders. Lyon have great mids in Caqueret, Guimares, and Aouar, who could give Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka a run for their money. How will Hansi Flick deal with this latest (and unexpected) threat? We’ll just have to wait and find out.
P.S. Leroy Sane probably wouldn’t have missed that Sterling chance. City fans, you know this to be true.