Bayern Munich made history yet again this season when they clobbered Barcelona in a 8-2 rout in the UCL quarter finals. Flick’s side is making a good argument for being considered the best Bayern team ever, and for good reason. Their fluid football, beautiful passing, lung-busting press, and exploitation of space have never been better.
However, in the semifinals, Bayern will face an opponent that has emerged as the David to two Goliaths (Juventus and Manchester City), beating the odds and emerging victorious against the best of Italy and England. Lyon are the surprise package in the last 4; they finished 7th in a curtailed Ligue 1 season, and no one would have believed they would have come this far earlier this season.
Lyon are a formidable opponent — hear me out on this. They are well suited to expose the few weaknesses in this Bayern side, so Flick and co. must be vigilant if they wish to make it to the finals. Here are five reasons why Lyon will prove a tough challenge:
1. Underdog status
Let’s be honest here, Bayern are clear universal favourites to win this tie. Many feel that the mere fact that Lyon has come this far is in itself a utopian achievement and that the waters of the semis may be too murky and too deep for them to navigate. This underdog status, though, has given them the edge over their opponents. Complacency is always exploited in the Champions League. Juventus and Man City found themselves on the receiving end due to errors and underestimating their opponent.
Pep Guardiola experimented against Lyon with Bayern in mind, and the test tube ended up exploding all over his face. Bayern cannot make the same mistake and should learn from Lyon’s past games to see that all they require is a few lapses in concentration that the French can utilize to frightening effect. Since all these ties are one-off, knockout matches, they should be treated as 50-50 games, the odds spread out equally, even though history and stat sheets may say otherwise.
2. Rudi Garcia’s tactics
Lyon have been a completely different beast in the Champions League, and a lot of their exploits can be attributed to the man at the helm, Rudi Garcia. Against Juventus and City, he set Lyon up in a very compact formation that was capable of alternating between periods of intense pressing and astute defending. The players pressed at the beginning of the game and when the tempo slowed down, forcing errors and capitalizing on mistakes. They then switched to a defensively compact setup to prevent any goal opportunities for their opponents by suffocating the passing lanes between the midfield and attack.
A very noteworthy aspect of his tactics is that they are very flexible; Garcia doesn’t adhere strictly to tiki-taka or gegenpressing or dynamic counter-attacking football. Instead, he plays with his formation and aligns the players according to the course of the game. He can also alter the run of play with his substitutions — Moussa Dembélé came in as a sub to bag two goals against City. This match may truly be a tactical tussle of the highest order.
3. Quick, lethal attack
Lyon’s attack is lightning quick, and that is a fact. Memphis Depay and Toko Ekambi are predatory striker-winger hybrids: they love to run in behind the defense and exploit the huge half spaces teams tend to leave when pressing further up the pitch. Supported by an able wing cast of Maxwel Cornet and Léo Dubois, this attack will wreak havoc on any careless defense.
Bayern have a high-intensity pressing game, and they tend to venture deep into the opponent’s half to force breakthroughs, especially against teams that tend to drop back and let Bayern have possession. Alaba and Boateng tend to venture across the halfway line to switch play and feed through-balls, which could play right into Lyon’s hands. As we saw against City, a single ball over the top is enough to send their attackers blazing past towards goal. This is definitely something coach Flick will have to keep in mind while dealing with the French side.
4. The midfield battle
In Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka Bayern boast two superb midfielders, with so much quality that they could arguably win any midfield battle at the moment. Of course, whether Kimmich might start in midfield is another question, but Bayern’s midfielders will definitely be tested when facing Lyon. The French side usually deploy a three-man midfield, with quality players — Aouar, Guimarães, and Caqueret forming a trident, working in triangles, closing down channels and helping both attack and defense.
A lot of the game could boil down to which side wins this battle. Whichever setup Flick chooses to go with, it will be crucial for the Bayern midfielders to make sure that they are able to disrupt the link between Lyon’s midfield and attack. All 3 of the aforementioned midfielders are good dribblers, can act as play-makers, and can dictate play from deep. It would require a well concerted team effort to stifle them.
5. It’s a knockout game, remember!
This is one major factor that falls in favour of Lyon. Since these are one-legged ties, the odds are more balanced than one might think. This definitely benefits Lyon, as they will only have to endure this Bayern side for 90 minutes. They will ideally want to take an early lead and defend for the rest of the game.
Bayern, however, are well equipped to face Lyon, and if they proceed with vigilance and the hunger and determination that they’ve demonstrated the previous few games, this UCL game is theirs to lose.