In an unexpected turn of events, Olympique Lyonnais have emerged as the next challenge in Bayern Munich’s quest for UEFA Champions League glory. The two sides will meet for the first time since 2010 in the one-off semifinal tie of the competition.
Having demolished Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich are now seen as the overwhelming favorites to win their sixth Champions League trophy. However, Lyon have not had an easy path either. They managed to eliminate Juventus in the round-of-16 and defeated competition favorites Manchester City in the quarterfinals. Their team plays with a lot of grit and will surely not make things easy for the Bavarians.
Since the restart, Les Gones have played five friendlies, the Coupe de la Ligue final, and two UCL matches. In five out of his last seven matches, Rudi Garcia implemented a 3-man defense system. This system has some glaring weaknesses that will play right into Bayern’s hands. Here’s how Hansi Flick can exploit them:
Garcia’s back line is frequently exposed due to the structural and tactical problems that come with playing three center-backs.
When Lyon play out from the back, the players position themselves far from each other. As a result, they struggle to hold the ball under pressure.
The team’s back line also sometimes lacks coordination and positional discipline. Their wide center-backs tend to get lured out of position. As a result, opponents regularly exploit the half-spaces on both sides of the defense.
Thomas Müller and Bayern wingers will be tasked with exploiting this area. Müller’s “half-space specialty” is well-known but Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman’s pace will be crucial as well.
Although Raheem Sterling had a poor game by his standards, he was a constant thorn in the side of Lyon’s defense. He frequently used his pace to make runs in the left half-space. At Bayern, “Chef” Gnabry has a knack of making well-timed runs and Coman has the ability to control the ball in tight spaces. Both are blessed with great sprinting power and will surely look to exploit those spaces around the Lyon defense.
Adapting to phases of play
Lyon’s midfield deserves great credit for their success in the tournament so far. Their three midfielders work closely in the center to close down vertical passing lanes and, consequently, push opponents to the wider areas. Depending on their phase of play, however, their midfield can be bypassed with skilled efforts.
When Lyon opts for a low block, it becomes difficult to penetrate their defense on the ground. The defense and midfield form a compact structure and close out spaces between the lines. In order to bypass this, long balls over-the-top will be a key asset. Opposition attackers who make well-timed and deep runs often catch Lyon defenders by surprise.
When the Lyon midfield initiates counter-pressing, they charge with four players and leave one at defensive midfield. In this case, they leave lots of space for players moving between the lines.
The Bavarians have the skill set and tactical acumen to adapt to both phases of Lyon’s game.
In Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, Bayern have a lethal center-back duo for executing visionary balls. Boateng was crucial in breaking down two of the most compact defenses of Bayern’s Rückrunde, FC Augsburg and Werder Bremen. Thomas Müller will provide the element of surprise at the front with his ghostly in-behind runs.
When the Lyon midfield moves out to apply pressure, Alaba’s vertical passing could help to bypass their press and break down their defense. In this case, Müller and Robert Lewandowski will get the freedom to roam between the lines and Bayern will thus be able to penetrate an unorganised Lyon back line.
Their numerical advantage also puts them at a disadvantage
The crux of Lyon’s strengths and weaknesses lies in creating numerical advantage in different phases of play.
Lyon players are instructed to charge in numbers in order to set up traps for the opposition ball carrier. But for players with superior ball skills, bypassing these traps is less of a challenge. Moreover, Lyon’s players remain static in terms of movement. As a result, when a trap is evaded, it frees up lots of space for the opposition team.
If a team is attacking in large numbers, it’s players need to be prepared to get behind the ball quickly. Lyon players have a habit of overwhelming the opposition by committing many players in the attack. However, if the opposition is able to clear the ball, it gives them a great opportunity to hit Lyon on the break. In such cases, Lyon players often miss the time-frame to quickly get behind the ball.
Hansi Flick’s squad consists of players who can escape Lyon’s defensive traps with their ball-playing skills and/or intelligence. Charging players like Coman, Thiago and Alaba in numbers only helps Bayern, as it creates lots of free space for the rest of their teammates. If Bayern back line is able to lure Lyon’s press, it can free up space in the middle areas of the pitch and help attackers run through Lyon’s defense.
Counter-attacks aren’t regularly seen in Bayern’s game, partly because most Bundesliga teams sit back and defend. But Bayern have managed to create danger from this attacking style on more than one occasion. As soon as the ball is won in defensive half, Bayern’s attacking quartet looks for ways to hit the opposition on the break. In this phase, their off-the-ball movement and sheer pace will be beneficial in exploiting Lyon defense.
Lyon’s defense possesses some blatant weaknesses that Manchester City should have been able to exploit. However, the cityzens discarded their usual system and simply replicated Lyon’s team structure in an attempt to outwit them. The move ultimately failed as Manchester City were forced to play with limited attacking options and formed the dreaded U-structure in their buildup.
Despite their obvious weaknesses, Lyon will field a team of eleven fighters. Rudi Garcia’s players can step-up when they need a goal or form a wall while defending. Bayern will have to be patient and maintain a razor-sharp focus for the full 90 minutes. Rest assured, coach Flick will prepare the team accordingly.