Eletiofe Lyon should take Bayern Munich's lead and adopt an...

Lyon should take Bayern Munich’s lead and adopt an attacking mentality | Eric Devin

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And so Lyon’s odyssey ends. After upsetting Juventus and Manchester City, Rudi Garcia and his team were unable to spring a third shock in a fortnight, losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals. Lyon went down with a fight though, giving as good as they got for most of the match, with some fine saves by Manuel Neuer and an outstanding performance from Serge Gnabry enough to make the gap between the two sides that much clearer. The real difference between the teams, though, was the way they approached the match. Whereas Lyon set out to hide their weaknesses, Bayern tried to emphasise their own strengths. That positivity was telling on the night.

Lyon also suffered from some woeful finishing – and decision-making – from Karl Toko Ekambi, who was picked for his pace and movement rather than his goalscoring touch. Hindsight is always 20/20 and there will be plenty of armchair managers eager to criticise Garcia for leaving out Moussa Dembélé, who came off the bench against Manchester City in the quarter-finals and scored a brace. Lyon had a poor night in front of goal, with Memphis Depay also so off target that questions are being asked in the French press about his fitness and the wisdom of including him from the start.

More than anything, though, Lyon were up against a Bayern team that was not only more talented, but also well organised and set up to play to their strengths. Juventus’ creaking 4-4-2 and Pep Guardiola’s lumbering trio of defensive midfielders could do little to break down a Lyon defence that had grown ever more comfortable in a 3-5-2. Yet Bayern, by relying on the movement of Thomas Müller and the pace of Alphonso Davies and Gnabry, were able to attack Lyon in a way that exposed a system designed to hide Lyon’s frailties at the back, making for a relatively comfortable win, even on a night when Robert Lewandowski was well below his incisive best.

Lyon adopted this tactical setup for a number of reasons, primarily because they could not find an ideal partner for Jason Denayer in the centre of defence. Marcelo, despite his aerial ability, is simply too slow; Joachim Andersen is too naive and error-prone. By playing three at the back, Marcelo could be insulated from the speed of players such as Davies or Gnabry. So Marcelo played at the centre of defence with Denayer and converted left-back Marçal flanking him, and the full-backs, Léo Dubois and Maxwel Cornet, pushed higher up the pitch but not so high that they would forsake their defensive duties.

This had worked a charm against Manchester City. Denayer and Marçal were able to step up and pressure the ball outside of their area, limiting the impact of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. Against Bayern, though, the searing pace of Gnabry was simply too much for the burgeoning relationship between Cornet and Marçal on the left side of the Lyon defence. Gnabry found the seams far too easily, exemplified by his move inside for the opening goal. With Davies bombing forward on the opposite flank, Dubois was also pinned back. By offering a balanced attacking threat, Bayern nullified Lyon’s ability to counter from wide positions.

One might argue that Bayern were merely doing what they always do, but Hansi Flick’s decision not to be experimental with his tactics, as Maurizio Sarri and Guardiola had been in the previous rounds, made Bayern comfortable. In contrast to City, the Bayern players did not have to learn a new system in a high-pressure situation. Flick understands his players’ best qualities and chose a tactical setup that emphasised their strengths. That simplicity told on the night – as it has done throughout the season.

Of course, Bayern are a richer club than Lyon and Flick has better players to work with. Anthony Lopes has been superb since football’s return, keeping the likes of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo at bay, but there is something to be said for a goalkeeper who is constantly on his toes. Neuer had a relatively quiet evening but, on the few occasions when Lyon made it through the Bayern defence, he came up trumps, closing down the angle on Depay in the first half and getting in a vital block on Toko Ekambi midway through the second half. At times a moment of individual quality is all that is needed to turn a match and Bayern Munich have a squad of players who can produce such moments.

Serge Gnabry gives Bayern Munich the lead.
Serge Gnabry gives Bayern Munich the lead. Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/AFP/Getty Images

Neuer was not the only Bayern player who showed his brilliance. Whereas Gnabry was clinical in front of goal, Depay and Toko Ekambi simply lacked the quality to do the same. Neither player is really a centre-forward by trade and neither has scored from open play in Lyon’s four matches since the restart. One must wonder if Depay’s outsize character holds back his team at times. Lyon’s 3-5-2 system helps shore up their leaky defence, but it also leaves them blunt in attack and it is not necessarily a good fit for Depay. His best work at the club has never been in a central role, but when he cuts inside off the left in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, two systems that would have left Lyon exposed at the back.

Depay sees himself as a striker, and not without some justification given how well he has played in that role for the Netherlands. However, he has done his best work at Lyon while playing alongside orthodox centre-forward, whether that be Alexandre Lacazette, Mariano Díaz, or, in the current edition of the team, Dembélé.

Lyon went so far in the competition because they worked as a team, highlighted in particular by the bustling midfield performances delivered by Maxence Caqueret and Houssem Aouar. Yet Depay does not really fit that mould. He does not press from the front or pull wide to draw defenders out of position. Garcia may have been better served by partnering Toko Ekambi with Dembélé from the start and using Depay from the bench.

In the end, though, by trying to hide their weaknesses rather than emphasising their strengths – as Bayern did so skilfully – Lyon discovered that, despite their collective spirit, they were simply lacking a cutting edge.

The club is now at a crossroads. Garcia has taken them to the semi-finals of the Champions League for only the second time in their history yet he remains unpopular with some fans. Meanwhile, Juninho’s merits as a sporting director remain specious at best, given he has spent the best part of €100m on a group of players who were largely on the bench in Lisbon. With Aouar likely to leave in search of European football, the hope is that Garcia will learn from Flick and approach next season with a newfound positivity. Lyon showed they have a great team spirit in Lisbon. If they combine that togetherness with an attacking mindset, they could return to greatness – something that seemed very far away indeed some five months ago.

• This is an article from Get French Football News

• Follow Eric Devin
and GFFN on Twitter

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