Saturday marked the nine-year anniversary of one of the most famous nights in the history of Olympique Lyonnais. On 16 February 2010, a 47th-minute goal by Jean Makoun was enough for the Ligue 1 side to beat the mighty Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash. Three weeks later, Lyon again upset the odds by drawing 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu and knocking their illustrious opponents out of Europe’s foremost club competition.
That 2-1 aggregate victory certainly represented a surprise, although it was perhaps not quite as big a shock as it may seem today. The 2009/10 campaign was the sixth in a row in which Madrid had suffered defeat in the round of 16, while Lyon – French champions every year between 2001 and 2008 – were then regular qualifiers for the knockout phase and went on to reach the semi-finals that same season.
The club’s European fortunes have subsequently moved in different directions. Madrid finally broke through the last-16 barrier in 2010/11 and are currently looking to win the tournament for the fifth time in the last six years; Lyon, meanwhile, have not been in the knockouts since 2012 – until the current campaign, that is.
Finishing above Manchester City at the top of Group F was always going to be a tall order for any of Hoffenheim, Shakhtar Donetsk or Lyon, but all three teams would have fancied their chances of qualifying when the draw was made last August. It was Bruno Genesio’s charges who ultimately won the race for second spot, as five draws and a victory – at the Eithad Stadium, no less – booked their place in the next round.
Lyon were deserving winners against City on matchday one.
They were sharp and dynamic on the counter-attack in the first half, going 2-0 up in the opening 45 minutes and then doing an excellent job of defending their lead after the break. They also performed well in a 2-2 draw with City back in France, as two goals from Maxwel Cornet protected their unbeaten record in the group.
Those contests with Pep Guardiola’s men are not the only example of Lyon raising their game for the big occasion. Paris Saint-Germain had not lost in Ligue 1 this season when they travelled to the Groupama Stadium last month, but they departed with their tails firmly between their legs after a 2-1 defeat which featured some exhilarating attacking play from the hosts.
Lyon are certainly an enjoyable team to watch, with an exciting front four of Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembele and Bertrand Traore capable of producing some fantastic football on their day. Hossem Aouar, 20, and the 22-year-old Tanguy Ndombele are both highly-rated midfield prospects, while 23-year-old defenders Ferland Mendy and Jason Denayer have also demonstrated their prodigious talent this term.
Barcelona will probably have too much for Lyon over two legs, especially if Lionel Messi performs anywhere close to his maximum level. The French outfit certainly have enough ability to cause an upset if the Catalans are complacent, though, particularly in Tuesday’s first leg on home soil. Nine years on from their famous victory over Real Madrid, Lyon would dearly love to stun their Clasico rivals too.
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