Lyon in the Driving Seat for Champions League Qualification

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 19: Memphis Depay of Lyon in action during the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Olympique Lyonnais (OL) at Parc des Princes stadium on March 19, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Paris Saint Germain suffered only their second league defeat this campaign when they visited Lyon at the Parc OL on Sunday night. Bruno Genesio’s team won 2-1 with the winner coming from former Manchester United player Memphis Depay. PSG are still eight points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table and this loss looks only like a minor blip in a season where they should go on to reclaim the title.

For Lyon though, this was a significant victory. Not only did it return them to second position in the table, but it also showed that they are capable of outplaying the best team in the division. The three points are obviously important for the team, but the belief this victory will give them is significant.

At the moment, only two points separate second from fourth in Ligue 1, with only the top three progressing to the Champions League and its preliminary knockout stage. Assuming that PSG will take the first spot, only two of Lyon, Marseille and Monaco can have a shot at qualifying for Europe’s premier competition. Every opportunity at this stage of the season must be availed of.

Lyon in the Driving Seat for Champions League Qualification

Lyon

Following their impressive victory over the league leaders, Lyon will hope to push on and cement themselves as the second-best team in Ligue 1. Captain Nabil Fekir has been at the heart of their ascent, with only Edinson Cavani outscoring him in the division. Youth prospect Houssem Aouar has been in blistering form too, putting in strong performances from central midfield.

Lyon are yet to play away to Monaco and Marseille which could prove to be tough fixtures, despite their strong away form, but they are a team with few weaknesses. They possess several players capable of scoring 10 or more goals in a season, a strong central midfield and a talented goalkeeper. It is hard to see Genesio’s men finishing outside of the top three this season.

Many thought that Lyon could suffer from the loss of star striker Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal, but the club have replaced him well with the purchase of Mariano Díaz and the revitalisation of Memphis Depay after his torrid time in the Premier League. Lyon may have lost a key player, but they have developed their team to have multiple threats in front of goal which has benefited them enormously.

Monaco

Monaco are the team presently sitting outside of the Champions League spots, and they still have trips to the Stade Velodrome and the Parc des Princes to come. Unfortunately for them, they have been poor away from home and will need a turnaround in form to beat either Marseille or PSG.

Overall, the principality has failed to replicate last season’s success following the sales of some of their most promising players. Young talents Keita Baldé and Youri Tielemans were purchased, but they are not on the same level as Bernardo Silva or Kylian Mbappé who went the other way.

Although they will be able to develop these young footballers, Monaco are ultimately a team who do not keep players for a significant amount of time. Current Vice President Vadim Vasilyev is quoted in The Telegraph as saying “we understand that we are basically a selling club”. Despite the heroic run to the Champions League semi-final last season, the club harbours no real ambition to keep their best players and push on. This makes their task of reaching the top three come the end of the season that bit harder.

Marseille

It is fair to say that not many people expected Marseille to be challenging seriously for the Champions League spots this year. After a financial crisis, American investor Frank McCourt purchased the club and invested straight away. Manager Rudi Garcia brought in many new faces, though the club purchased a lot of older heads, which was a potential concern. Nevertheless, this gamble has paid off, and the experience of Marseille’s team has led them to third in the table.

What the club still lacks is a deadly striker. Valère Germain deputised well for Monaco in their title-winning season but is not so reliable as a starter. Kostas Mitroglou was signed to lead the line, but his time at the Velodrome has been a disaster. Barring form player Florian Thauvin, Marseille do not have a single player in double digits for goals this season, compared with three for Lyon.

Garcia has still led Marseille to their best start to the season in years, though, and they have reason to be optimistic looking at the fixtures. OM boast a strong home record and are yet to host Monaco or Lyon. The only complicated match left in the calendar is an away match in Paris. If Marseille can see out their games against weaker opposition, they will fancy their chances to play in the Champions League next season.

Verdict

Following their victory against Paris Saint Germain and the quality of their forwards, Lyon are the favourites to finish behind the current league leaders. They have a well-balanced team and if they can hold on to their best players in the summer, could pose a threat in Europe next season.

That leaves Monaco and Marseille to fight over the last qualification spot. This Sunday, the two face off in the Stade Velodrome in what will be a crucial match. Marseille will hope to take advantage of Monaco’s relatively poor away form and continue their streak of five consecutive wins at home, but Leonardo Jardim’s team possess far more ruthlessness in front of goal than their south coast rivals. Whatever happens, it is going to be an intriguing encounter.

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