It may be hard to believe it after watching his performance against Manchester City on Wednesday night, but Nabil Fekir is not yet firing on all cylinders.
The Lyon attacker orchestrated his side’s stunning 2-1 upset at the Etihad Stadium, striking what proved to be the decisive goal of the game with a low drive from range that slipped through John Stones’ legs before fizzing into the corner of Ederson’s net.
Had Liverpool not beaten Paris Saint-Germain quite so emphatically 24 hours earlier, it would have been a goal to turn the red half of Merseyside green with envy, for they were on the verge of signing him this summer before the deal dramatically broke down at the last.
Any concerns that the collapsed transfer may have had an adverse effect on a player who has also been previously linked with Barcelona have now been obliterated, however.
Following his involvement at World Cup 2018, where he was primarily a prominent replacement, he has been ushered back into the Lyon fold gently. He did not feature in either of the opening two Ligue 1 matches of the season and was only handed his first start immediately prior to the international break, during which head coach Bruno Genesio appreciated his star man’s work load would be lessened.
Sixty-five minutes of last weekend’s Ligue 1 match with Caen, in which he scored, were enough to keep him sharp for the trip to Manchester to face last season’s runaway Premier League winners.
It was at the Etihad that he really peaked for the first time this term. He misplaced only seven passes from 45 – a fine ratio for a player of such an attacking mindset – and set up three shots for team-mates in the process.
But while he turned in a performance of a high technical level, it was matched with an attitude on a par. Neymar, lacklustre for PSG the previous day, could have learned a lot by watching his display.
Aside from his goal, the 25-year-old worked tremendously hard defensively, supplementing a midfield that dominated City physically for long periods.
According to Opta’s stats, no one contested as many duels over the course of the game as Fekir’s 19, and doubts over his physical attributes were surely obliterated by the fact he won 61% of these. Only Tanguy Ndombele (84%), Pape Cheikh (67%) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (64%) boasted better figures in the game of players who had been involved in at least five such battles.
It is surely no coincidence that as their star man peaked, Lyon did too. While there are many talented individuals in the OL side, Memphis Depay among them, none is as capable of making a match-winning difference.
Fekir has had a hand in seven goals in his last nine matches with his club, chipping in with four strikes and a further three decisive passes – and in four of these fixtures he has been building his physical level from the summer.
And it is a process, too, that is ongoing. He lasted 79 minutes of Lyon’s victory before being replaced by Lucas Tousart, exhausted after an industrious display.
Genesio will have to go on managing his star man in the foreseeable future, too. OL are in the midst of a 22-day period in which they will play seven matches, climaxing with a fixture against PSG at Parc des Princes.
There will be no rest, however, for the 19-time capped France international on Sunday as Marseille come calling. And there is little doubt that he is ready for an Olympic tussle.