The quality of Lyon’s play this season has never been in doubt; only their consistency.
Their campaign has been laced with fine performances, from their scintillating victory over Manchester City in the Champions League in September to dominant 3-0 success over Monaco shortly before Christmas.
Yet perhaps their greatest achievement came last Sunday, when they laid waste to Paris Saint-Germain’s target of invincibility thanks to a much-deserved 2-1 win at Parc OL.
Moussa Dembele (£1.98) headed Bruno Genesio’s side level after they had conceded against the run of play to Angel Di Maria (£2.02) early on. Only the athleticism of Alphonse Areola (£0.99) in the visiting net prevented them from extending that lead before Nabil Fekir (£5.56) converted a penalty early in the second half after the bullish Dembele, who played his best game to date for OL, had won the kick against his formative club.
And thereafter Lyon proved they are capable of successfully playing in more than one manner. Having sustained a thrilling pressing game in the first period, they dropped deep and persistently rebuffed their opponents, with Jason Denayer (£0.88) immense in defence and Anthony Lopes (£0.55) at his athletic best in goal.
“I saw tonight that my team have really made progress,” Genesio said after the game. “The game plan was simple, but we still had to put it together out on the pitch. We decided to push high up pitch and go after them. You open yourself up playing in this way, but you also give yourself a chance to win it, as was the case tonight. We knew we were capable of beating them.”
It is a result that sets them up well for the remainder of the season, not only in terms of their immediate league position – they are now six-points clear of fourth-placed Saint-Etienne in the race for the Champions League – but psychologically it should provide a major boost, too.
Already thoughts are drifting towards the Champions League meeting with Barcelona at home on February 19 and the victory over PSG has given the Rhone outfit genuine belief that they can match the Catalans.
Perhaps what was most vital about the win over the capital side was the return to form of Nabil Fekir, whose level at the start of the year had dipped somewhat. He was involved in both goals and though not at his absolute best, seems to be regaining his strength for the climax of the campaign.
“Against Barcelona, it will be a different match but to have a good result against PSG augers well,” he said.
Certainly, with Thomas Tuchel’s side somewhat out of sorts at present, there is a feeling that Lyon will have to go up another gear, but they are capable of that, particularly with a player as mercurial as Memphis Depay (£3.88) in their ranks.
The Dutchman has recently spoken of his desire to return to one of the elite European sides, and if he is to get that chance, it is upon the Champions League stage that he will have to shine.
— Football Index (@FootballIndexUK) January 29, 2019
He has been protected from a disappointing run of form by his team’s exploits in recent weeks, but with just one assist to his name in his last nine Ligue 1 outings, there is little doubt that he could be performing better.
However, there were signs against PSG that he is starting to come to life again, with a couple of very smart cameos during the match.
Indeed, Lyon cannot yet afford to be caught fixating on Barcelona, which is a match still nearly a fortnight away, or basking in the glory of last Sunday’s victory.
“We can’t afford to go on and on about this game,” right-back Leo Dubois warned last weekend.
Genesio, meanwhile, has set his sights on catching Lille and finishing second, with apparently little margin for error in that chase, which OL start with a three-point handicap.
Ligue 1 matches against Nice and Guingamp (yet again) must be negotiated before Lionel Messi & Co. visit, and while Lyon’s season has proven that anything is possible, they approach this crucial period in as strong a shape as ever.