Here are five talking points, as Lyon’s unbeaten Champions League run this season continued after earning a valuable goalless draw vs. La Liga champions Barcelona.
Lyon‘s unbeaten run in this year’s Champions League has continued, after the French outfit held La Liga champions Barcelona to a credible goalless draw during an enthralling encounter at the Groupama Stadium.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was forced into making a number of excellent saves, particularly from Houssem Aouar and Morgan Terrier, with the latter’s shot spectacularly tipped onto the crossbar by the German goalkeeper.
Despite creating plenty of promising opportunities, Barca failed to make the most of them. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele all squandered chances, whilst some last-ditch defending by Leo Dubois and Jason Denayer saved Lyon’s blushes as well.
Lyon had key man Nabil Fekir watching on in the stands, with the World Cup winner serving his suspension. Although they didn’t score, there were some impressive displays particularly from midfield duo Tanguy Ndombele and Aouar, both of whom have been linked with moves to Europe’s best clubs in recent months.
With three weeks until the return leg in Spain and a positive result for Lyon to take with them, no away goals conceded, let’s take a look at five talking points from an intriguing encounter:
#5 Lyon’s Fekir-shaped creative hole missed
Nabil Fekir’s absence was always going to be felt by the hosts, considering his importance to Lyon’s attacking capabilities. After all, he has netted 11 goals and created five more across all competitions this term to date.
However, his suspension provided an opportunity for Memphis Depay to display his versatility in the number ten role – while offering Moussa Dembele a chance centre-stage as their lone forward.
Fekir has just over a year left on his existing deal and with speculation linking him with a big-money move, this was a test of Lyon’s adaptability. They collectively passed the test and created some good chances, but also saw other promising moves break down in their tracks.
That was ultimately down to Memphis – who disappointed – while Dembele was regularly left isolated and didn’t utilise the ball well when it came to him. The pair were dispossessed on 12 occasions over the 90 minutes, which frankly isn’t good enough against a Barca side that can counter to devastating effect.
Thankfully for the hosts, they ultimately didn’t. But this is the type of opposition Depay and Dembele must be excelling against, given their public aspirations to be mixing amongst Europe’s best in recent seasons. Fekir would have offered them more, that’s for sure.
#4 Valverde’s safe selections fail to pay off
Barcelona’s conservative approach under Ernesto Valverde has come in for some criticism in recent months, particularly when they struggle to beat teams who set up to defend and physically impose themselves in midfield.
We’ve seen it against Athletic Bilbao, Girona, Valencia and Inter Milan already this season – teams are gradually getting better at frustrating Barca under this existing tactic, which is predictable and rather has flexibility under Valverde.
The 4-3-3 formation has its strengths and weaknesses. But against a Lyon side with Aouar and Ndombele in midfield, picking Sergi Roberto over Arturo Vidal or Philippe Coutinho is questionable.
Sergio Busquets is already a deep-lying midfielder, while Ivan Rakitic has shown the capability to do both – attack and defend – though he’s better suited further forward. Why pick the safe option? Malcom was again an unused substitute, but in a game where they were dominant as time wore on, why not introduce the Brazilian winger to further stretch Lyon’s backline?
Coutinho did more in less than half-an-hour than Dembele in 65 minutes, with the Frenchman’s decision-making again coming into question. Why was the substitution not made earlier? These safe decisions ultimately cost the visitors what would have been a valuable away goal.
#3 Lopes and ter Stegen in battle of goalkeepers
Lyon started brightly and could’ve found themselves two goals ahead, but for important saves by ter Stegen. The German goalkeeper, 26, has been in fine form this season and again displayed his value with crucial stops to deny Aouar and Terrier from just outside the box.
He kept another clean sheet, his 13th of the campaign across all competitions, but it was the work of his opposite number that stood out as Barcelona failed to score for only the third time all season.
Lopes made crucial saves to deny the visitors’ frontline throughout, while showing great anticipation and timely decision-making to rush out, closing down angles whenever probing through balls were played in-and-around his six-yard box.
That was especially the case as he forced Messi into wider areas to make him miss, while Busquets, Suarez and Coutinho all went close. Lopes was dependable as the hosts’ last line of defence, as Lyon worked tirelessly to earn a valuable result and his first Champions League clean sheet this season while doing so.
#2 Jason Denayer excels at heart of Lyon’s backline
If this time two years ago you’d told Denayer that he’d be starting in a Champions League knockout fixture against Barcelona, he’d probably have laughed in disbelief. That’s how much he’s progressed after four loan spells at three clubs – Celtic, Galatasaray and Sunderland – since Manchester City loaned him out as a teenager.
Now 23, he has settled quickly to life in France and excelled against a fearsome Barca trident, albeit one who are misfiring at present. Their form didn’t matter though, as matching up against Dembele, Messi and Suarez is always a troublesome task even on the off-chance they’re all struggling.
He was arguably Lyon’s best performer, barring goalkeeper Lopes, as the hosts were made to work hard for their clean sheet. Comfortable in possession, he distributed out from the back confidently and even under pressure from Barca’s forwards, didn’t look flustered.
Four interceptions, seven clearances, two blocked shots and no fouls committed. An impressive showing by the 23-year-old, who continues to develop and this experience will prove invaluable going forward.
#1 Barca attack stifled, Suarez’s shooting struggles continue
Barcelona recorded an eyewatering 25 shots, but only registered five on target against Lyon on this occasion. That’s both worrying and speaks volumes for the Spanish league leaders’ attacking struggles, and placing the increasing workload on Lionel Messi’s shoulders to carry them to victory.
Messi couldn’t here, but that was not for want of trying: he created a game-high five key passes, completed five dribbles (joint-high with Ndombele) while showing a willingness to press from the front and be unselfish (two tackles, 91.4% pass accuracy) but it ultimately proved futile. Nine shots – most of them blocked – typified a forgettable creative display.
Dembele, who has often flattered to deceive and frustrates with his hesitant decision-making, again displayed flashes but were too infrequent.
Racing beyond fullback Leo Dubois as though he wasn’t even there after just 30 seconds was a welcoming sight to see. Perhaps motivated among home comforts, back in France for the first time since leaving Stade Rennais three years ago, he often tried too much on the flanks and over-complicated attacks.
He saw one effort flash narrowly wide from just outside the box, while forcing Lopes into a close-range save after a left-footed strike at his near post. Regularly opting to dribble past too many players and relinquish possession or kill the momentum of attacks easily, it set the tone for Barca’s attackers – they were all visibly frustrated and knew Lyon, despite their defensive solitude, were there for the taking.
Perhaps more worryingly though, was Luis Suarez’s display. He has only scored two goals in his last ten matches and five in 2019. For a player of his world-class quality, considering all the chances Barca create on a regular basis, that’s just not good enough.
Again, this was an issue here. His passing was inaccurate (77.1%), sloppy in possession and he lacked the type of sharp decision-making you’d expect from someone of his ability.
Four shots, three key passes, 54 touches, two interceptions – you couldn’t argue that he was isolated or not given adequate service. Instead, he misfired wildly from a great opportunity after Jordi Alba’s cutback in the box while annoyed whenever Dembele opted to shoot or dribble, rather than pass to him!
Stats’ source: WhoScored