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Ligue 1: Olympique Lyonnais (Season Preview)

Article written by: @callumread

Olympique Lyon's Steed Malbranque (R) reacts with teammate Alexandre Lacazette after scoring against Stade Rennes during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Gerland stadium in Lyon August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Pratta (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

It’s common knowledge that in football that your pre-season doesn’t define your entire season, but it can certainly set the tempo for how you start. Yet in Lyon’s five pre-season games Lyon have lost four of them, conceding 13 goals and scoring two.  

Therefore there is certainly something to worry about for manager Houbert Fournier. He admitted that his side’s pre -season has been“disturbing”, following their 2-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Trophee des Champions. The harsh truth for Fournier is that his side really did not look like a title challenging side. If it was not for a mixture of poor finishing from PSG and Anthony Lopes in goal the margin could have been even greater.

Les Gones have serious issues and there is a belief amongst the fans that the players are not mentally attuned heading into the campaign. However admittedly, it must be remembered they were without big-name players Clement Grenier, Guida Fofana and Clinton N’Jie, who all missed the game through injury. Lyon’s creative outlet in Nabil Fekir was another key omission due to a suspension.

Ahead of the upcoming campaign, the first area that needs addressing is the defence. Lyon struggled in this department last season and at times looked like a bottom half side, saved only by their attacking prowess going forward. The heroics of Lopes in goal also saved the team’s blushes throughout the campaign and proved vital in securing Champions League football for this season. And as we all know, an over-reliance on the shot-stopper is a precarious game to play.

Veteran defenders Christophe Jallet and Henri Bedimo possess a great amount of experience but are the wrong side of 30. Younger alternatives are needed defence if the club want to resurrect their issues at the back. The addition of Rafael for a fee of £2 million is looks like a clever piece of a business, having big-game experience during his 169 games for Manchester United at such a cut-price deal. The Brazilian will be expected to take Jallet’s place in the side and improve the right-hand side of defence, with the Brazilian’s injection of pace and positional awareness.

Further summer acquisitions include forward Claudio Beauvue from Guingamp and defender Jeremy Morel who joined from Marseille on a free transfer and Lyon could still yet delve into the market once again before its doors shut at the end of the month. And given the improvements made to the defence, the next issue they may address later this window is in the midfield. Clement Grenier missed the majority of last season due to a number of different injuries and just when it looked like Lyon’s creative-midfielder was back for the new season, he tore a tendon in his left leg.

Three targets have been named in the French press as replacements for the somewhat injury prone Grenier. The first is Sergi Darder of Malaga, the 21-year-old came through the club’s academy system and has been touted as the best graduate since Isco. Lyon are reportedly in advanced negotiations with the Spanish midfielder and it will certainly be interesting to see if the promising youngster swaps La Liga for Ligue 1 this window. Inevitably, Darder would bring determination in every game and has a keen eye for passing. His attacking mentality and most notably his directness would suit the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and would be a great asset next season.

Another name among the rumours is Manchester City’s Rony Lopes. The attacking-midfielder played 23 times for Lille last season, scoring three goals and assisting three after joining on loan from Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Proving he can cut it in Ligue 1; he is a lot more creative than Darder, but his defensive contribution and passing still needs to be polished.

The final potential candidate is Mathieu Valbuena, who looks currently the most likely of the three to join Lyon on a season long loan. He spent the last year playing for Dynamo Moscow, assisting 11 goals and despite his age, would bring a lot of creativity and experience with him.

All three of the above potential signings would clearly be a gamble but they could easily pay-off for Fournier. But as with all transfers, they also have the chance to go incredibly wrong for the club.

The task now for Lyon is to reproduce their form from 2014-15. Finishing second in the Ligue 1 table was a massive achievement, but as we have seen in the past, teams can fade away just as quickly. Nobody had Les Gones down to challenge for the title before the start of last season and it is easy to forget that after the first four games they were languishing in the relegation zone. Clearly the side has the talent to win the league, but stopping PSG will also take a mammoth effort.

And without an evident surprise package heading into the season, Lyon may well struggle with Nabil Fekir now a marked man and Alexandre Lacazette on every teams radar as Lyon’s most potent goal-scoring threat. Will the Champions League prove to be a hindrance on their season or will competing in the tournament benefit the club in the long term? Only time will tell but at the end of the day we all know preseason is just a warm-up, but Lyon will certainly need to be at their best when Ligue 1 gets underway.

Article written by: @callumread

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