Today is the day of the penultimate 2020 UEFA Champions League Preview as we take a look at two of France’s biggest clubs, Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) and Paris Saint Germain (PSG).
Let’s kick things off with Lyon. Les Gones (The Kids) have been Champions League regulars in recent years, with their best achievement in the competition coming in the 2009/10 season when they reached the Semi Finals.
However, barring the unlikelihood of them lifting the trophy this year, Lyon will not be playing in the UCL next season – nor even the Europa League.
Coached by Rudi Garcia, the youthful side features an entertaining and potent attack force consisting of former Manchester United forward Memphis Depay, ex-Chelsea man Bertrand Traore, and the highly sought-after goal scorer Moussa Dembele. Yet even with statistically the second best attack in the league, OL have failed to live up to their pre-season credentials.
Due to Covid-19, France’s football league (Ligue 1) was immediately halted and the final standings were awarded to where the teams resided after 28 games (as opposed to the usual 38). This meant Lyon finished in 7th place, nine points off European qualification. A fall from grace for the club that won SEVEN consecutive Ligue 1 titles from 2001/02 to 2007/08.
In the UCL this season, Lyon were drawn alongside RB Leipzig, Benfica and Zent St. Petersburg in Group G. The French side just finished second in the fiercely contested table that saw just four points separating first and fourth.
In fact, on Matchday 6, OL looked to be heading out of the group as they were losing 2-0 to RB Leipzig and Benfica were beating Zenit 3-0. An impressive second half turn around saw Lyon come back to salvage a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from the highly talented youngster Houssem Aouar and the previously mentioned Memphis Depay.
After heroically battling their way through the group on the final day, Lyon were drawn against a dangerous-looking Juventus side.
Keeping just one clean sheet in the Group stages, it looked unlikely that Les Gones would be able to keep Cristiano Ronaldo & Co quiet…but they did just that.
In fact, they went one better than just holding the Italian champions to a nil-nil draw, OL won the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Lucas Tousart, beating Juventus for the first time in their history.
Heading to Turin with a goal advantage will give Lyon confidence, they have a lead to protect and have proven they can shut out The Old Lady once before. What may work against Lyon is the fact they’ve not played any meaningful competitive football since March, whereas Juve will be more than match-ready seeing as the Serie A is still yet to conclude.
A stellar defensive effort is needed, but the longer Lyon can keep the game level, the more I fancy them to pull off an upset and progress to the Quarter Finals…
Sticking in France, it’s time to see what Paris Saint Germain are all about.
Les Parisiens are one of the richest clubs in the world, and they have the players to show for it.
Explosive forwards Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe are the two most expensive transfers of all time (Neymar – €222 million from Barcelona and Mbappe €135 from Monaco).
All the money spent has paid off – domestically at least. PSG have won seven out of the last eight Ligue 1’s (Mbappe’s former side Monaco upset the odds to lift the trophy in 2016/17). But, rather like Manchester City, the elusive Champions League trophy has been out of their reach.
Despite reaching the Quarter Finals on five occasions since 2012, they haven’t reached the Semi Finals since 1995. Yep, that’s 25 years ago.
As expected of them, PSG blitzed Ligue 1 again this year. But their Champions League form has called for many pundits and fans alike to claim this could really be their year for UCL success.
Finishing top of Group A, above Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasary, Les Parisiens won five of their six games, and drew one. They scored a whopping 17 goals and conceded just two, the best defensive record of the competition.
Besides their group dominance, PSG were handed a very tricky draw in the Round of 16 against one of Europe’s most exciting sides, Borussia Dortmund.
History looked like it was on course to repeat itself and PSG fail to reach the latter stages of the competition once again after Dortmund won the first leg 2-1 thanks to a brace from Erling Braut Haaland. Neymar was on the scoresheet for PSG to give them hope heading into the second leg.
Neymar did what big players do in leg two, he stepped up again. Scoring inside the first half an hour to give PSG the advantage, physically and mentally. Juan Bernat popped up with a collector’s item of a goal just before half time to make it 2-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.
PSG progressed to the Quarter Finals where they have the extremely tough ask of keeping free-scoring Atalanta quiet. The same problem that faces OL against Juventus faces PSG against Atalanta. The French league fully stopped, whereas the Italian resumed.
PSG have been getting some friendlies in, but thrashing Belgian second division side Waasland-Beveren 7-0 isn’t exactly adequate UCL preparation.
However, should PSG overcome the Italian-sized obstacle of Atalanta, there’s no reason why they can’t reach the final. With potential future Ballon D’or winning forwards such as Neymar and Mbappe in your side, you always have a chance…
Could this finally be PSG’s year?