Follow the Ball – Game 12: Lyon v Paris Saint-Germain

For anyone joining the Follow the Ball project two months in, throughout 2016 I have the simple aim of watching more football. To achieve that I am going to watch a series of matches in a Winner Stays On style. After starting with Arsenal thanks to the Twitter poll, they were dethroned by Chelsea in the Premier League, who remained in charge of the story before PSG showed up 12 days ago and took this adventure onto the continent.

Game 8: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 7th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

Game 9: Chelsea (c) 5-1 Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League, Saturday 13th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

Game 10: Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea (c)
UEFA Champions League, Tuesday 16th February 2016, Parc des Princes

Game 11: Paris Saint-Germain (c) 4-1 Stade de Reims
Ligue 1, Saturday 20th February 2016, Parc des Princes

As I reflected on Paris’ win last weekend in Ligue 1 and kept track of movement in both the Champions League and Europa League; it dawned on me that the Ligue 1 leaders are now the only French team left in continental competition (Marseille said goodbye to the Europa League at the hands of Athletic Club during the week).

If Laurent Blanc’s side happen to lose any of their domestic matches it is highly likely that I’ll spend the next few months following French football. That could be quite interesting.

Game 12: Lyon vs Paris Saint-Germain
Ligue 1, Sunday 28th February 2016, Parc Olympique Lyonnais

The Skinny: This is nearly as big as it gets in France – it should be noted that I am certainly not ignoring Marseille. The top two teams in Ligue 1 last year facing off and the current dominant force (PSG) taking on the most recent juggernaut of the domestic game (Lyon won seven titles in seven seasons between 2001/02 and 2007/08). It could be an thoroughly entertaining match, with both teams keen for success.

Paris Saint-Germain could be league champions within a matter of days. Monaco’s 0-0 draw early in the day on Sunday means that the Ligue 1 leaders go into tonight’s game 23 points ahead with Monaco only able to win 30 points more from their 10 remaining games. Wins against Lyon and Montpellier – the last team other than PSG to win the title – could be enough for them to wrap up the crown.

For Lyon, there is the chance to ruin Paris’ incredible unbeaten run in Ligue 1. Picking through the players in the squad, I get the impresion that they could do it. Although some of that reasoning relies on Olympique Lyonnais actually having a full team to choose from and playing to their very best. There are quite a few first team players that will be missing from the match. Samuel Umtiti, Christophe Jallet, Clément Grenier, Corentin Tolisso, Mathieu Valbuena and Nabil Fékir would all probably start if they were not injured/suspended; and as such it may just be a little too much to expect of Lyon.

It also doesn’t help that the home team have a terrible recent record against Les Rouge-et-Bleu. They have met four times already this season (French Super Cup, Ligue 1, French League Cup and French Cup) and PSG have won all four, scoring 12 times and conceding only twice. Five of those Paris goals have come inside the opening 30 minutes.

If the home team are going to mark their first clash with Paris Saint-Germain at their brand-new stadium with a positive result, they will need to start strongly, play to the fullest of their ability for the entire game while hoping the league leaders have an off-day and/or grow quickly frustrated. It may just come off.

The Match: Well, Lyon were pretty great. They started well and sort of didn’t let up. Paris Saint-Germain were allowed possession but where Stade Reims backed off until it ultimately cost them goals, Lyon harried the league leaders, disrupted their attacks and really limited their chances. It was a tremendous all-round performance and Laurent Blanc had no complaints. After the match, the PSG manager held his hands and said: “Lyon walked all over us and we had no answer,” although one suspects it is much easier to be graceful in defeat when you’ve just enjoyed a 36 match unbeaten run.

Lyon scored two excellent goals (the highlights are available on YouTube) and totally deserved their two goal lead at half-time. Even without the list of household names that were missing, they took the game to PSG. Playing with nothing to lose in a single game is much easier to do than trying to maintain a title challenge, but the signs – albeit based on a single performance – are good for Lyon. The young players throughout the team went toe-to-toe with the best in the league and left them with a bloody nose.

Paris Saint-Germain had just shot shots on goal in the second half. They were choked of any decent service in the final third. There were few, if any, positives to take from their performance.

Gregory van der Wiel did look last week against Reims and I assumed he would be capable of Serge Aurier for the rest of the season. Unfortunately he was exposed by Lyon’s exciting young forward Maxwel Cornet – almost certainly a future member of the #IBWM100, and the lack of a decent back-up may put some pressure Blanc and Paris to consider reinstating Aurier to the first team squad. A replacement that matches Aurier’s quality and youth will be really hard to find.

Sergi Darder’s goal was worthy of winning any game. That first touch = *fire emoji*

The Result: Lyon 2-1 Paris Saint-Germain

Lyon’s win lifts them from eighth to third(!) in the Ligue 1 table and re-ignites their hopes of catching Monaco to claim the second automatic Champions League spot. The gap currently sits at eight points but if they can build on a victory over the previously unstoppable league champions, a run of victories could be in their very near future.

Paris Saint-Germain were very poor; not that it will matter in the grand scheme of things.

What’s next? Lyon vs Guingamp in Ligue 1

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