Sunday night’s match at the Stade du Moustoir in Lorient sees a meeting of two sides who exist in two sharply contrasting football universes. One the one hand, the responsibly run, inexpensively assembled but spirited side of Christian Gourcuff’s FC Lorient take on the might of the once dominant Lyon who have a squad that has cost big money to assemble and boasts a gaggle of international stars.
Both sides are currently preparing for the match from opposite ends of the spectrum too. FCL are coming into the tie on the back of a 4-0 hiding from Montpellier last week and Lyon are in the highest of spirits after their heroic yet controversial 7-1 victory over Dinamo Zagreb in Europe on Wednesday night. Gourcuff knows how to set his side up to defeat a larger, more expensively assembled side prone to suffering an individualist mentality when up against tough opposition and Lyon have dropped points in surprising games this season suggesting that a shock result could well be on the cards on Sunday night.
Lorient are currently sitting in ninth place in Ligue 1, their lowest ranking since matchweek four and are enjoying the fruits of Gourcuff’s unique approach to football management. His wise, yet economically assembled side have been punching above their weight this season thanks to the help of a few stars who have seen their careers revived by the charismatic coach. Jérémie Aliadière is one such player and it seems Gourcuff is playing a big role in helping him resurrect what was a stagnating career. Since joining les Merlus Aliadière has netted four times and his manager is expecting those encouraging early signs to keep developing.
“Physically, he’s going to improve and keep improving,” said Gourcuff. “He’ll also get his confidence back. Jérémie’s a way off reaching his peak. If he’s spared injuries, I’m sure that he can be an exceptional player for Lorient.”
Speaking of the move Aliadière said: “As soon as Lorient showed an interest in me I said, ‘this is the ideal opportunity’.”
“A chance to kick-start things and get that desire to play back after the lost four years which left me fed up. It was the chance to get going again in France, to start from scratch.”
Now regaining confidence and fitness everytime he takes to the field, the former Arsenal star is the embodiment of everything that Gourcuff looks for in his potential signings. A player with undoubted skill, perhaps trouble either mentally or through bad luck with injuries but with an unquenchable desire and motivation to play for a team and succeed on the pitch. It is this last key element that convinced the famed tactician and his chairman to take the risk on Arsène Wenger’s former protégée.
President Loïc Féry said of the Aliadière move: “This summer, we took advice from Arsène before we signed Jérémie and he kindly confirmed that Aliadière had the right mindset to potentially succeed here. He has been a great signing so far [four goals since the beginning of the season] and we recently extended his contract by three years.”
Looking to the future, Aliadière feels settled now at FCL and hopes to enjoy greater success during his stay in western France.
“Often when you’ve been injured for a long time, you need a long time to really get back to your best.”
“So I’m hoping that I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement and that I’ll be able to give more of myself.”
Lyon’s pre-match preparation took a slightly different approach following the inquest into the nature of Jean-Michel Aulas’ team following a wretched second half display from Dinamo Zagreb that saw them eventually ship six goals on the way to a 1-7 thumping that immediately aroused suspicions of foul play given OL’s need for a six goal swing to progress.
Before the furore, manager Rémi Garde and President Aulas were in the highest of spirits, celebrating an emphatic victory.
Speaking after the match Garde said: “It’s amazing. What an incredible second half. At half time, it was difficult to believe that we could score three or four goals in just 45 minutes. It’s difficult to find the words tonight. We spoke before the match about believing in miracles. Our task seemed impossible. So what we achieved was amazing.”
President Aulas was even more ecstatic: “It’s an historic result for us because it secured a ninth-straight appearance in the knockout rounds. It’s been a very emotional night; perhaps one of OL’s most emotional, in an incredible situation. It’s a huge moment for French football. We shouldn’t talk about a miracle, but rather about an incredible feat.”
Speaking of incredible feats, French international striker Bafétimbi Gomis helped himself to four goals on the evening to overcome his recent goal drought and the striker was thrilled to find himself back on the scoresheet.
Speaking after the game he said: “We believed that a miracle was possible and we worked hard. I was lucky enough to get on the end of some excellent crosses tonight and all I had to do was stick them away. But I know I still have a lot of progress to make, and lot of work to do.”
Shortly after this though the stories started to emerge suggesting that the game was rigged, immediately throwing l’OL’s progress into jeopardy. A number of newspapers, most notably the Madrid-based Spanish press, cried scandal and further evidence then surfaced in the form of a still framed image of Croatian defender Domagoj Vida looking like he is winking and putting his thumb up after conceding a goal in Wednesday’s match.
Speaking to RTL Radio on Thursday morning, Aulas defended his side: “ I do not understand the Ajax suspicions. As for the Spanish press, I know a little of the origin of their claims. The Croats did not lose on purpose, they played well in the first half. ”
Aside from their off the pitch distractions Lyon are in improving form and currently lie in fourth place having racked up two consecutive wins since a disappointing 1-2 home defeat to Rennes and the upturn in form has coincided with the return to form of their talismanic striker Lisandro López. With the Argentine back in the squad and already back in hot goalscoring form having scored three goals in the last two league games and les Gones will be hoping he can see them past an awkward Lorient side on Sunday night.
Having used a number of his regular internationals for the draining trip to Zagreb, Garde could be tempted to give a number of his exciting fringe players a chance to shine and rest some of his more fatigued team members. Players such as Gueïda Fofana could retain their place in the side and Ederson who has impresed greatly of late could well earn a recall with Yoann Gourcuff still some way short of being able to play in two gruelling encounters each week.
The contest should be a great game for the neturals and makes excellent viewing for the box office 21h00 kick-off live on Canal+ this weekend. Expect a tight game that might perhaps be decided by the so called ‘continental hangover’ that Lyon might be suffering. Lorient need a reaction after their recent drubbing and OL are looking to consolidate their upturn in form with all signs pointing towards an enticing encounter.
Picture courtesy of FCLweb.fr.