Lyon’s defensive unit showed its good and bad sides tonight, as les Gônes left Israel with a hard-earned 4-3 victory.
Although a strong Lyon team started as favourites, reigning Israeli champions Hapoel Kiryat Shmona were not to be under-estimated, having come away from Bilbao with an impressive draw in their opening Europa League match.
Any doubts on that score were quickly dispelled as the team from the Lebanese border, playing their European home matches down the coastal road in Haifa, took the lead inside 8 minutes, their centre forward Abuhatzeira slotting home a cross from the right from Hapoel’s captain, Rochet.
The early goal jolted les Lyonnais into action and it was, surprisingly, debutant Rachid Ghezzal, playing on the left in a 4-3-3 formation, who led the revolt. Two teasing crosses delivered by the youngster were narrowly missed by Lopez and then Briand, before he pressured a defender, just after the quarter-hour mark, into giving the ball away to Lopez. His attempted pass was deflected, but fell to Gueida Fofana, who calmly placed his shot from 20 yards out, his first goal for the club.
Five minutes later and Lyon were ahead. Lopez won a free kick on the edge of the area and Fabian Monzon powered home from the edge of the area, to score his first goal since signing from Nice. Lyon were now well on top and the lead was stretched further on 31 minutes, right back Anthony Réveillère ending a move involving Briand, Grenier and a cute Lopez dummy.
Half-time came with Lyon 3-1 up, all three goals coming from ostensibly defensive-minded players, although Monzon, though combining well with Ghezzal, had to be asked by Remi Garde to rein in his attacking instincts a little.
The second half began as the first ended, with Lyon on top and playing some nice combinations. Another dangerous cross from Ghezzal was spurned by Briand, whose blushes were saved by a late offside flag. The French team’s fans were also in good voice, perhaps supplemented by Haifa’s large ex-pat community. However, on 51 minutes those fans were silenced, as Levi was allowed to cut in from the left and, with no one closing him down, unleashed an unstoppable shot past Vercoutre.
Remi Garde’s immediate reaction was to take off Grenier and replace him with young forward Yassine Benzia. Lopez moved back into the hole to accommodate him, although minutes later Ghezzal’s excellent debut was cut short by injury, Malbranque replacing him and Lopez now moving to the left. Perhaps the quick changes disturbed Lyon’s concentration: two minutes later the home side won a penalty as Koné was adjudged to have (needlessly) bundled over Abuhatzeira, who equalised from the spot, Vercoutre guessing correctly and diving to his right but allowing the ball to pass under him.
Suddenly Lyon’s Mediterranean cruise was becoming a little choppy and Monzon was very lucky not be sent off for a wild challenge, the referee leniently keeping his card in his pocket two minutes after having booked the excitable Argentine.
Although the match burst into life for a few seconds late on – Lovren and Koné having consecutive headers cleared off the line before an immediate Israeli break was thwarted by an excellent last-ditch tackle by the ubiquitous Monzon – it seemed that the match would end in a draw. However, Lyon grabbed the points in injury time, Fofana leaping to meet a Malbranque corner and heading in off the bar.
A needlessly fraught victory in the end for Lyon then, although it made for exciting viewing, and they are now three points clear at the top of Group I, with a home match against off-form Athletic Bilbao next.
Report by Jeremy Smith – @jeremysmith98