It has been a long time since Ligue 1 has been a dominant force in European competitions. However, we could very well have two French teams in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League this season, if PSG and Olympique Lyon are able to get past RB Leipzig and Manchester City respectively. While doing so would represent the bare minimum requirement for PSG, who have been striving to win the Champions League ever since they came under Qatari ownership, it has been a dream run for OL so far, and one that could lead to their squad being picked clean in the upcoming transfer window if they continue to impress.
It goes without saying that Manchester City are favourites. However, OL are definitely capable of springing a surprise, as they did in the last round by knocking Juventus out on away goals. With these knockout ties being single-legged affairs, the chance of a smash-and-grab raid increases. Further, Lyon did beat City in the group stage last season, with a draw in the return leg. While the manager and much of the squad is different from then, it is still an important psychological advantage to have. Pep Guardiola’s side have often struggled to break down teams sitting in a deep defensive block, and that is almost certainly going to be OL’s strategy in this game, before using the likes of Memphis and Mousa Dembele on the counter-attack.
Memphis is no stranger to the big time, having had an unsuccessful spell at City’s rivals Manchester United before moving to France. However, there are a number of players in the OL squad who could potentially see career-defining transfers on the back of this European performance, especially if Lyon go further in the competition. Dembele, for example, has long been linked with clubs in England, and a good performance could see a Premier League team in need of a striker swoop in for him. Behind the forwards, Houssem Aouar has been his brilliant self, using the ball to create chances and circulating possession with ease in the rare moments that OL had the ball against Juventus. Expect him to be the subject of some high-profile interest, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona having shown a willingness to bring him to their squads in recent years. Bruno Guimaraes has emerged as a potential star as well, mopping up in defensive midfield but also having the ability to drive upfield with the ball. The Brazilian, still just 22 years old, will definitely move on to bigger and better things, the only uncertainty is about when he will do so. Elsewhere, Lyon have some great African talent as well, with Bertrand Traore, Maxwel Cornet, Karl Toko Ekambi, Tino Kadewere and Youssouf Kone all hailing from Africa. This is one of the reasons for the club’s popularity on the continent as well, with Bet9ja in 2021 often carrying odds for OL’s matches and players, and Lyon will be mindful of the commercial opportunities that could be lost if they let go of these players, along with their impact on the pitch.
OL have a big task on their hands, but it is one that the squad and Rudi Garcia will not shrink away from. City do have a glass jaw if you can get past their suffocating press, and OL have the players to land a few blows on a vulnerable defence. Who knows, this season might be the season of Ligue 1 in the Champions League.