Everton’s Europa League opponents will arrive at Goodison Park on Thursday practically chomping at the bit to run riot against Ronald Koeman’s struggling Blues. Olympique Lyonnais have only lost one game this season. That was away at the Parc des Princes against the Qatari funded juggernaut, Paris St. Germain.
Everton on the other hand boast just 3 wins in all competitions this season, having failed to overturn any side that sit above them in the Premier League table where they are currently languishing in 16th. The French outfit have netted 22 times in their 11 games in all competitions so far this season, whilst Everton have only managed 10 in 11.
A Look at OL
Champions of France for seven consecutive seasons between 2001-2008, Olympique Lyonnais are significantly weaker now than they were 10 years ago. After failing to retain their title for an eighth-successive year back in 2008/09, their long-term Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas splashed the cash in an attempt to recover their success, buying the likes Lisandro Lopez, Michel Bastos and Yoann Gourcuff to replace top class talents in Karim Bemzema, Eric Abidal and Juninho Pernambucano.
Despite reaching a Champions League Semi-Final in 2009/10, the lucrative deals did not pay off, as “Les Gones” have yet to reclaim their treasured crown as Champions of France. Moreover, the failed series of big money transfers along with the construction of a new stadium resulted in OL having to invest all their efforts into their historically fruitful youth academy.
“The Lions” have churned out some top-class young talent over the years including past and present Les Bleus Internationals; Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Ludovic Giuly, Sidney Govou, Loic Remy and Anthony Martial to name just a few. After suffering a slump both on and off the field, OL had no choice but to bring through the next generation. Gradually their investment payed off, as the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic and Corentin Tolisso successfully emerged into the first team.
All four players have since moved on to bigger things at Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich respectively, but a few gems from the academy remain. Portuguese goalkeeper Anthony Lopes is a reliable presence between the sticks, whilst Nabil Fekir is currently staking a strong claim as the most talented player in Ligue 1 outside of PSG.
Compared to Everton, Lyon are undoubtedly a far more potent attacking force at the minute. Despite losing Lacazette in the summer, OL are in free-scoring form this season, netting 3 times or more in almost half of their fixtures. Target man Mariano Diaz hasn’t needed any time to settle since his move from Real Madrid, scoring 7 in 9, whilst former Everton targets Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore have added much needed pace and presence going forward.
Their most influential man however is undoubtedly French international and club captain Nabil Fekir. The Algerian born forward operates in a free role behind the striker, pulling the strings and testing defences with his mesmeric skill and footwork. His dribbling and playing style has been compared to Lionel Messi due to his low centre of gravity, cultured left foot and incredible composure under pressure.
Fekir has contributed to an astounding 12 goals in all competitions this season, scoring 8 and registering 4 assists. In his most recent game versus Monaco last Friday, Fekir scored one and set up another, before curling in a spectacular stoppage time free kick to defeat the Champions 3-2. There are few players in Europe who are in better form than the 24-year-old, which is not good news for an Everton side looking to earn their first win in Europe this season.
Cause for Hope?
If there is one point of weakness in Lyon’s current squad then it is undoubtedly their defence. Although they are practically guaranteed to score in every game they play, they always look likely to concede, having only registered one clean sheet this season in a 0-0 draw against Nantes back in August.
With the likes of former Premier League flops Rafael and Yanga-M’Biwa amongst their ranks, Everton should be eager to attack their backline and make the most of their home advantage. Of course, with Everton’s lack of firepower and free-flowing attack, their best bet may well be to reduce the deficit instead and ensure the likes of Fekir and Mariano are not left to run free at their shaky defence.
Lyon have drawn more than half their games this season, including two 1-1 ties away at Apollon and at home to Atalanta. They may well take a similar score line at Goodison given they have two more Home fixtures in the return legs to play. However, if they sniff any weakness, the likes of which Everton have consistently displayed this season, then they may well feel they can exploit their form and go for all three points.
Before the start of the season I had every confidence that Everton could top Group E, but recent results and performances have undermined any such conviction. Lyon are renowned for being an enigmatic side in France, capable of an outstanding win against a top-quality side, whilst also capable of flopping spectacularly when it’s least expected of them. If Everton are to have any hope of getting out of the group, this tie is a must win. They desperately need to capitalise on their home advantage.