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Lyons INCREDIBLE Turn Around

6 minute read Published May 21, 2024

Olympique de Lyon used to be a force to be reckoned with in Europe. With stars playing for them, deep runs in European competitions and seven consecutive league wins in Ligue 1. After a slow down trend through the 2010s where they failed to win it at all but still finished in the top four, in the 2020s they started finishing further down the table.

Before the start of this season, Lyon was sold to an American investor – John Textor, known as co-owner of both Crystal Palace and Botafogo. The club was in a bad financial position. Their budget for the season had been rejected by body governing clubs finances, financial restrictions had been placed on the club and the new owner was required to inject more capital. Not a great start for the tenure of the new owner.

The season also started poorly. Very poorly. Disastrously even. On matchday 15 Lyon were dead last in Ligue 1. 

Position Games Played Team Points
16 15 Lorient 12
17 15 Clermont 11
18 15 Lyon 10

But then something happened. They started winning. They won four out of the next five games. They started climbing up the table. What happened?

Pierre Sage

On November 30th, Lyon sacked their coach, Fabio Grosso, and appointed Pierre Sage as interim. He was with the club as manager of the youth team when he was asked to step in until a new coach could be appointed. Just a few days later, the team played their first game with him in charge, a 2-3 loss against Lens. But the atmosphere was different. Players were very positive to the change and Sage himself thought it was a great performance, even if it was a loss.

Pierre Saget. Photo: 2KJU - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Then, they won three in a row, including a game against Monaco. Sage almost doubled the amount of points the team had in his first five games. Needless to say, he was hired full time.

Opposition Result
Lens Loss
Toulouse Win
Monaco Win
Nantes Win
Le Havre Loss

Lyon players came together under the inexperienced coach. He increased the intensity with which the team played. They pressed more and they were quicker in transition.

The coach deserves to stay with us after these three victories and the very good atmosphere he has created.

Duje Caleta-Car

Big January Transfer Window

In the January transfer window, the club became the biggest spenders in the league. Textor, apparently, was determined not to get relegated his first season in charge of the club. They brought in some big guns. Nemanja Matić, Orel Mangala, Gift Orban, and Saïd Benrahma all joined the club in the winter.

Matic seemed to be exactly what the faltering defence needed. The stable, experienced defensive midfielder helped plug the leaks and got the average goals conceded per game down to less than one and a half. 

Of the four players that joined in January, Matic played every game, while Orban and Benrahma only missed two each. The additions had a significant effect on the team. 

For the first 15 games of the season Lyon were absolutely leaking. They’d conceded 27 goals in 15 games, that’s 1.8 goals per game. Hard to win anything when you’re almost 2-0 down.

Alexandre Lacazette

Lacazette had a slow start to his time at Lyon. But, with the arrivals of Pierre Sage as well as Berahma and Orban he started firing on all cylinders. He ended up being the league’s second top goal scorer with 19 goals. 

More than that, he became a leader of the team, stepping up in seemingly hopeless moments with goals. For example, he saved the team from a loss against Lille in his first game back from injury by scoring both goals when they came back from two behind.

Alexandre Lacazette. Photo: Shutterstock

And, most recently, Lacazette was the player called upon when to score the most important goal of the season. In the last game of the season, three teams could still get Europa League; Lens, Lyon and Marseille. For Lyon to take that spot, they’d have to draw or win while Lens lost or drew.

Thrilling Final Matchday

In their game, Lens immediately took the lead, in the fourth minute. Just before halftime, they got a second and Lyon's dream comeback looked like it would fizzle out. But Lens lost their cool in the second half and in the 74th minute, Montpellier equalised. 2-2 was the final score.

At the same time, Lyon took on Strasbourg. Lacazette scored the opening goal in the 39th minute. 1-0 stood until Diarra equalised for Strasbourg in the 63rd minute. Lyon had 64% of possession but were still struggling to get shots on goal. In fact, after 90 minutes, Strasbourg had come the closest to scoring, missing a penalty in the 77th minute. 

Time was running out. Lens had drawn so they needed a win. Then, in the 94th minute, Lyon striker Fofana went down at the edge of the box and after VAR-review, a penalty was given. Lacazette stepped up and confidently put it in the bottom right corner, putting the team in European football next season. Enjoy the penalty and the aftermath here:

Looking Forward

From last placed after 15 games to qualifying for European football – what an incredible achievement!

Their success in the league since Sage stepped in has been accompanied by success in the French Cup. Lyon are set to take on the Ligue 1 champions, PSG, in the final on Saturday. A trophy could be the crowning achievement for Sage in an incredible turn around.

When Sage signed with Lyon, because of his inexperience at the top level, they wrote a short contract, set to expire after the season ended. Lyon and its owner Textor will obviously want Sage to stay, and they’ll want to lock him down for a longer contract, to build on what they’ve achieved together since November.

It seems though, that it’s only missing a formal contract. Textor said during the celebrations this weekend that the deal had been agreed and that Sage was staying. Let’s hope so, it’ll be interesting to see what he and the team can achieve with more time!

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