An unconvincing Lyon keep title hopes alive

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Given Montpellier have struggled to get their season off the ground, many pundits expected Olympique Lyonnais to ravage the depleted side – despite having their own problems.

With Wendie Renard suspended for reaching the yellow card limit, Lyon were reliant upon the makeshift duo of Kadeisha Buchanan and Saki Kumagai in central defence.

A fierce start

Lyon started the game as expected. Inside the first minute, Delphine Cascarino beat her marker and made a dangerous run forward. Though Amel Majri strayed offside in the initial attack, this early pressure proved too much for Montpellier to handle.

Eugénie Le Sommer’s cross into the box struck Èlisa de Almeida’s raised arm. With only five minutes played, Lyon had the perfect chance to go ahead.

A lot has been said of Lyon’s reliance upon set pieces this season. Some 35.4% of their goals have come as a result of set pieces – an increase of more than 10% on the previous campaign.

Without Ada Hegerberg’s creative flair up front, Lyon have struggled. Le Sommer herself has been hindered by injury and Nikita Parris has failed to find consistent goalscoring form.

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Dzsenifer Marozsán stepped up to take the penalty. Incredibly poor by her standards, goalkeeper Lisa Schmitz easily got across to keep it out. Schmitz was let down by her defence though. As the ball bounced around the box, Amandine Henry beat the crowd of orange shirts and rocketed it into the roof of the net.

Instant response

Expectations of a dominant Lyon performance against a weakened Montpellier side seemed to be playing out as expected. Going ahead so early gifting the reigning champions a springboard for further success. Rather than roll over and allow this narrative to take hold, Montpellier responded to Lyon going ahead with a swift equaliser.

Clarisse Le Bihan had the ball put on a platter for her after Sarah Bouhaddi’s bad clearance. Lyon’s stretched defense was able to regroup and crowd her off the ball. Clearly scrambling to clear the danger, Kumagai was guilty of taking far too heavy a touch of the ball.

Marion Torrent instantly pounced and won possession back on the edge of the box. Linking up with Nérilia Mondésir, Montpellier were able to bypass two unconvincing tackles from Kumagai and Sakina Karchaoui. Torrent’s eventual cross took an heavy deflection from Buchanan. With the ball landing at Le Bihan’s feet she could not miss. Game on.

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Across the pitch, Montpellier were tough competition. Matching Lyon’s attempts to play football with determined physicality. Lyon could not get into a comfortable rhythm. They appeared rattled. They also failed to take their chances in a hard-fought half.

Injury woes continue

Le Sommer had something of a nightmare in front of goal. Though she brought down a tricky ball with great precision, her searing shot grazed the crossbar. The forward’s bad day at the office got worse after she glanced Janice Cayman’s pinpoint cross wide.

When she was able to get past Mondésir, Karchaoui did look dangerous down the left-hand side of the pitch. Her attempt to dribble into the box was met with good resistance, but still presented her with the chance to play in Henry. Unafraid to unleash a powerful shot from distance, Henry played the ball onto her comfortable foot but slipped as she shot.

Landing awkwardly, the midfielder was forced off the pitch with a calf injury. With the international window looming and Henry embroiled in tensions with France’s coach Corinne Diacre, many fans were worried as she headed to the changing rooms with ice strapped to her leg.

Lyon regain control

Henry’s departure saw Catarina Macario make her debut. The American would have probably hoped for a more glorious performance to first feature in. One of her earliest contributions to the match was a nice pass into Majri’s feet. Though Majri lost her balance, Macario collected the loose ball. Her shot was deflected into the path of Karchaoui.

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One of Montpellier’s former stars, Karchaoui unleashed a fierce ball across the face of goal that took a heavy deflection off of de Almeida. Deceiving her goalkeeper, de Almeida’s dire performance was capped off with an own goal.

At half time, Karchaoui admitted that they could “do better”.

Montpellier’s surprising dominance

Lyon never lived up to that promise. In fact, the second half belonged to Montpellier. Without Henry’s stable presence in central midfield, Lyon looked out of sorts. Montpellier hounded them and often pinned them into their own half. Mondésir and Maëlle Lakrar in particular looked dangerous.

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With every goal-kick, Montpellier pressed Lyon high. They just could not convert their dogged determination into an equaliser. Lyon were their own worst enemy. Guilty of overplaying around their box while lacking an anchoring force in midfield to dictate the tempo of their passing.

Though Macario clearly had an eye for goal, she lacked the strength to deal with the physicality of the match. Not a natural substitution for Henry, manager Jean-Luc Vasseur left his side dangerously uneven. They had a host of attacking players, a makeshift defence, and no box-to-box midfielder to provide balance between the two.

Fouls without consequence

As the game trickled into the final twenty minutes, both teams looked tired. Iva Landeka found herself with the chance to equalise but fell to the floor. Lyon’s passing dwindled in pace, but Karchaoui found the energy to cut inside the box. As she went, Mondésir stuck out her leg and Karchaoui fell in the box. Though Lyon would have been desperate for reprieve in the form of a penalty, the contact was minimal. Karchaoui went down far too easily against a lethargic tackle.

80 minutes into the match, Macario was dispossessed on the edge of the box. Montpellier’s subsequent break looked promising. Ashleigh Weerden bore down on Bouhaddi but could not do anything with the good opportunity.

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With the game increasingly sloppy, Montpellier should have been awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Dominika Škorvánková was brought down by Gunnarsdóttir, but similarly to Lyon’s (much weaker) second penalty claim, the referee waved their shouts away.

The closest Lyon came to scoring their third was a Majri effort that grazed the side netting. Though the 2-1 victory was hard fought and arguably underserved, Lyon continue to do what they need to in order to keep their hopes of a title alive. Win. If they drop points at any point during their campaign, the league will almost definitely belong to Paris Saint-Germain.

Lyon were not at their best, but credit must be given to Montpellier for not allowing them to be.

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