Can Lyon affirm Champions League spot with a win at resurgent Monaco?
Background photo: Валерий Дед, CC BY 3.0
Third-place Lyon are in Monaco tonight. Four points behind Lille OSC in second, three beyond arch-rivals St Etienne and Olympique de Marseille for the final Ligue 1 Champions League spot going into the weekend, Les Gones might have felt comfortable. They had little motivation and few worries. Meanwhile, Monaco took seven points from their last three matches. Leonardo Jardim is back in charge in every sense. Les Monagasques' motivation is to leave the relegation battle in their wake. Going into this match, they're two points clear with some work still to do. That's not the best situation for Lyon boss Bruno Genesio. Some call it a banana peel.
On Friday, however, St Etienne knocked off Dijon to move within three points. If that didn't pin back Lyon's ears, knowledge of Monaco's form since Jardim's return should. Travelling to Stade Louis II won't be a trip to your typical bottom-of-the-table club. If Lyon take this match for granted even in the slightest, they become their own worst enemy.
Grinding out a goalless draw midweek against Barcelona took a toll on the squad although midfielder and captain Nabil Fekir didn't take part. He should be back for the Ligue 1 clash. Asking the team to produce the same intensity against Monaco that they did against Barca is a tough sell but it is the business end of the campaign. This is the time to show up.
Monaco have been a different side since Thierry Henry was sacked and the club swallowed their pride to bring the wrongly dismissed Jardim back into the fold. Henry is a club legend but he lacked the managerial experience to deal with the situation. A recharged Jardim can. Every match in the run-in is a building block to set the foundation for next season. Jardim would like nothing more than for his squad to serve notice of their intent.
Taking Cesc Fabregas on loan from Chelsea while sending Youri Tielemans off to Leicester City on similar terms delivers the leadership and direction on the pitch that the club lacked to begin the campaign. Aleksandr Golovin returning to form further sharpens Les Rouge et Blancs' attack. Lyon had best be prepared.
Monaco must navigate more challenges following this encounter. Paris Saint Germain, Lille, Marseille and St Etienne lie in wait. Jardim will urge his side to start this difficult run positively. Momentum is priceless. Confidence carries teams through difficult stretches. Doubt weighs on them.
Lyon, on the other hand, know a relatively easy stretch awaits once they leave the principality. Games against Marseille and Montpellier could prove pivotal but are winnable. Overall, eight of their last 12 matches come against sides at least ten points below them in the table. Even if the club feels Monaco is eminently beatable, Les Gones must set the tone in this match. Games are dwindling. This is hardly the time to sit back. With Fekir and Memphis Depay, there is sufficient experience within the squad to know better. They must treat this game as if their season depends on it. It just might.