Starting with the visit of arch-rivals AS Saint-Étienne on Sunday, Olympique Lyonnais are entering a hectic three-week period that takes in a domestic cup final, a UEFA Europa League tie against Juventus and two meetings with Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain. For players, supporters and coaches alike, this is a time to relish.
Lyon will discover between 30 March and 19 April whether they have had a below-par season or a campaign of silverware and/or European progress. Rémi Garde's side not only face the Bianconeri twice (3 and 10 April), they also take on Paris on 12 April – a league assignment – and again seven days later in the French League Cup showpiece, with European qualification at stake. Before all that, though, arrive fourth-placed St-Étienne, three points above Lyon and three behind LOSC Lille in the third UEFA Champions League berth.
Just when he needed it least, Garde is dealing with a hefty injury list that was stretched on Monday by an ankle problem that sidelined Miguel Lopes for the season. Midfielders Clément Grenier, Samuel Umtiti and Gueïda Fofana, as well as defenders Henri Bedimo, Milan Bisevac and Mouhamadou Dabo, are also absent. "
We'll need miracles from our medical staff," Garde said. "We have played a lot of games this season, so it's not surprising players are paying the price."
Despite their schedule and crowded treatment room, Lyon have more than one reason to believe they can emerge in good shape.
Playing the percentages
Still being in three competitions at this stage of term suggests an ability to spin plates adroitly. Lyon have a hat-trick of chances to succeed – be that in the form of silverware or in a top-three league finish. "We'll bite the bullet," said captain Maxime Gonalons. "We have great things ahead and an exciting April. We dream of playing all these games."
Lyon are not the winning machine they were a decade or so ago. Though Paris and AS Monaco FC have replaced them as France's leading lights, Les Gones have made up for the stellar names lost with an exciting crop of promising talent.
Grenier, 23 – who opted to stay at Stade de Gerland despite being courted by some of Europe's biggest clubs – and striker Alexandre Lacazette, 22, are at the fore. Following in their footsteps are the likes of Mehdi Zeffane, Corentin Tolisso, Mahamadou-Naby Sarr and Jordan Ferri, who should all get an opportunity to prove themselves in the coming weeks.
Lyon may have a lengthy absentee list, yet their forward line remains largely unscathed. Bafétimbi Gomis took his Ligue 1 tally to 99 goals at the weekend, while Lacazette remains integral and is showing little sign of succumbing to fatigue. "We'll forget the tiredness," he said regarding the upcoming fixtures. "For these kind of games we play football." Lyon can also count on in-form Jimmy Briand.
Despite the relative inexperience of their squad, Lyon have a history of turning it on when it matters most. They have been in Europe every year since 1997/98 – more than any other French side – and have long shown an ability to go through the gears when the time is right.
Though another continental campaign – preferably in the UEFA Champions League – is the ambition, Lyon can already consider their season a success. It is no secret they are going through a period of transition as they wait to move into their new stadium next term. With this comes a revised business model. In the meantime, however, they have a chance to become the first French team to win the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League – and, with it, become only the third in history to lift a major European trophy.
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