Olympique Lyonnais took command at the top of UEFA Champions League Group D on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over Fenerbahçe SK in Istanbul.
The French champions, who reached the quarter-finals last season, made wholesale changes to their squad in the summer but the new-look team has settled quickly to its task. Friday's 4-0 win over SM Caen saw Lyon surge to the top of Ligue 1 and extend their unbeaten run to ten matches, while a second consecutive away win in Europe has moved them to the brink of qualification with seven points from three games.
After losing six internationals at the end of last season - Eric Carrière, Vikash Dhorasoo, Eric Deflandre, Edmílson, Peguy Luyindula and Patrick Müller - many experts felt Lyon would struggle to match last year's achievements, but coach Paul Le Guen has bought shrewdly. "I feel we have a stronger squad and I believe we can improve on last season's achievements," he said ahead of the 2-2 home draw against Manchester United FC.
If Le Guen was disappointed to see his side surrender a two-goal advantage against United, he could have few complaints after a 2-1 win away at AC Sparta Praha on Matchday 2 was followed by Tuesday's assured performance at the Sükrü Saraçoglu Stadium. "I'm satisfied because my players played exactly the way I wanted," Le Guen said. "It's an important result because it means if we win our next game we're through."
The result was built around another solid display from Lyon's Brazilian centre-halves Claudio Caçapa and Cris, who restricted Fenerbahçe to one clear chance. Caçapa, who has taken over the captaincy from Müller, missed much of last season with a knee injury but is thriving this term. "It's great to be back and captaining this side is a pure pleasure," he said.
Caçapa continued: "Winning away from home in such a hot atmosphere isn't easy. But we have a super team and everyone works hard for each other." Eric Abidal, who arrived from LOSC Lille Métropole and has slotted in seamlessly at left-back, added: "The first 20 minutes were hard - we couldn't hear ourselves speak the crowd were so noisy. But we quickly got to grips with their system."
Lyon grew in confidence as the game wore on, with the attacking trio of Sylvain Wiltord, Florent Malouda and Sidney Govou posing a significant threat. Wiltord, Le Guen's one experienced signing, laid on the first goal for Juninho Pernambucano after 55 minutes before Cris lobbed a header over Rüstü Reçber for the second. The home side pulled one back through Marcio Nobre but summer-signing Pierre-Alain Frau came off the bench to seal the win three minutes before full time.
"We missed a lot of chances in the second half and when they scored we were worried," Juninho said. "I was delighted when Pierre-Alain got the third. It's great to have a player come on and score like that." Frau, who now has two goals in Europe, said: "
Even a point would have been good. This win is a big step towards qualification."
Indeed Lyon will book their place in the last 16 if they beat Fenerbahçe at the Stade Gerland on Matchday 4, and goalkeeper Grégory Coupet summed up the situation by saying: "Tonight we've gained the respect of Europe. Lyon are no longer regarded as a soft touch and we can see that in the faces of our opponents."
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