"There is only one thing inescapable in life, that is death.” said Bruno Génésio as his Lyon side dramatically overcame Marseille amid a post-match tunnel brawl, a last minute winner and promises of retribution, “We all have the ability to change things, only those who don’t know football can draw definitive conclusions after each game, one way or the other.” Two months ago as Memphis Depay crashed his shot past Alphonse Areola and the gap at the top of Ligue 1 narrowed to 8 points. The conclusion drawn was that OL were genuine outsiders for the title, either now or in the future, Bruno Génésio meanwhile had finally figured out his team. But as Sunday night’s Olympico at the Velodrome approached, the mood around Lyon had severely darkened.
Across the six Ligue 1 games following the win over PSG, Lyon collected just three draws and no wins, Monaco and Marseille meanwhile forged clear in the mad dash for Champions’ League places. Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco entered last weekend nine points clear of Lyon, and OM five. Génésio’s side again capitulated in the Europa League this week, a 3-2 home defeat to CSKA Moscow only surpassed in disappointment by their inept semifinal display in Amsterdam in the same competition last season. Rumours of unrest were underlined by full-back Marçal’s exile from the squad after an outburst against Génésio’s management and the fact that Lyon President, Jean-Michel Aulas, had to deny he refused the coach’s resignation. A loss in Marseille would end OL’s top three hopes and likely seal Génésio’s fate.
Without talismanic captain Nabil Fékir, and having fallen behind to OM centre back Rolando’s close range first half opener, it seemed that Génésio might have finally exhausted his many lives after dangerously skirted the precipice several times in the past before miraculously rescuing himself and his team. However, a curious Adil Rami own goal and a sumptuous Houssem Aouar curling effort either side of half-time seemed have saved Génésio once more. Suddenly, Lyon found themselves. Confident in possession and streetwise in their game management throughout the second half, nullifying Marseille; their direct, pacey forwards enjoying the space afforded them by a slowing OM.
An unhinged atmosphere accompanied the game throughout alongside the usual intensity of what is a keenly felt rivalry that has been magnified this season as both clubs undergo a similar regeneration process. The rivalry was reignited when Marseille hero Mathieu Valbuena returned to the Vélodrome as a Lyon player in 2015. Aside from creating an unsavory effigy of Valbeuna, a volatile OM fan base prevented him from taking corners as debris was flung from the stands which eventually resulted in a lengthy stoppage in play. Unacceptable violence aside, the reignited Olympico rivalry has been welcome among Ligue 1’s newly established big four as PSG’s dominance and Monaco’s weak home support can occasionally detract from other encounters.
Kostas Mitroglou’s looping header with seven minutes to play came as a shock to Lyon, who had looked relatively comfortable. Génésio’s luck was yet to run out however as a pair of tight offside calls fell in OL’s favour, the second with Mitroglou seemingly inside his own half, before Memphis Depay’s own looping header over a stranded Mandanda in injury time proved decisive. Depay, who when asked by Canal + this week: “What are you missing to become the best player in the world?”, responded: “In terms of my quality, nothing,” proved again he can be pivotal in key games, this his tenth league goal of the campaign.
Tensions descended into outright aggression at full-time as Lyon defender Marcelo gloatingly displayed his shirt to the OM fans as he left the pitch, having clashed with Adil Rami just prior to full time, instigating a brawl in the mouth of the tunnel. Rami’s insistence on again confronting Marcelo between the pitch and the Vélodrome dressing rooms was seemingly caused by what Thauvin described as “Lyon players goad[ing] us, it was not professional on their part. They lacked respect – it is crazy.” Thauvin then repeated: “They will pay for this. They’ll pay for this. The most important thing is the ranking at the end of the season.”
Marseille are now only two points clear of OL and seven adrift of an in-form Monaco. While Rudi Garcia deserves credit for molding his unwieldy team into an effective attacking outfit and storming into the Europa League last eight, OM have proven weak in games against their top four peers this season, Thauvin shrinking in particular, taking just two points from six games. What is now a straight fight between the two sides for third, the momentum in this race is arguably shifting as Marseille have European football to contend with and are appearing to be increasingly tired as a squad. Manager Garcia admitted that Marseille ‘defended badly’ and Steve Mandanda claimed his side ‘blew themselves up’.
At full time, Aulas insisted, “Yes Bruno will be the coach at the end of the season. It would be irrational to be deprived of a coach for the last eight games. I recall that Lyon are 4th, 2 points off 3rd. Bruno does a great job, you saw that his players came to greet him.” Génésio meanwhile explained “Regarding the top three, you never know what can happen in this sport. I don’t usually draw conclusions twelve matches before the end.” While the demise of his reign at Lyon may prove inescapable, Bruno Génésio has once again altered conclusions about his team and his coaching and dramatically, for now, stayed death’s hand once more.
by Adam White