SPIRO BLOG: Lyon to roar again
Rejuvenated Lyon are ready to push Paris SG hard this season - starting in the Trophée des Champions on Saturday - according to Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro.
The race for the Ligue 1 title only commences on August 12, but for champions Paris SG and their likeliest challengers Lyon this Saturday's meeting in Austria is an opportunity to score some crucial psychological points. A year ago, Lyon wilted in the heat of the Canadian summer, conceding two early goals in Montreal and floundering woefully in a game that turned out to be a clear indicator of things to come.
Cracks appeared in Hubert Fournier's team that day and they only got bigger as the season progressed. Star striker Alexandre Lacazette was at the heart of a very public and unsavoury dispute with the club over a contract extension - he looked disheartened, disenchanted, and would go on to score just two goals in Lyon's first 12 league matches.
As leading figures at the club later admitted, a dressing room rift was developing between new signings and the homegrown players who had performed so well in 2014-15 and were not especially welcoming to the high-profile recruits. Throw in to the mix the serious knee injury sustained by Nabil Fekir and Les Gones, who had pushed Paris so hard in the title race the previous year, found themselves an irretrievable 25 points behind Laurent Blanc's team by Christmas.
It is highly unlikely that we shall witness such a one-sided Trophée des Champions this weekend. I also believe this Lyon side is capable of pushing PSG hard once the league campaign commences.
The opening of the magnificent Parc OL stadium has marked a turning point in the club's modern history, unleashing a feel-good factor that shows no signs of fading. Bruno Genesio, who replaced Fournier as coach in January, has surprised many with the ease with which he has grown in to the role, showing tactical acumen and good communication skills. A Lyon man through and through, his biggest quality appears to be his man-management: Genesio is getting the best out of some good - previously underperforming - players like Rachid Ghezzal, Maxwell Cornet, Sergi Darder, Jordan Ferri and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. The way in which he convinced Corentin Tolisso to turn his back on a move to Napoli at the last minute bodes extremely well.
Tolisso's decision to stay means that Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti is likely to the only high-profile departure - and he has been well replaced by Nicolas Nkoulou - highlighting the club's ambition to push PSG in the title race and to feature prominently in the Champions League.
Lacazette set for big things
Lacazette's situation is also very different now. The France attacker is happy at Lyon and his performances in pre-season reflect that. Lacazette looks hungry and determined to lead his hometown team's attack in the Champions League in front of 60,000 baying fans at the Parc OL. That, by the way, will make for an enticing spectacle.
The 25-year-old may well be keen to try his luck abroad at some stage, yet Lyon's intransigence in the matter isn't riling him as it appeared to last year. The mood at the club has changed. Lacazette knows that both he and Lyon are capable of faring much, much better this term. They are capable of making this a season for Lyon fans to remember. And they can begin by ending PSG's three-year run of victories in the Trophée des Champions, in Klagenfurt, on Saturday night.