Alexandre Lacazette celebrated his return to Olympique Lyonnais with the decisive goal as the seven-time French champions defeated newly promoted AC Ajaccio 2-1 in a highly entertaining, incident-packed Ligue 1 Uber Eats 2022/23 season opener on Friday that both teams ended with ten men.
Lacazette was back at OL, five years after departing for Arsenal, and took just 22 minutes to add to the 129 goals — including a century of league strikes — he had scored in his 274 matches before heading across the Channel. When Tetê was brought down by Cédric Avinel as the pair pursued a long ball forward, the new Lyon captain swept home the penalty to double his team's lead (22').
The opener had been provided by Tetê, who was the stand-out performer of the opening exchanges. After stretching Benjamin Leroy in the visitors' goal (7'), the on-loan Shakhtar Donetsk winger steered a shot high into the corner after another new signing, Johann Lepenant, Lucas Paqueta and Lacazette had all been involved in a slick build-up (12').
New Lyon owner John Textor will be hoping for an exciting season, but the American could be forgiven for asking for a slightly less tortuous twisting of emotions than that which his team served up in a breathless opening half-hour at the Groupama Stadium.
A direct ball saw Mounaïm El Idrissy racing into space only to be brutally halted just outside the Lyon penalty area by Anthony Lopes. After checking the Ajaccio forward was OK following their heavy collision, Lopes looked up to see referee Benoît Bastien holding up a red card. There cannot have been any surprise for the home-grown Lyon 'keeper that he would be enjoying an early bath.
A day shy of his 35th birthday, Lyon-born goalkeeper Rémy Riou — a summer signing — came on for his Ligue 1 debut for OL 15 years after he had left his hometown club without making a first-team appearance, and was promptly beaten from the spot by Thomas Mangani (31').
Textor would have been happier — though not quite as happy as the Lyon fans — when ex-Saint-Etienne man Romain Hamouma, who joined Ajaccio this summer after 10 years in the green shirt of OL's bitter rivals, caught Paqueta in the face with a stray arm. His second yellow card with seconds left in the first half was received with predictable Schadenfreude in the stands (45+4').
Malo Gusto had tested Leroy before the break (42') while Vincent Marchetti's cross raised pulses in the Lyon penalty area (50') as the pair traded opportunities. Marchetti was involved when he returned the ball to Riad Nouri, who sent a looping effort goalwards that only a superb full-stretch save from Riou - yoga-esque as he arched his back to get a hand to the ball - prevented from finding the net (59').
A mix-up between Leroy and Mickaël Alphonse, the ex-Dijon full-back who returned to Ligue 1 this summer after a league title-winning stint at Maccabi Haifa in Israel, almost allowed Nicolas Tagliafico to sneak in. VAR backed up Mr. Bastien's on-pitch verdict that there had been no illicit contact between the summer arrival from Ajax and Leroy (63').
Having barely come off the bench to make his Ligue 1 Uber Eats debut aged 27, Bevic Moussiti-Oko seemed to be caught out when a ball bounced awkwardly but invitingly inside the six-yard box (73') as Ajaccio pressed for an equaliser.
It did not come as the excitement of the closing stages was reserved for the Lyon supporters. First, there was the emergence of Corentin Tolisso — a FIFA World Cup winner with France in 2018 — from the bench. Then, young substitute Bradley Barcola's impressive burst into the box saw him send a shot just over both the advancing Leroy and the crossbar (86') before another OL prodigy, Rayan Cherki, brought a save from the Ajaccio 'keeper (90+1') as coach Peter Bosz got a positive start to a campaign OL hope will bring so much more than last season's eight-placed finish.
THE PLAYER: Alexandre Lacazette
The announcement of his name in the starting XI was greeted with a massive cheer, and 'The General' did not disappoint, netting his penalty with confidence. He faded a little in the second half, but his presence enabled OL to see the game through.
THE STAT: 19
Lyon have not lost any of their last 19 opening games of the Ligue 1 Uber Eats season, winning 15 of them.