Rayan Cherki on the ball

Record-Breaking Rayan Cherki

Record-Breaking Rayan Cherki

Publish on 03/19 at 19:00 - E. DEVIN


With an incredible eight dribbles completed out of ten attempted in just 24 minutes, as well as a goal and an assist, Rayan Cherki made the difference for Lyon on Friday -- here's a closer look at his match in context.

"Today, I had to answer some of the questions being asked of me." -- Rayan Cherki after helping Olympique Lyonnais to a 3-2 win on Friday.

While Lyon have been one of the league's form teams since the appointment of Pierre Sage, there has been one figure who has curiously been on the periphery. Alexandre Lacazatte continues to fill his boots, Nemanja Matic has added stability to midfield, and Jake O'Brien has been an intelligent presence at the back, as well as chipping in with timely goals. One player who has been absent in this, though, is Rayan Cherki.

Still just 20, Cherki had been impressive as a counterpart to the now-departed Bradley Barcola down the back end of last season, the two academy products providing the perfect foil for Lacazette. Cherki picked up three goals and three assists as Les Gones pushed for a place in Europe, but ultimately fell short. 2024, however, has been quite a different situation -- Cherki hadn't started a league match since an ugly 3-1 loss to Le Havre, and was yet to score a goal in the competition. Granted, he had featured in the Coupe de France, but competition from Ernest Nuamah made his place in the side far from guaranteed.



With Lyon down 2-1 at a lively Stade Municipal, though, Cherki was given his chance, replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles and the response was electric. Within ten minutes, he had scored, slotting the ball home from Mama Baldé's low cross. An assist, for the gamewinner, would come just four minutes later, as he delivered a sumptuous cross from a corner for O'Brien to head home.

Along with completing eight dribbles (only two players, Jérémy Doku and Oumar Diakité have more this season, and both had played complete matches), Cherki had three shots and made two key passes, knitting the visitors' attack together after all had seemed lost following a premature exit for Lacazette. That playmaking ability will continue to be key, but a closer look at Cherki's ability on the ball is also warranted.

Since Opta began keeping statistics in 2006/7, Cherki ranks sixth in successful dribbles completed per 90 minutes (4.25) -- only Ousmane Dembélé has a higher total among players currently in Ligue 1. He also has a remarkable success rate -- 57%, level with the likes of Lionel Messi, showing that his skills are indeed on a high level.

Speaking post-match, Cherki offered that he may have been motivated on the night by having been snubbed by Thierry Henry's squad list for France's U-21s. Cherki has been a lynchpin for Les Espoirs since receiving his first call-up, scoring 11 goals in 20 appearances, and with a crucial qualifier for next summer's tournament looming, he was disappointed at being left out: “I was disappointed, we know that (playing for) the national has worked out well for me. The coach is right, I haven't performed well enough in the last few matches, but I hope that tonight's match will make him smile."

This was reflected as well in what Cherki had told Sage during the match. "Before he came on, he admitted to me that he was angry." But, Sage continued, "There is also the need for Cherki to play on this level more consistently, to find other sources of motivation. We are happy for Rayan and we wait for him to reproduce these benefits on a regular basis. His future will be bright if he maintains this level of performance."

If Friday's display is anything to go by, that level has absolutely stratospheric potential, making Lyon a dark horse for the European places with eight matches to play. Still involved in the Coupe de France as well, Les Gones remain a must-watch side, their early-season struggles now seemingly a thing of the past.

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