LE SPIRO: Depay coming of age
Memphis Depay's exceptional form means he will be the principal threat to Saint-Etienne in Friday's eagerly anticipated Rhône derby, writes Matthew Spiro.
When Depay single-handedly saved Lyon away to Guingamp before the international break - scoring two sensational goals and setting up two more in a breath-taking 20-minute blitz - he confirmed his status as one of the most thrilling talents in Ligue 1 Conforama. The Dutchman has always had style (on and especially off the pitch) but now there is substance to his play too. Indeed, with 16 goals and 13 assists so far in 2018, he is the league's most productive player, above even Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.
Since his Guingamp heroics, OL's cocksure attacker has taken his great form onto the international stage, terrorising both France and Germany's defences and inspiring the Netherlands to the Nations League final four. At 24, he is in the form of his life and on Friday night Memphis - rather than traditional nemesis Nabil Fekir - will be the man Saint-Etienne fear most.
Yet Lyon's fans are still not sure what to make of their mercurial no11. During his two years in the Rhône Valley he has blown hot and cold, and has lacked humility at times. Having interviewed Depay, and having spoken to players who have played with him, I can say he does not come across as the arrogant individual that his flashy appearance and occasionally over-confident comments may suggest. In fact, he seems perfectly nice and even down to earth. But he doesn't help himself sometimes.
Last season, for example, he stated that "obviously" he wanted to play for a bigger club than Lyon. It's good to have ambition but there are better ways to express that without upsetting those who support you and want to like you. Last month Depay produced another tactless outburst after being left on the bench against Angers. "I deserve more than this - I should be playing every match," he complained, to the annoyance of his teammates.
Hot and cold
The problem is when you talk like that you cannot afford to be bad. Depay, let's not forget, failed to score a single goal between Rounds 2 and 9 this term. Against Hoffenheim a fortnight ago, he squandered a host of chances and got jeered off. Lyon boss Bruno Genesio is not stupid; if Depay was performing like Lionel Messi week in, week out, he would not leave him on the bench.
A match-winning display against Les Verts would do wonders for his popularity among the Lyon faithful, yet Depay needs to look beyond Friday's game. He needs to produce his current level of performances on a consistent, longer-term basis if he is to fulfil his enormous potential.
Anybody who watched him against Manchester City, Guingamp, France or Germany will confirm that this player has the ability to be one of the very best in the world. He has strength, skill, speed off the mark, power to surge past players, and increasingly an end product. His flaws are his inconsistency, but also his tendency to switch off when the opposition have the ball. The ex-PSV Eindhoven man's ineffective defending is particularly problematic when he plays on the left wing - and is almost certainly the reason Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho agreed to sell him.
Into his own
But Genesio and Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman have minimised that problem by repositioning Depay as a centre forward. It is a role he has grown into and may well be his best position the long term. Depay's sharp movement, link-up play and penchant for darting in behind defences make him a nightmare for defenders. What is clear is that St Etienne will need to be on their mettle if they are to keep Ligue 1 Conforama's most in-form player at bay.