LE SPIRO: Mercurial OL capable of winning in Paris
Lyon have already won away to the English champions, and Bruno Genesio's exciting - if unpredictable - side are capable of beating their French counterparts on Sunday too, writes Matthew Spiro.
The good news for Olympique Lyonnais is they tend to reserve their best performances for the biggest matches. The bad news is that even if they beat Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes, they will still be seven points behind the leaders. Genesio's team have been so inconsistent during the first two months of the campaign they have almost certainly already blown any chance they might have had of winning the title.
Hot and cold
So far Lyon have managed to triumph away to Premier League leaders Manchester City and smash four goals past Marseille. Yet that same team has also lost to Reims and Nice, drawn with crisis-hit Nantes and failed to beat nine-man Caen. It is as though a switch can be flicked which transforms OL from lackadaisical wasters who struggle to string three passes together and cannot bring themselves to defend as a team, to world-beaters who are hungry in the tackle and attack in relentless waves.
It is of course Genesio's job to ensure we see more of the latter and less of the former. Yet it is the fact they are capable of playing so well - and yet so often fall short - that frustrates their supporters the most.
Against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night it was almost as though the team couldn't decide if this was one of the big matches or not. It was a Champions League encounter but the opponents were not especially familiar and the game was played behind closed doors, in an eerie silence. The Ukrainians were focused and looked far sharper in the first half, deservedly scoring before the break. But a totally different Lyon came out in the second half and, although they conceded again, the hosts came back to 2-2 and created more than enough clear chances to have won.
It is easy to point out the problem but far harder to solve it. Genesio knows perfectly well that his players' focus and intensity fluctuates too much from game to game. He hammers the point home to the press after each setback. Even Houssem Aouar, at the tender age of 20, could tell something wasn't right after Lyon let victory slip from their grasp against Nantes. "We have to be able to make efforts altogether," he said.
Genesio needs leadership and characters on the pitch who ensure these glitches don't happen. Jason Denayer is perhaps emerging as one of those figures. The ex-Manchester City stopper is looking the part. Nabil Fekir has been a leader for some time already. Arguably though Lyon are lacking personality in an area of the pitch where it matters most: midfield.
Aouar, Tanguy Ndombele and Lucas Tousart are all fine young players with big futures. But none is over 21. When you start out, no matter how talented you are, you cannot be expected to carry the extra responsibility of having to lift those around you. You focus on playing well and doing your bit. Aouar and Ndombele in particular have been excelling in that respect. But when the intensity dips, when the opposition start to get on top, they aren't able to shake Lyon out of its slumber.
Lyon have great quality in attack, but it should be said that the forwards are also guilty of blowing hot and cold. Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traoré are certainly not the most consistent, and that doesn't help. Depay couldn't stop scoring in the second half of last season, but the goals suddenly dried up and the Dutchman has now lost his place. That said, when Depay came on against Shakhtar, he looked sensationally good. So what should Genesio do? Restore Depay for the trip to Paris, hoping that the mercurial forward's form has returned? Or not take the risk with a player who hasn't netted since Week 1? Put yourself in the coach's shoes. It isn't easy.
Sunday's game should be thrilling. PSG haven't been seriously tested yet in Ligue 1 this season, but Lyon are most definitely capable of matching them. We will get a far better idea of how much progress Paris have made under Thomas Tuchel. Lyon fans would of course love to see their side claim a first win in the capital for over a decade, and such a triumph would be duly celebrated. Yet a lingering frustration would remain when they look at the league table. For until Lyon manage to hit on that elusive formula that allows them to beat weaker opponents on a consistent basis, the wait for the club's eighth league title - a first since 2008 - will continue.