MAHADEVAN SANKAR 17th August 2020/p>

Lyon pulled off one of the shock results of the UEFA Champions League, in a season of surprises by knocking out Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. This is City’s second consecutive loss in the quarter-finals, with the Catalan tactician yet to reach the final of Europe’s prestigious competition since leaving Barcelona. Meanwhile, Rudi Garcia continues his exceptional start at Lyon, who were in complete shambles before his arrival. The Frenchman has provided a platform for his young guns to express themselves, watched over by experienced older heads. Les Gones have now knocked out both Juventus & City, despite being out of action for 5 months.

After Maxwel Cornet opened the scoring in style, Kevin De Bruyne scored an excellent equalizer that looked to be the boost City needed to wake up from what was a slothful display. However, the Sky Blues withered away and Lyon capitalized, as super-sub Moussa Dembélé scored a late brace to book his side an unexpected place in the semi-finals against the blistering Bayern Munich.

After reflecting on what’s been an insane round of fixture, More Than A Game tactically break down a result that no one saw coming; and that’s including the most ardent of Lyon fans.


Guardiola set up City in a 3-4-2-1 shape to start the game, in a bid to match the Lyon setup in midfield, with De Bruyne given a free roaming role to control the game. Despite the Citizens usually playing in a 4-3-3 system, it was a major surprise to see the introduction of Eric García into the fray to form a 3-man defence, considering Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte were ace against Real Madrid. However, the former Bayern Munich boss gave an explanation behind his tinkering with the backline after the defeat.

“They (Lyon) are so fast and our central defenders are not so quick so I didn’t want to leave them two versus two.”

The absence of Phil Foden was yet another tweak that raised eyebrows, considering the 20-year old thrived as a false 9 against Los Blancos in what was a high-pressing and fluid front three. Yet again, Guardiola, despite tactically outclassing Zidane, excessively tinkered with his system when it was unrequired and unlike most occasions when his approach is to be ultra-bold, this was the complete opposite and was key to City’s labored display, aside the individual errors.

Rudi Garcia didn’t make any major changes for the tie, opting to continue with the same team that lost at Turin the previous week. The verve & industriousness of his young midfielders, was well balanced by the experience & physicality of his three central defenders in Jason Denayer, Marcelo & Fernando Marçal. Cornet, who has tormented City in their previous encounters, continued at left wing-back, matching up against Kyle Walker.


Manchester City

(via WhoScored.com)


City’s shape meant they created a 3v2 superiority while building up in phase-1. They were able to progress freely in their own half, due to the lack of off-the-ball pressure by the Lyon forwards- Memphis Depay and Karl Toko Ekambi. Laporte and Fernandinho played a bit wider, in order to facilitate ball progression while KDB opted to drop deep to receive the ball, allowing the wing-backs in Walker & Cancelo to push forward.

When Guardiola’s men began the phase-2 build-up, Lyon opted to remain compact, with their young superstar midfield talents in Maxence Caqueret and Houssem Aouar squaring up to Rodri and Gündoğan. This meant City could not bypass the midfield line centrally, forcing them to progress the ball in wide areas. As a result, Sterling and De Bruyne dropped into the channels, linking up with the wing-backs via the usage of one-twos in order to progress the ball. Cancelo’s incisive passes to Sterling was the central and perhaps the most threatening feature of the Sky Blues’ attack in the first 45.

This was a ploy in order to drag the Lyon central midfielders wide, thereby opening up space for Rodri & Gundogan in the middle. Once this line was bypassed, Sterling opted to make runs in behind the Lyon centre-backs, in an effort to push the line back, trying to create balls for Jesus & De Bruyne to feed off.

City’s left-sided bias in action

This changed at half-time with Pep bringing on Mahrez for Fernandinho, who looked a tackle away from a sending off, which led to an instant shift in the team’s shape to a 4-2-3-1, with the Algerian introduced to offer that much needed verve and directness missing from City’s performance and De Bruyne operating in a more central role. This essentially allowed the Belgian to receive on the half-turn and unsurprisingly, he was much more influential in the second 45 driving forward & creating chances for City. This systemic shift freed up Sterling to attack the Lyon defence head on and with Mahrez pinging an excellent ball for the Englishman, City’s No.7 did the same for KDB to emphatically level things up.

City looked good value for a comeback, but they were let down by Ederson and ultimately couldn’t make the chances count especially with the late miss by Jesus as well as Sterling’s shocking open-goal miss. If you’ve watched the Sky Blues enough this season, they shoot themselves in the foot, time and again with their abject finishing and once against, it proved costly in what’s been the primary reason behind a disappointing campaign.


Lyon opted to move the ball vertically in transition situations primarily, using the strength of Toko Ekambi against the likes of Fernandinho and García in particular. The Cameroonian caused a number of problems to the aforementioned duo who were unable to deal with him physically. The Brazilian veteran in particular was troubled, picking up fouls against him constantly while his Barcelona-bound partner was isolated for the 1st goal, when he couldn’t deal with the long ball from Marçal to Ekambi.

García’s lack of pace is a chink in the armor that he needs to work on, despite being an intelligent reader of the game as he isn’t a physical specimen by any means.

In the first phase, they dealt with the pressing of the City front 3, using the free man in Bruno Guimarães who was free to dictate play from deep when Lyon had the ball. The Brazilian was astute in his distribution, while positioning himself well to receive the ball from the Lyon central defenders. There was also the occasional switch of play into the wing-backs to relieve pressure, with excellent support from Caqueret who often dropped deep.

Bruno Guimarães’ was on job

In the second phase build-up, both Lyon central midfielders in Aouar and Caqueret dropped into the half-spaces, to link up with the wing-backs and strikers, creating triangles. Depay played a free role in attack, attacking the channels with an occasional pressing of the City central defenders. However, despite several of Lyon’s players shining on the night, Aouar in particular was the standout performer in midfield.

The Frenchman, who is constantly pipped to make a move to City was superb on his supposed “audition”, making two tackles in the end and completing more dribbles (4) than any other player in a mature showing. One tackle and one interception highlighted his work rate, while two successful dribbles reinforced how swift he was all game with the ball at his feet. What was key though was that Aouar was fouled four times in the first-half as City pinpointed the diminutive midfielder as Lyon’s key man.

Aouar was everywhere on the night

In the second half, he started slowly but was a major influence for Dembélé’s brace off the bench, with him assisting the first one while taking the shot that was spilled by Ederson for the third.

Off The Ball

Manchester City

In the 1st phase after losing the ball, the City front 3 of Jesus, Sterling & De Bruyne counter pressed immediately to force turnovers, in order to create attacking transitions. Once Lyon bypassed the first press, City opted to hold shape in a 5-3-2 shape, in order to force turnovers by the cutting of passing lanes in the centre. They also used tactical fouls in midfield bypass situations to eliminate counter attacking transitions.

The problems faced by City in the 2nd phase were largely due to Maxwel Cornet attacking the space on the wings. The power and dynamism of the Ivorian completely overwhelmed Walker as Lyon’s lionhearted left wing-back made darting runs in behind the City defence on the right and was also defensively competent in his own half, to negate the right side of City’s attack.

Cornet loves playing against City, doesn’t he?

Individual errors of their defenders compounded to City’s woes, as Fernandinho & Walker were caught up the field by Marçal’s long ball to Toko-Ekambi, isolating the young García for the 1st goal.

Ederson was the main culprit arguably for all three of Lyon’s goals. He was caught outside his box in no man’s land for the 1st, beaten fairly easily for the 2nd & spilling a simple shot into the path of Dembélé for the 3rd.


Lyon in particular did not decide to counter press in the opposition half, allowing the City centre-backs to circulate the ball. Instead, they remained compact in midfield, opting to cut off passing lanes centrally, which forced Guardiola’s side to build up in wide areas. In the second phase of City’s build-up, the energy of the Lyon midfielders prevented them from creating anything substantial in the first 45.

City’s formation change in the 2nd half was decisive, with the Lyon defence unable to contain KDB and Sterling. Fernando Marçal in particular had a standout performance, showcasing his valuable experience and astute decision-making at the highest stage.

After City equalized, Rudi Garcia made some brilliant changes, being proactive and instantly bringing on Dembélé for the ineffective Depay.

The Frenchman delivered to say the least. In addition, the Lyon boss also beefed up the midfield using Thiago Mendes & Reine-Adelaide to further boost the compactness in the middle of the park.


All in all, a brilliant night for Les Gones as they reach their first semi-final in a decade. They will face the imperious machine in Bayern Munich, who themselves served up a spectacle in their 8-2 demolition of Barcelona. The semi-final tie could serve up an enthralling matchup between two different styles. Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has to go back to the drawing board at City after failing to deliver once again in Europe’s elite competition.

Once again, the Champions League doesn’t cease to surprise as the Lyon fairytale continues.

(All tactical images are via WhoScored.com)

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