And so Lyon’s odyssey ends. After upsetting Juventus and Manchester City, Rudi Garcia and his team were unable to spring a third shock in a fortnight, losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals. Lyon went down with a fight though, giving as good as they got for most of the match, with some fine saves by Manuel Neuer and an outstanding performance from Serge Gnabry enough to make the gap between the two sides that much clearer. The real difference between the teams, though, was the way they approached the match. Whereas Lyon set out to hide their weaknesses, Bayern tried to emphasise their own strengths. That positivity was telling on the night.
Lyon also suffered from some woeful finishing – and decision-making – from Karl Toko Ekambi, who was picked for his pace and movement rather than his goalscoring touch. Hindsight is always 20/20 and there will be plenty of armchair managers eager to criticise Garcia for leaving out Moussa Dembélé, who came off the bench against Manchester City in the quarter-finals and scored a brace. Lyon had a poor night in front of goal, with Memphis Depay also so off target that questions are being asked in the French press about his fitness and the wisdom of including him from the start.
More than anything, though, Lyon were up against a Bayern team that was not only more talented, but also well organised and set up to play to their strengths. Juventus’ creaking 4-4-2 and Pep Guardiola’s lumbering trio of defensive midfielders could do little to break down a Lyon defence that had grown ever more comfortable in a 3-5-2. Yet Bayern, by relying on the movement of Thomas Müller and the pace of Alphonso Davies and Gnabry, were able to attack Lyon in a way that exposed a system designed to hide Lyon’s frailties at the back, making for a relatively comfortable win, even on a night when Robert Lewandowski was well below his incisive best.
Lyon adopted this tactical setup for a number of reasons, primarily because they could not find an ideal partner for Jason Denayer in the centre of defence. Marcelo, despite his aerial ability, is simply too slow; Joachim Andersen is too naive and error-prone. By playing three at the back, Marcelo could be insulated from the speed of players such as Davies or Gnabry. So Marcelo played at the centre of defence with Denayer and converted left-back Marçal flanking him, and the full-backs, Léo Dubois and Maxwel Cornet, pushed higher up the pitch but not so high that they would forsake their defensive duties.
This had worked a charm against Manchester City. Denayer and Marçal were able to step up and pressure the ball outside of their area, limiting the impact of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. Against Bayern, though, the searing pace of Gnabry was simply too much for the burgeoning relationship between Cornet and Marçal on the left side of the Lyon defence. Gnabry found the seams far too easily, exemplified by his move inside for the opening goal. With Davies bombing forward on the opposite flank, Dubois was also pinned back. By offering a balanced attacking threat, Bayern nullified Lyon’s ability to counter from wide positions.