The first game of City’s Champions League campaign happened to be their worst result of the season so far. A 1-2 reverse to Olympique Lyonnais has since been followed by several decisive European victories against Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk, but as City’s only defeat this season the memory still lingers.
Did Lyon’s win mean they have some sort of secret sauce to beat City? Not particularly. This was more City being out of sorts in their initial Champions League encounter
Lyon’s defensive shape was pretty high, though they were decidedly not pressing City’s center-backs, waiting until the ball moved to Fernandinho to apply pressure. This is generally the right approach as City can eviscerate a high press and conceding too much space is often a death sentence.
City’s Usage Rates from the game appear to show Lyon’s approach worked, with Fernandinho’s Usage substantially increased from his season’s average as he struggled with passing and lost the ball three times. That said, most of the time City failed in the buildup it was mostly their own making, not an exceptional Lyon effort.
|Player||Usage Rate||Success %|
The first goal arose from an errant Fernandinho pass under no pressure whatsoever and the second when Laporte unwisely passed to him when Fekir, the only opponent anywhere near, was in an excellent position to win the ball. Unforced errors defined the first half buildup, and Lyon’s counter-attacking strength allowed them to take advantage, but it wasn’t a particularly strong defensive performance by them.
Lyon’s stats in Ligue 1 also mark this game as an outlier. They allow the third most shots of any team in the league and are 11th in expected goals allowed (as per Understat). This is not a team built on defensive prowess; they rely on the talent of Depay, Fekir, et al to just outscore the opposition.
When City did make it into the final third, they were also limited by having Bernardo playing on the wing. Though the Portuguese has been much improved this season, most of that has been playing in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne in the Belgian’s role.
With Bernardo dropping deeper often and Ilkay Gundogan playing conservatively on that side as well, most of the attack was shifted down City’s left (as you can see with Sterling and David Silva’s Usage Rates) which made it much more predictable. It’s notable that after Sane’s arrival shifted Bernardo further infield, the Portuguese star then grabbed his goal to make the game a contest (and earned Twelve’s best ranking on the night).
To that end, I think City really need to include Mahrez on the right flank to start to gain more directness on that flank. Bernardo unfortunately may not be able to feature due to injury, but his performances this season and against Lyon show he’s better suited to an interior position anyway.
City also need to stop settling for poor shots. Of the 22 total shots, 9 were from outside the box and half of them were taken by the defenders and Fernandinho. Again, getting more balance in attack should improve the situation.
While Lyon certainly have a chance to complete the double, City should be able to get some revenge on the French side on Tuesday. A win would secure qualification from the group stage and I expect City to be able to turn their sights back on the busy domestic schedule starting Wednesday morning.