Olympique Lyonnais reached the second round of the Champions League last night regardless of a 3-0 away defeat to Schalke 04. Last season’s semi-finalists now sit second in Group B – a point behind Wednesday’s opponents – and face bottom side Hapoel Tel-Aviv at Stade de Gerland in the final group game. Having qualified with a game to spare usually lifts the pressure off a team, but Coach Claude Puel has insisted that his side need to be ready should Schalke fail to win at Benfica. Following the defeat he said: “It
The scoreline reflected the ruthless nature of Schalke, most notably Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – as his goal ratio has returned to that of his Ajax days. The Dutchman’s well-taken brace killed off a tie in which Lyon’s midfield had contested gamely. Yet before Huntelaar’s low drive that doubled Schalke’s advantage, the visitors had a number of chances to level. Michel Bastos connected with Yoann Gourcuff’s corner and his volley produced a fine save from Michael Neuer. Last season’s top scorer Lisandro Lopez had a penalty appeal dismissed and substitute Bafetimbi Gomis flashed a cross past the near post and, unfortunately for Lyon, his team-mates also.
Gomis then had a goal chalked off for a foul, and for Huntelaar to add a third moments later indicated how unforgiving the hosts were. There was to be no consolation for Lyon and when they attacked, it only inflicted further punishment as Schalke soaked up the pressure before both Huntelaar goals.
Despite qualifying, OL President Jean-Michel Aulas was disappointed with the attitude of the team, claiming: “The problem lies more with the players than it does with the coach or the club directors. There’s a discrepancy between the mentality and the excellent technical quality of the players. We were really below par tonight. We need to make a lot of progress; tonight we saw a lot of things that are difficult to find reasons for in such a talented squad.”
Should Lyon top the group, they will be aiming to repeat their exploits of recent seasons in the latter stages. Last season, they conquered Real Madrid before succumbing to finalists Bayern Munich in the last four. Lyon return to domestic action this weekend but could be without playmaker Gourcuff, who was stretchered off against the German outfit. They will hope their defeat to Schalke was just a blip in an otherwise resurgent return to form. Lyon go into this weekend’s game on the back of a seven match unbeaten streak, of which five were wins, catapulting them to within two points of the summit of a characteristically tight league. Lille currently lead the division, but any team down to and including Lyon in eighth could potentially end the weekend in first place – a testament to the competitiveness of Ligue 1.