Olympique Lyonnais were once the dominant force of French football, under Jean-Michel Aulas’ stewardship, the club won a record seven Ligue 1 titles on the spin. Since OL last won the title back in 2008, they’ve been on a steady decline and struggled to maintain any sort of consistency. This season has been one of major changes at OL, American businessman John Textor became the new owner and Laurent Blanc was brought in to steady the ship after a disastrous spell under Peter Bosz.
Lyon travelled to the capital in search of capitalising on PSG’s interesting form this season. The reigning champions might be top of the league once again, but they have struggled to make their roster of superstars resemble anything like a cohesive team. For all of the ‘names’ that took to the pitch on Sunday night, it was several graduates of OL’s famed youth academy that stole the show. Let’s take a look at how Les Gones are guiding Lyon back to winning ways and the players to look out for:
Les Parisiens will undoubtedly be disappointed with their performance in this game, they really should have been 1-0 up 2 minutes in as they worked an opening in the OL penalty area but Vitinha somehow chipped the ball over both the keeper and the net. The hosts breached the Lyon defensive line on multiple occasions but were constantly lacking the finishing touch. Equally though, it has to be said, Laurent Blanc’s men always appeared to be a threat on the counter and on another night, the scoreline could have been very different.
The travelling fans may have feared it wasn’t going to be their night as top scorer Alexandre Lacazette saw his first half penalty bounce back off the post. Fortunately, homegrown starlet Bradley Barcola was on hand to ensure Lyon took home all three points as he coolly slotted home Saël Kumbedi’s cross to score the only goal of the game.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, re-watch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: French
- Age: 20
- Date of birth: 02/09/2002
- Current club: Olympique Lyonnais
- Career: Olympique Lyonnais
- Position: Striker
- Secondary Position: Winger
- Preferred foot: Right
Bradley Barcola has been on the radar of many french football fans for a while, he and his brother Malcolm have climbed through the ranks at Lyon’s highly thought of academy system. When goalkeeper Malcolm moved on to pastures new, Bradley remained at OL and began to knock on the door of the first team. After an impressive 2020-21 season with Lyon’s B team, Barcola broke through into the OL first team in the 21/22 season where he made several substitute appearances. This season has seen Bradley Barcola continue to make a name for himself and his impressive performances are catching the eye of football fans across the globe.
Standing at 182cm Bradley Barcola’s physical profile is impressive for his age, he is reasonably tall as we know, yet he is incredibly agile. He can change direction quickly and possesses great pace when accelerating which caused a problem for the PSG defence from the moment he stepped onto the pitch to replace the injured Amin Sarr after 23 minutes. When the ball was played into feet, he was able to hold off his marker by using his upper body strength and showed good ability to hold up the ball in order to allow teammates to make their way up the pitch when Lyon were looking to counterattack. The Lyon forward needs to work on his duelling ability, both in the air and on the ground. During this game, Barcola only won 25% of his duels which meant when battle for the ball, he would often come off second best.
The young French forward possesses copious amounts of technical ability, when dribbling he is able to keep the ball close to his feet and looks to beat his man repeatedly with his quick thinking and deft movement. In this game, he mostly looked to travel with the ball down the left wing and cut inside onto his right foot. This was something Danilo and Marquinhos simply couldn’t cope with throughout the game. Barcola had a 100% pass completion rate during this game, with an average of 77% from the season overall. His passes will more often than not find their target meaning he is reliable in possession and able to progress the play efficiently which is especially useful when OL are playing on the counterattack.
Barcola’s tactical understanding of the game was on show throughout his time on the pitch. He was a constant thorn in the side of the PSG defence with his off the ball movement which dragged the defenders out of position and created plenty of space for Lyon to exploit, he dropped deeper to collect the ball on multiple occasions which cause chaos for Les Parisiens as they didn’t know whether to follow him or stay in their shape. As we can see from his goal, Barcola was able to hold his run in behind the defensive line just the right amount of time. As Kumbedi played the ball across the face of goal, the Lyon forward was able to use his rapid acceleration over short distance to get there ahead of the defender and calmly place the ball back across a hapless Donnarumma’s goal.
In terms of his psychological profile, Barcola presents himself as a tenacious young player with a work ethic that his coaches can be proud of. He is a very tenacious player, possibly in part due to his youthfulness, but he is not thoughtless with it; every move he makes is considered, you will rarely see the Lyon forward make an impetuous decision. He is a very intelligent player with a good reading of the game and his positioning is nothing short of excellent.
Overall, Bradley Barcola has the potential to be right at the centre of this Lyon rebuild. The club has experienced some tumultuous times of late and is looking to press reset by turning to academy graduates to steady the ship, Barcola has the potential to step into Lacazette’s shoes and lead the Lyon attack for years to come.
- Nationality: French
- Age: 18
- Date of birth: 26/05/2005
- Current club: Olympique Lyonnais
- Career: Le Havre, Olympique Lyonnais
- Position: Right Back / Right Wing Back
- Preferred foot: Right
Saël Kumbedi has been rather impressive for Lyon this season, the youngster averages 84% pass accuracy per 90 and has consistently shown his abilities when in possession. His desire to progress the play is evident from the moment he picks up the ball, 70% of his passes this season have been forward. The former Le Havre player has nailed down the role of Right Wing Back since Laurent Blanc took over and the exposure to regular first team football has meant that he has begun to thrive.
Kumbedi is approximately 175cm tall, so about 5 ft 9 for anyone who prefers imperial measurements. A noticeable trait of his is that when he’s carrying the ball, he tries to maintain a lower centre of gravity, this means it’s much more difficult for an opponent to knock him off the ball. When 1v1 defending though, he can get his body orientation wrong and it becomes relatively easy for the opposition player to bypass him. This was evident during the PSG game as Nuno Mendes managed to catch him out a few times and was able to mount an attack down the PSG left side. This could be down to youthfulness and inexperience, as Kumbedi plays more games at a higher level, he will adapt and learn how to position himself better in order to not let the opposition get a run on him.
Kumbedi loves to attack, he will fly forward whenever possible, often utilising quick one-two’s with midfielders to bypass the opposition markers. As wonderful as his attacking play is, I would like to highlight his defence work which was on show during the trip to the capital. It’s no secret PSG have a multitude of options in attack and it was important that Lyon managed to keep them all relatively quiet. This required Kumbedi to put his attacking tendencies under a little more control than normal and when in the defensive phase, he would sit in narrow to form a back five to prevent Mbappe, Messi and co. being able to play straight through them. Of course, a more organised and cohesive PSG team could have realistically found a way around this as shown above, but they didn’t and this actually worked to Lyon’s advantage.
When in the attacking phase, Kumbedi looked to stay as wide as possible in order to stretch the Parc des Princes pitch as wide as possible. He showcased great determination and would frequently make runs into the penalty area when possible. This Lyon team constantly looked to Kumbedi as an attacking outlet and he was their first choice when looking to transition from defence to attack quickly. The Lyon right wing back has won approximately half of his duels this seasons, this in itself is not too disconcerting as the entire OL team struggle when battling for possession. This is likely a key reason why Blanc asks his team to look to counter when possible – it plays to their strengths.
Saël Kumbedi was a key player in Lyon’s victory over PSG, the talented defender departed the field after 65 minutes with an assist to his name and it was no less than his performance deserved. At only 18 he is showing a magnificent amount of potential, I think it won’t be long before we see Premier League clubs come calling for Kumbedi.