Heads Screwed On

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar August 26, 2018 16:47

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Heads Screwed On

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 24th 2018)

Fekir’s Return

The ‘African’ World Cup winner Nabil Fekir made his long awaited return to action tonight – a cameo rather than star turn, but very welcome nevertheless. After 79 minutes, coach, Bruno Genesio signalled the moment had arrived. Fekir stood at the touchline, feeling the love of the Lyon faithful. If their captain and coach had any worries about the reception Fekir would receive they were quickly cast aside.

Ligue Un is underway. His club Olympique Lyonnais have had a difficult pre-season. Fekir had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to leave – he had no pre-season as he looked set to leave. His heart was set on the move, and it seemed that the £53m transfer would definitely happen. Then it hit a medical hitch – Liverpool had concerns about his knee, but Fekir, at the top of his value, was already a Liverpool player in his head. Now he remains a Lyon player, their captain.

Genesio, had explained the problems Fekir faced, but assured journalists that Fekir was ready for at least an hour. Until tonight he had not played for Lyon this season or even in pre-season at all. He got a hero’s reception when he came on for just over ten minutes, replacing Pape Cheikh Diop. It was far from the best he’d ever played, but touches showed why Liverpool and Chelsea were interested.

So Over It

The collapse of the transfer affected Fekir. It was a very difficult situation for Lyon too. He had to stay when he wanted to leave. How would he cope, and how would his team-mates and fans react? The answers came tonight. When he was spotted warming up, he got a huge ovation, and when he came on, an even bigger one.

“It is never easy accepting this kind of situation, when you are very near to signing for a club where you want to go, where you want to reach another level and to give a boost to your career,” his coach Bruno Genesio said before the match. “But as I said, it could have been worse for him. He is at Lyon, at a strong club. He is captain of a team who plays in the Champions League.” He later added: “He now has to contribute towards a great season for us.”

But for Fekir it’s a closed chapter – painful but closed. “These things happens,” he said. “It’s just how it is.; we have to move on. It’s well in the past now. I have totally comes to terms with the failed transfer to Liverpool.”
In terms of the reasons it failed, he said only Liverpool know that.

Fekir always wanted to let his boots talk for him. “It’s a pleasure to get back on the field,” he said. “I always want to play, but we have to be patient. … The most important thing was the win and that’s what we managed to do.”

The Supporting Cast

Fekir didn’t score today or pull the strings – a Premier League outcast did that. Memphis Depay failed at Manchester United, but at Lyon he has a role that suits him and the trust of his boss. He plays freely orchestrating Lyon’s offensive play. Tonight he did more in the second half. His free-kicks failed to beat Mats Sels in Strasbourg’s goal, but he set up opportunities for Fekir, and for a youngster who never got a chance at Chelsea, but is demonstrating his talent in Lyon, Bertrand Traoré.

Another player shone, eventually. Ferland Mendy started shakily. He was lucky to avoid a booking when Kenny Lala went over him near the touchline within 5 minutes – Amaury Delerue decided a stern word would do. It didn’t. Within ten minutes a blatant trip on Nuno da Costa Joia resulted in a yellow card, but Mendy played a vital role in the match. It was his through-ball on 42 minutes that put Martin Terrier in on the left of the area. Terrier curled it past Sels to give Lyon a deserved lead – his celebrations were muted as it was his former club. That gave Depay a licence to boss the match – an invitation the Dutchman accepted. Mendy broke free on the left, but his cross eluded Depay, and soon Depay turned putative provider, but his cross evaded former Chelsea prospect Bertrand Traoré. The Burkinabe had previously demanded a save from Sels at his near post. With an hour gone Pape Cheikh Diop put Traoré through, but the angle was too tight to test Sels.

He wouldn’t be denied for long, and what a goal it was. Terrier began the flowing counter-attack on the left flank, deep in his own half linking with Mendy and then Depay. The former Manchester United player surged forward on the left and squared to Traoré who turned inside at the far post to slot neatly past Sels. Lyon never looked like surrendering their lead.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar August 26, 2018 16:47