PSG won the final on penalties but both sides showed they are rested and ready for the return of the Champions League

PSG’s 1-0 win over St Étienne in the Coupe de France final last weekend was a somewhat dour affair and their victory over Lyon in the Coupe de la Ligue final on Friday night was also far from the prettiest evening of football. PSG were without Kylian Mbappé, who had suffered an ankle injury against St Étienne, and looked somewhat disjointed. Ángel Di María was uncharacteristically off the boil; Mauro Icardi was seemingly hampered by an injury that led to him being substituted after an hour; and even Neymar struggled to have an impact. It was not the greatest game, finishing goalless before PSG won on penalties, but the occasion at the Stade de France will have served both sides well as they prepare for the return of the Champions League.

Lyon’s 3-5-2 formation often looked more like a 4-5-1, with Memphis not close enough to striker Moussa Dembélé. Despite the inclusion of the usually forward-thinking Houssem Aouar, Lyon’s midfield was as combative as they have been under Rudi Garcia, with both Bruno Guimarães and Maxence Caqueret snapping into tackles. Lucas Tousart returned to his parent club Hertha Berlin in July, leaving Lyon without a natural holding player, yet they showed the same bite and vigour that helped them beat Juventus 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie – a two-legged tie that began five months ago and will conclude in Turin on Friday night.

It would be easy to criticise Garcia for being too negative against PSG in the final, but his approach worked well. Lyon, playing in their first competitive match after a long lay-off, kept PSG at bay. Their three-man defence was stellar, with Marçal continuing his evolution into a capable option on the left and even the much-maligned Joachim Andersen barely putting a foot wrong when called upon from the bench.

A word should be given for Anthony Lopes, too. The Lyon goalkeeper has been criticised in the past for his volatile distribution, but he is among the best shot-stoppers in France. He proved that again on Friday, making half a dozen fine saves, including tipping a header from Neymar over the bar and stretching low to his left to deny Di María in added time. He did not save any penalties in the shootout, which PSG won after Bertrand Traoré failed to score for Lyon, but his man-of-the-match performance was the reason his team made it that far.

If Lyon are this stingy against Juventus, they will surely reach the Champions League quarter-finals. Having kept a clean sheet in the first leg, they know that a goalless draw in Turin would be enough. If they manage to score an away goal, the pressure will start to mount on Maurizio Sarri’s champions.

Lyon also had their opportunities to score. Moussa Dembélé and Maxwel Cornet scuffed chances and Keylor Navas was forced into a few saves. Lyon wanted to win the trophy – especially as it would have given them European football next season – but at least the game served as a dress rehearsal for their forthcoming challenges in the Champions League. Having kept PSG at arm’s length for 120 minutes, Garcia and his squad should be encouraged. Continue reading

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