After defying the odds to knock out Juventus and Manchester City, Champions League underdogs Lyon are eyeing another shock on Wednesday as they take on mighty Bayern Munich for a place in the final.
Lyon, who finished a miserable seventh in the French league this season, have enjoyed a remarkable run in Europe, securing only their second ever Champions League semi-final.
They will face the very same opponents who denied them a spot in the final ten years ago in a 4-0 aggregate defeat – except this time Bayern are looking even stronger.
“They don’t have a lot of weak points but no team is perfect,” Lyon coach Rudy Garcia said of the German champions, who humiliated Leo Messi’s Barcelona in an 8-2 quarter-final drubbing last week.
Statistics will count for nothing when Lyon take on the free-scoring Bavarians at Lisbon’s Estádio José Alvalade, Garcia warned during a press conference on Tuesday.
Asked about Bayern’s impressive firepower, Garcia pointed out that his team had sent an equally formidable attacking side packing in the quarter-finals, stunning tournament favourites Manchester City 3-1.
“City scored more than 100 goals in the Premier League, so if we just look at the stats we can watch the game at the hotel and Bayern can play alone,” Garcia quipped.
“Perhaps we’re not a big mountain to climb, but sometimes just a little pebble in your shoe can prevent you from climbing,” he added. “We’re hoping to be that little pebble.”
Youth over money
Financially there is a lot at stake for Lyon. Beyond the huge prestige of winning the European Cup for the first time, the French club have to win the final just to qualify for next season’s competition after their disappointing run in a French league season curtailed by the pandemic.
“To be part of a squad that is quietly and humbly writing history is really, really nice,” said 23-year-old forward Maxwell Cornet, whose goal set Lyon on the path to victory against City.
“We have a young squad. I think you can feel that on the pitch,” Cornet added.
Skilfully running Lyon’s midfield are academy graduate Houssem Aouar and defensive midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who are both 22. And 20-year-old Maxence Caqueret also rose through the ranks at Lyon.
The homegrown trio bossed the midfield against Emirati-owned City, the most expensively assembled squad in Europe.
“Lyon really are a very good team tactically,” Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said ahead of the game. “They can play on the break, and they have killers in their ranks who punished City mercilessly.”
Neuer added: “We have to make sure we’re wide awake. Any mistake can be quickly punished and you’re quickly out.”
Among those rooting for Lyon will be Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappé, fresh from his team’s maiden qualification for the Champions League final.
Speaking after PSG’s 3-0 semi-final victory over RB Leipzig on Tuesday, Mbappé said he hoped Lyon would beat Bayern to set up an all-French final.
PSG defeat Leipzig 3-0 to advance to club’s first Champions League final
“I’d prefer Lyon for sure, because they are a French team,” the World Cup-winning striker told reporters.
“It will be a very tough game. If it’s Bayern, fine, but if it were Lyon it would certainly make it a very special occasion,” he added.
PSG are the first French side to qualify for the final since Monaco in 2004. They would perhaps not be favourites in a final against Bayern, but they certainly would be against Lyon.
The Qatar-owned Parisians ran away with the Ligue 1 title this season and thrashed Lyon 5-1 in the French Cup semi-final in March.
Lyon did take PSG to penalties in the League Cup final last month, only to lose the shootout.