Lyon-Lille: where the game can be won

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Title rivals Lyon and Lille meet on Sunday for 90 minutes that could decide the outcome of the Ligue 1 Uber Eats crown this season - ligue1.com sizes up the heavyweight pair and highlights where the game could be won and championship ambitions lost at the Groupama Stadium.

1) HOME, (NOT SO) SWEET HOME

Lyon are hosting the Round 34 showdown, but may be better advised to pretend they're the visiting side. Rudi Garcia's men have picked up 33 of their 67 points — a Ligue 1 record for a fourth-placed team at this stage of the season — in the Groupama Stadium, but last weekend's win at Nantes means 34 have come on their travels, albeit from a game more.

Christophe Galtier will have sympathy with his counterpart. The Lille boss's side have scored 37 of their league-leading 70 points 'on the road', and are unbeaten in their last 11 away games in the French top flight, winning nine of them. In fact, only one side boasts a better streak…yes, you've guessed it: Lyon.

WATCH: What happened when Lyon and Lille met earlier this season

2) ATTACK vs. DEFENCE

The stats would suggest that this contest is going to be very finely balanced. Lyon have scored 65 goals, 11 more than Lille, but have conceded 12 goals more…

Galtier recently rejected suggestions his team's play is defensive, but they certainly are great defensively having conceded just 20 goals this season, PSG are next-best with 25. The imposing partnership of Jose Fonte and Sven Botman in central defence has given the league leaders the most solid of platforms with Mike Maignan proving an almost impassible last line of defence.

Lille will need that iron-clad foundation against a Lyon team that is bursting with creativity and has been outscored by only PSG and Monaco this season. The seven-time French champions have found the net in all but one of their last 29 league games, and have proven almost impossible to catch when they get their noses in front: they've failed to win just one of the 18 top-flight matches this term in which they have scored the opening goa, and haven't lost once. 

3) MAIGNAN vs. DEPAY

This contest is a microcosm of the larger battle between the two teams. 

The Lille goalkeeper has been one of the stand-out performers for the northerners this season. If Galtier's men boast the division's best defence, they owe a sizeable debt of gratitude to Maignan, who has justifiably forced his way into the France squad. 

No goalkeeper in one of Europe's top five leagues has registered more clean sheets than Maignan (18), and when it comes to penalties, the former Paris Saint-Germain youth academy prodigy is the man you want between the posts. In the Round 32 win at Metz, Maignan stopped his eighth spot-kick of the 26 he's faced since making his Lille debut in September, 2015.

Should he face a penalty against Lyon — and Lille have conceded a league-low two in 2020/21 — he'll come up against one of the best exponents in Depay. 

His — and OL's — second goal at Nantes was the ninth spot-kick the Netherlands international has netted in as many attempts. He's been involved in 15 L1 goals in 2021, scoring 10 of them. If — and it's a big 'if' — Lille can keep Depay quiet, they'll have a great chance of taking a big stride towards their first title since Garcia guided them to the domestic double in 2010/11.

4) THE MIDFIELD BATTLE

Another man Lille will need to keep the very closest tabs on is Lucas Paqueta. While the goals have dried up for Karl Toko Ekambi and Tino Kadewere has been sidelined by injury — putting paid to the fruitful 'KTM' line they formed with Depay earlier this season — the summer 2020 arrival from AC Milan has stepped up impressively.

The Brazil international has racked up four strikes and three assists, including teeing up the first goal at Nantes for Depay, in his last eight L1 matches, and he's Lyon's first central midfielder to be involved in 10 goals — six goals, four assists — in his maiden L1 campaign since Ederson and Jean II Makoun 12 years ago.

WATCH: Lucas Paqueta's first Ligue 1 goal

Paqueta could well find himself tied up in knots by Benjamin André, however, and he certainly wouldn't be the first. The former Rennes midfielder is one of Galtier's on-pitch lieutenants, and embodies the never-say-die hunger of fellow veterans Fonte and Burak Yilmaz that has rubbed off so effectively on their younger teammates. 

Lille's happy knack of picking up late points is no coincidence. Driven on by André, Lille have earned a massive 10 points in the last 10 minutes of league games this season, including Luiz Araujo's late equaliser against Montpellier last time out. It's a tally that no other side in the division can boast. So don't take your eyes off this one until the final whistle…

5) MOMENTUM & PRESSURE

Neither side comes into the game in exceptional form, but it's certainly not bad. In fact, both have four wins and one defeat from their last eight L1 outings. Lille might feel they have the upper hand though given they defeated PSG 1-0 in the game immediately after the reigning champions had schooled Lyon 4-2. Then again, Lille's recent loss came against strugglers Nîmes…

But fatigue could play a part with a hectic season coming into the final straight. Lyon haven't had European football to contend with, unlike Lille. On the flip side, Galtier's men were knocked out of the Coupe de France by PSG while Lyon's midweek tie with Monaco may sap legs and minds.

It's tough to say who comes into the game with most pressure. Garcia knows he must get OL back into the UEFA Champions League next season, and to do that he has to guide the side onto the Ligue 1 podium, but Lyon have been fixed in fourth for the last three matchdays. They could, however, go top with a win over Lille if other results go their way…With a trip to Monaco to follow in Round 35, as Garcia says, "It's all down to us to finish on the podium."

"We're not under pressure, because we make sure that there isn't any," insists Galtier, part kidology part philosophy, and his side also have their destiny in their own hands. "But there's a real desire to create an exploit." Missing out on the title having been top for all but one of the last 12 matchdays would be a disappointment, but surely not a devastating blow for a team that few — in fact, no-one — tipped to be so close to the ultimate crown at the start of the season. It would also be significantly softened by automatic Champions League group-stage qualification, but that means a top-two finish would most likely be required. That goal would be significantly furthered by a win over Lyon...