Ligue 1 has reached its half-way point and Olympiqye Lyonnais are second in the division, just two points behind top of the table Marseille and ahead of reigning title holders Paris Saint-Germain. Lyon’s early season success has its foundations in the club’s academy, with graduate Alexandre Lacazette’s receiving many of the plaudits – as well as interest from other clubs.
Lyon certainly deserve to be in the title race too; no club has scored more than its 40 goals, with OL’s 14.9 shots per match ranking second in the division (behind Marseille) as its 10.4 shots conceded per match is the sixth lowest. The result is a league leading 0.59 total shots ratio (shots for/shots for + against), with its 0.63 shots on target ratio ranking second behind PSG. While a title challenge may have seemed unlikely entering the season, with a projected 0.5 percent chance of the title according to BSports, Lyon are certainly not in a false position.
The question is whether Lyon remain in the title race? Hubert Fournier’s have a 12.7 percent chance of winning Ligue 1 according to BSports projections, behind both Marseille and PSG. Yet what Lyon are currently showing is how successful building through a club’s academy can be. After winning seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles, Lyon spent big to attempt to remain at the top; however failing to qualify for the Champions League meant a change of approach. The club have had success with academy products before, with Karim Benzema being one of the more high profile graduates, but this season has seen a huge reliance on player development. A total of 24 players have been used by Fournier so far this term, 13 of them spent at least some of their youth career with the club. Furthermore, these 13 players have combined for 12,067, 64.1 percent of minutes played by Lyon’s players – and that’s without France international Clement Grenier being available for selection due to injury.
The standout star has been Lacazette after a breakout 2013-14. There’s a lot to like about the 23-year-old – he works hard, has lots of pace, a good touch and he has already set career highs in goals (17) and assists (five) after scoring 15 last season; benefitting from moving to a central position rather than playing on the wing. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (25) has scored more goals than Lacazette across Europe’s big five leagues so far this season, as the Lyon striker is shining in a league that traditionally struggles for goals. He has boosted his tally with three strikes from the spot, yet his non-penalty goals per 90 average is comfortably ahead of his average from last season – both at the same point in terms of appearances and his final NPG/90 of 0.46.
Furthermore, Lacazette is also both shooting and creating at a stronger rate than he has over the course of his career, averaging a term leading 3.46 shots and 1.87 shot assists on a per 90 basis. He has converted 42.4 percent of his shots on target, a very high number that seems likely to decline, yet 64.7 percent of his goals have come from big chances, including his second against Bordeaux – so if his teammates can continue to create chances for him, Lacazette should be able to continue to score at a strong rate.
Lacazette maintaining a strong scoring rate could prove to be half of the challenge for Lyon as his form has resulted in attention from elsewhere, despite signing contract extension in September. He’s one of just 11 players across Europe’s big five leagues to average at least 0.5 NPG/90 and combine this with a shot assists per 90 average greater than 1.75, putting him among the likes of Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez – and dual scoring and creative threats generally receive a lot of interest. Liverpool are the latest side to be connected with his signature, which is natural for a team struggling for goals, with Arsenal also credited with an interest. Still, the fact that Lyon are currently challenging for the Ligue 1 title may be enough to keep Lacazette at the club – until the summer at least – with club president Jean-Michel Aulas also determined to keep him at the club.
There’s a lot to like in this Lyon side, centred around defensive midfield lynchpin and captain Maxime Gonalons, who continues to excel in the position after rejecting Napoli in the summer – averaging 6.44 tackles plus interceptions and 55.8 passes on a per 90 basis, maintaining a strong accuracy when playing the ball both long (79.5 percent) and shot (92.1 percent) – and that’s not forgetting the likes of Nabil Fekir and Yoann Gourcuff. Yet Alexandre Lacazette’s scoring record will naturally receive attention from elsewhere – and keeping hold of the player in January would be a further boost in Lyon’s quest for the Ligue 1 title.
Data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted