Pitchside Europe

Disastrous week leaves Lyon with sinking feeling

Pitchside Europe

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The storm clouds gathered over Lyon on Saturday, with torrential downpours adding an extra sense of drama to what was their second defeat of a disastrous week that could have serious consequences for their medium-term future.

"We absolutely have to win, we cannot afford to lose two games on the bounce," said Lyon captain Maxime Gonalons ahead of the meeting with Reims at the Stade de Gerland.

His words summed up the importance for OL of getting back on track as soon as possible after the shock of last midweek's 2-0 home reverse at the hands of Real Sociedad in the first leg of their Champions League play-off.

The clash with Reims was the chance to boost badly damaged morale. In this summer that L'Equipe's Vincent Duluc described as being "full of hope but full of danger too" for Lyon, they had won their opening two Ligue 1 games in style, scoring seven goals in the process. Beating Reims to maintain that perfect domestic start would at least allow Rémi Garde's side to travel to San Sebastián with some belief restored.

But the immense rainstorm that fell on the city on the banks of the Rhône levelled out the playing conditions. With the game goalless at the interval, there was a 35-minute rain delay before play restarted. Clément Grenier blazed a penalty over the bar before an Odair Fortes cross from the left deflected off Milan Bisevac and looped into the net to give Reims a surprise 1-0 win.

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When just a week earlier the outlook was bright, suddenly it appears rather gloomy at the Stade de Gerland. The realisation that they could be set for a long, hard domestic season comes as they also look certain to miss out on a place in the lucrative Champions League for the second campaign in succession.

In all European knockout ties since 1970, only three per cent of teams have qualified after losing 2-0 at home in the first leg, so to say Lyon need a miracle in the return in Spain on Wednesday is hardly an exaggeration. And a failure to turn the tie around will lead some to ask what might have been had the Bafétimbi Gomis affair been handled better.

The France striker is out of contract at the end of this season and has refused to sign a new deal, while president Jean-Michel Aulas wants to either sell the player now or for him to put pen to paper on a contract extension. With a proposed move to Newcastle not materialising, Gomis, along with fellow rebel Jimmy Briand, has simply been frozen out of the first-team picture.

"In the interest of both parties, the best thing would be for us to find an agreement so that he can come back into the squad," Aulas said of Gomis recently. "If he wants to come back, we will welcome him with open arms."

In the meantime, neither Gomis - who has scored 50 league goals in the last four seasons - nor Briand are being used, but nor are the players that could have replaced them had they already left.

Instead, Garde is putting all of his faith in academy graduates like Grenier, Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette. In addition, there is now greater pressure on the latest talents to emerge, such as 18-year-old forward Yassine Benzia, and Garde is desperate for an experienced striker, especially with Lisandro López having been sold to Al-Gharafa of Qatar for €7 million.

Aulas, though, is hoping that an academy ranked as the country's best by the French Football Federation can continue to unearth rough diamonds.

"We initially built our success on developing young players, although now we are now being forced to do so," he says.

That may sound strange given that the club's provisional budget for this season remains slightly higher than those of Marseille and Monaco, but the lack of Champions League football last season has left them with little option. Lyon made a pre-tax loss of €19 million in 2012-13, and a failure to return to Europe's top table this time around will not help.

The long-term future may well be bright, with Aulas saying that Lyon's new 58,000-capacity Stade des Lumières will earn the club between €70-100 million per year.

But it may not be ready until early 2016, by which time they might well have been left behind by their domestic rivals, especially if they continue to miss out on the riches on offer in the Champions League.

Andy Scott / Follow on Twitter @andpscott

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