Real stake their money on Lyon surrender

BLOGSWAP! Ahead of the Real Madrid vs Lyon game,'s impressive new signing James Horncastle pops over from The French Connection to explain why both sides will go ionto the game extremely nervously...

Driving away from the Stade Gerland on February 16, Lyon manager Claude Puel probably didn’t have Édith Piaf’s famous song Je Ne Regrette Rien booming out of his car stereo. His side had just recorded a famous 1-0 win over Real Madrid, but there was something niggling away at the back of the Frenchman’s mind.

It wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo – or as those James Bond lovers over at L’Équipe like to call him, ‘the Man with the Golden Boots’. Nor was it the return of Karim Benzema, the now-forgotten prodigal son whose second-half cameo was, let’s face it, little more than a footnote.

It was the fact Lyon came very close, but ultimately didn’t score a crucial second goal.

FEATURE, Wed Feb 17: Knock-out curse threatens Pellegrini and Pérez

Asked if a 1-0 lead would be sufficient to carry his side through to the quarter-finals, Puel simply replied: “It’s 50-50. We know that on their pitch, Real are capable of putting even more pressure on their opponents. It will be even more difficult in Madrid. This is why I would have preferred to double the stakes in the first leg.”

Puel: What's French for "two-goal cushion"?

And yet contrary to what Puel said, the odds now seemed to be stacked in Lyon’s favour. After beating their calculators with baguettes, French number-crunchers worked out that in each of the last five seasons 87.5% of teams who have won the home leg 1-0 at this stage of the Champions League have somehow gone through to the next round.

And as fate would have it, the only team to have thrown away such an advantage was of course Real Madrid in 2005. Les idiots!

Anthony Réveillère, the club’s veteran full-back who often pretends to be a defender – but only on weekends – chose to remind everyone of Lyon’s past glories against European football’s self-proclaimed royal family. “We have beaten them three times at home and they have never beaten us at the Bernabéu,” he smiled.

And so, like a Monty Python sketch, Madrid were promptly told in heavily accented English that their mother was a hamster and that their father smells of elderberries.

Well, not exactly. Admittedly, the old chestnut about Madrid not reaching the quarter-finals since 2004 was trundled out and poked a bit. As too were Real’s frequent defeats to French teams, like Paris Saint German in the early '90s and the infamous one six years ago to the team that plays on a car park – that’s Monaco to you and I. 

FEATURE, Tue Feb 16: Madrid ready for their annual knock-out round

But then came the paranoia. Not pressure, nor the weight of expectation, just paranoia. L’Équipe asked how it were possible that Lyon, who were then fourth in Ligue 1 and out of both French cup competitions, had beaten Spanish giants Real Madrid? They called it ‘the impossible truth’.

Why? Because for one match and one match only Puel’s much-maligned philosophy – the unpalatable presser, récupérer, accélérer – had been executed perfectly. They surely couldn’t do it again. Not with Jean-Alain Boumsong marking Gonzalo Higuaín. Not with Lisandro López scoring just once in the Champions League this season. 

"Oooh, it's big": Lyon train at the Bernabeu

Even Lyon’s impressive form in the group stages was now treated to a French variation of the Spanish Inquisition. While it's true that Puel’s side defeated Liverpool at Anfield, Rafa’s Reds were eighth in the Premier League at the time.

And as for Fiorentina, they’re now 11th in Serie A. A poll question on a French website yesterday even asked: is it a dream to believe in Lyon’s qualification in the Champions League?

Impressively, Lyon haven’t conceded a goal in 620 minutes, but as one journalist reminded the reserved Hugo Lloris: “This is Real Madrid! They’ve scored 14 in their last three matches!”

And while Marca try to make us forget, it bears remembering that Manuel Pellegrini’s side are on course to become the best Madrid vintage since the 1960-61 season, when Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás weren't just breaking records but making them up.

Lyon may still be undefeated in Ligue 1 in 2010, but if they couldn’t beat second from bottom Boulogne at the weekend, how can they realistically expect to knock the new Galácticos off their perch? Especially after their last trip to Spain ended in a 5-2 defeat to Barcelona...

La Liga Loca's Tim Stannard guests on The French Connection: Will Lyon bring Real Madrid back to reality? 

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