Real stake their money on Lyon surrender
BLOGSWAP! Ahead of the Real Madrid vs Lyon game, FFT.com'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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt have ÃÂdith PiafÃ¢ÂÂs 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 FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs mind.
It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt Cristiano Ronaldo Ã¢ÂÂ or as those James Bond lovers over at LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe like to call him, Ã¢ÂÂthe Man with the Golden BootsÃ¢ÂÂ. Nor was it the return of Karim Benzema, the now-forgotten prodigal son whose second-half cameo was, letÃ¢ÂÂs face it, little more than a footnote.
It was the fact Lyon came very close, but ultimately didnÃ¢ÂÂt score a crucial second goal.
FEATURE, Wed Feb 17: Knock-out curse threatens Pellegrini and PÃÂ©rez
Asked if a 1-0 lead would be sufficient to carry his side through to the quarter-finals, Puel simply replied: Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs 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.Ã¢ÂÂ
Puel: What's French for "two-goal cushion"?
And yet contrary to what Puel said, the odds now seemed to be stacked in LyonÃ¢ÂÂs 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 RÃÂ©veillÃÂ¨re, the clubÃ¢ÂÂs veteran full-back who often pretends to be a defender Ã¢ÂÂ but only on weekends Ã¢ÂÂ chose to remind everyone of LyonÃ¢ÂÂs past glories against European footballÃ¢ÂÂs self-proclaimed royal family. Ã¢ÂÂWe have beaten them three times at home and they have never beaten us at the BernabÃÂ©u,Ã¢ÂÂ 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 RealÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Ã¢ÂÂ thatÃ¢ÂÂs 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. LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe 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 Ã¢ÂÂthe impossible truthÃ¢ÂÂ.
Why? Because for one match and one match only PuelÃ¢ÂÂs much-maligned philosophy Ã¢ÂÂ the unpalatable presser, rÃÂ©cupÃÂ©rer, accÃÂ©lÃÂ©rer Ã¢ÂÂ had been executed perfectly. They surely couldnÃ¢ÂÂt do it again. Not with Jean-Alain Boumsong marking Gonzalo HiguaÃÂn. Not with Lisandro LÃÂ³pez scoring just once in the Champions League this season.
"Oooh, it's big": Lyon train at the Bernabeu
Even LyonÃ¢ÂÂs impressive form in the group stages was now treated to a French variation of the Spanish Inquisition. While it's true that PuelÃ¢ÂÂs side defeated Liverpool at Anfield, RafaÃ¢ÂÂs Reds were eighth in the Premier League at the time.
And as for Fiorentina, theyÃ¢ÂÂre now 11th in Serie A. A poll question on a French website yesterday even asked: is it a dream to believe in LyonÃ¢ÂÂs qualification in the Champions League?
Impressively, Lyon havenÃ¢ÂÂt conceded a goal in 620 minutes, but as one journalist reminded the reserved Hugo Lloris: Ã¢ÂÂThis is Real Madrid! TheyÃ¢ÂÂve scored 14 in their last three matches!Ã¢ÂÂ
And while Marca try to make us forget, it bears remembering that Manuel PellegriniÃ¢ÂÂs side are on course to become the best Madrid vintage since the 1960-61 season, when Alfredo di StÃÂ©fano and Ferenc PuskÃÂ¡s weren't just breaking records but making them up.
Lyon may still be undefeated in Ligue 1 in 2010, but if they couldnÃ¢ÂÂt beat second from bottom Boulogne at the weekend, how can they realistically expect to knock the new GalÃÂ¡cticos 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?