Four days out from the visit of Stuttgart, the Lyonnais dominated Valenciennes 2-0 thanks to strikes from Juninho and Govou. The French champions remain at the top of the L1 table, now with a 4-point lead over Nancy.
This is the main point to take from a match that the Olympiens took a while to claim as their own; Alain Perrin’s men took almost half the match to get the measure of the Valenciennes side which, despite featuring a 5-man defence, were much more enterprising than their hosts until Juninho opened the scoring.
Twisting and turning on the right flank, Mater cause the OL rear guard a lot of problems but couldn’t find the target (11’) and then scuffed his shot (25’). Making the most of Källström’s slipping over, Sebo tried his luck, drawing a fine save from Vercoutre (13’). The OL keeper made a big contribution to his side’s success, beating Sebo on 2 other occasions (37’ and 43’). Certain keepers can be match-winners. Tonight, Vercoutre was one of them.
After the last-16 Coupe de la Ligue over Caen, Alain Perrin diagnosed Fred as needing game time. More committed in his challenges, more inspired in his passing and still generous in his efforts, the Brazilian seemed much more at ease than he did in Normandy, despite not having any clear-cut chances on goal.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s injury, paired with the need to rest Sidney Govou led Alain Perrin to start him alongside Karim Benzema. The pairing wasn’t the highlight of OL’s performance but still, the foundation of a strong partnership were in evidence. And that’s not the least of it! Their one-two put Kim Källström clean through on goal but his chipped shot went agonisingly wide (23’). In a position he loves, just to the right on the edge of the area, Benzema’s effort from distance also failed to hit the target (30).
Furthermore, Kader Keita maintained his recent return to form. It certainly seems that the goal he scored at Caen did him the world of good. Tonight, the Ivorian was involved in many good moves. He simplified his game, contenting himself with fewer touches before bringing other players into the game but neither Clerc, whose over-hit cross found no takers (34’), nor Juninho, whose shot was punched clear by Penneteau ( 38’), could make the most of his openings. On the other hand, at the end of the first half, his angled pass was converted by Karim Benzema. The France international’s cross found the head of the unmarked Juninho at the far post, going in for only the 3rd headed goal of his career (40’). In the second half, Keita could have scored his second goal for the week had Penneteau not stretched and dived superbly to turn away his goal-bound shot (77’).
Another goal would have given the Olympiens some valuable breathing space. Indeed, after an audacious start to the match, the Valenciennois didn’t manage to further worry Rémy Vercoutre but they remained a threat. The Lyonnais were simply not able to find the final ball. Toto Squillaci (45’), Juninho (47’), Benzema (65’) and François Clerc (76’) were all off target.
Even though they were slow to kill off the match, in the end the Olympiens managed to do so, conceding a minimum of chances to Antoine Kombouaré’s side. And when the pressure rose, Mathieu Bodmer, who had slotted into central defence when Squillaci was subbed off, methodically heading clear every dangerous cross (79’, 80’ and 82’) before Sidney Govou sealed the match with OL’s second. Once again, deliverance came from Juninho’s right boot; the Brazilian played Govou into space and with a deft feint, the OL number 14 rounded Sommeil and Traoré before sumptuously chipping Penneteau (85’).
The Lyonnais got off to a perfect start in a week marked by 3 successive home matches, against VA, Stuttgart and then Marseille. The first hurdle was passed with no worries, and now OL can turn to European competition with clear minds and all their concentration ahead of the visit of VfB Stuttgart.