The forgotten derby of European football was impossible to forget, with the scene set at the daunting Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. “A people united to defeat the enemy” read the tifo displayed on the especially atmospheric Kop Nord on a cold, winter's evening with the hosts attempting to inflict revenge on their local rivals following a 3-0 defeat in November.
Rhone derby provides entertaining first-half
An enthralling opening to the 100th Derby du Rhone in Ligue 1 ensured that the exuberance and passion shown by both sets of players in press conferences prior to kick-off was clearly going to be expressed throughout the 90 minutes. A hazardous Clement Grenier tackle on Fabien Lemoine set the tone for an eventful first-half, which was closely contested.
Lemoine dusted himself off to drag a dangerous shot wide of Anthony Lopes’ goal before the latter was called into action once more when the goalkeeper tipped Jean-Christophe Bahebeck’s free-kick over the woodwork. However, the imposing Moustapha Sall almost enhanced the importance of the aforementioned saves when his weak header would have been ordinarily pounced upon by Alexandre Lacazette had it not been for Stephane Ruffier’s outstanding reactions.
Lyon, who have enjoyed a prosperous start under new manager Bruno Genesio, began to respond with Rachid Ghezzal at the heart of the club’s attacking potency during the opening 45 minutes. The Algerian looked threatening cutting in from the left wing, testing the goalkeeper after a positive run from the 23-year-old before he set up Lacazette and then curled an effort over the bar.
The finest opportunity of the first-half also fell to the product of the Lyon academy with his side-footed strike from within the area producing an outstanding save from Ruffier. Superb build-up play on the periphery of the penalty box from Grenier and Jeremy Morel allowed the full-back to find the oncoming Ghezzal, who forced the egotistical ‘keeper low to his right-hand side.
Soderlund's first goal wins 100th Rhone derby
The home side, donning their iconic green jerseys, got the second half underway following the interval. While the stadium was brimming with optimism prior to kick-off, frustration was beginning to come to the fore with the 10-time champions of France spurning numerous opportunities. This anger was almost exacerbated further when a Rachid Ghezzal strike ricocheted off Kevin Theophile-Catherine’s shin and looped over the stranded goalkeeper, however, the bar fortunately came to Les Verts’ rescue.
With Lyon eventually easing their pressure as this encounter wore on, both Christophe Galtier and Genesio made positive substitutions to influence the outcome of the 50th Rhone derby to be played out at this famous ground. Top goalscorer Valentin Eysseric replaced Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, instead of the isolated Alexander Soderlund, while Jordan Ferri made way for Mathieu Valbuena before Lemoine was taken off to prevent an inevitable red card.
Although Soderlund received little service throughout the majority of his home debut, it was ASSE’s first January signing that opened the scoring against the run of play. The recent arrival from Rosenberg, joined by the suspended Oussama Tannane days later, took advantage of a disastrous mistake by Tolisso and the Norway international’s strike deflected off Lopes and cruelly into the net.
The impressive Tolisso, who is second to Dortmund's Julian Weigl in completed passes for players under the age of 21, placed a free header wide of the goal as Olympique Lyonnais looked to respond. Soderlund, who scored against his current employers in the Europa League, came agonisingly close before Ghezzal almost forced centre-back Moustapha Sall into a fortuitous own goal before the forward had a shot saved by Ruffier once more.
Immense pressure fell upon Galtier’s men as Lyon peppered their goal but Les Verts managed to retain their lead until Clement Turpin blew the much anticipated final whistle.
The forgotten derby of European football was impossible to forget for Saint-Etienne, the scene was set and new boy Soderlund revelled in the limelight. Manager Galtier, who had reason to be disappointed with his side’s form before this meeting, fell to his knees at full-time as the victors moved three points above their rivals and just two adrift of a Champions League spot.