Just when the Manchester City were beginning to believe something historic might be within their grasp, here was an introduction to the difference between a promising side and a complete one. Their Champions League journey is almost certainly over.
The French were superior in every way – stronger, faster, technically excellent – and the American star Carli Lloyd, who did so much to take City through their quarter final could do far less about it than anyone had hoped. Lloyd was a bystander, for all her distance run.
The longer the game went on, the less likely City seemed to find and answer and from their perspective the second half was a deep disappointment. It was new territory for a side who had not lost in 90 minutes since Arsenal beat them in the League Cup in October 2015.
The Champions League campaign journey has carried a substantive value, though, and City did not waste the opportunity to spread the gospel about their team. The core philosophy behind the club’s commitment to this women’s team is that every young supporter should be able to harbour the hope of running out in the colours and no one could have missed the details of June’s trials for this team.
The hope had been that the spirit of collectivism for which the side have been known might power them to an emphatic first leg win. The view within the women’s game is that City have less room for ego and individualists than other elite British teams. The words of Carli Lloyd which adorn one of the t-shirts on sale at the club shop sums up the ethic: “Don’t let anybody work harder than you do.”
But unfortunately for the home side, the French visitors did work harder in a first half which saw Nick Cushing’s players concede twice and Gerard Precheur’s enjoy nearly all of the chances. The French have assembled a team of al-stars, hiring the best of nations from Japan to Sweden, Canada to Norway, and frankly they looked more athletic and intense than City from the start.
There was a sense in the opening seconds of what was to come, when Demi Stokes headed off the line, and City were behind within five minutes when a cast iron handball by Lloyd – who raised an elbow to a cross from the highly effective Japanese midfielder Saki Kumagai – delivered Lyon a penalty. Kumagai promptly converted it, low to Karen Bardsley ‘s right.
City were level within five minutes in what was an outstanding open quarter of an hour. The 20-year-old Keira Walsh broke up play and located Toni Duggan, whose superb ball behind the French defence found the advancing Kosovare Asllani. The Swede, through on goal, calmly despatched a shot which deflected in off the defender Griedge Mbock Bathy.
Though it was the game billed as a battle of elite Americans, Lloyd and Lyon’s Alex Morgan, the City star could not make an imprint on the game. She emerged the victor from tussle between the pair on 23 minutes but found few options on her incursions into French territory and it was Lyon player who looked comfortably the more incisive.
The movement of German Dzenifer Maraozsan was a constant threat in and around the City area and it was she, just beyond the 15-minute mark, who lurked to receive a lay-back after Camille Abily had turned Walsh and left her looking second best on the edge of the City box. Maraozsan’s first-time right-foot shot into the top right hand corner of Bardsley’s net befitted this stage of the tournament.
Maraozsan carved out another opportunity, selling Asllani a dummy and despatching a low shot which Bardsley clawed away. The height of the three-strong French defence limited City to scraps. Wendi Renard and Bathy were outstanding.
The strike which effectively ended the tie on 67 minutes was a metaphor for the difference between the sides: the edge, the power of anticipation and the extra half-yard of pace. Morgan had left the field as early as the 55th minutes but her replacement, Eugenie Le Sommer stepped ahead of Abbie McManus to take Jessican Hourana-D’hommeaux’s low cross from the French right, spin around the corner and despatch a low shot which beat Bardsley on her near post. The finish was strong but the goalkeeper might reflect that she might have done better.
A McManus effort in the game’s closing minutes was palmed onto the post by Bouhaddi and it was over. City travel to the Massif Central on Thursday for a second leg which is a week on Saturday. They have a mountain to climb.
Manchester City (4-4-4-1) Bardsley; Bronze, Houghton, McManus, Stokes; Walsh; Asllani, Scott, Lloyd, Lawley Christiansen 80); Duggan (Stanway 83). Substitutes: Middag, Beattie, Ross, Parris, Hourinhan
Olympique Lyonnais (3-5-2) Bouhaddi; Buchanan, Renard, Bathy, Renard; Hourana-D’hommeaux, Abily, Marozsan, Kumugai, Majri; Hegerberg, Morgan (Le Sommer 55). Substitutes: Le Sommer, Hamraoui, Thomis, Petit, Henning, Seger, Gerard
Referee: K. Kulcsar (Hungary)
Match rating: 7
Star player: Marozsan