In a baffling match, Barcelona and Lyon drew 0-0 at the Stade Gerland.
Despite the lack of goals there was no shortage of action in France as the Blaugrana and Les Gones went toe-to-toe without anyone landing a punch of significance on an opponent. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Bruno Genesio
Lyon conceded 11 goals in the group stage. Eleven. Hoffenheim scored twice when they visited this stadium in November. Hoffenheim. Yet the mighty Barcelona came to the Groupama Stadium and were prevented from scoring. That is absolutely absurd when you think about it.
Even more incredible was that Lyon didn’t park the bus, on the contrary, they spent the entire game streaming forward into attack trying to conjure something. More often than not, they failed to get anywhere near Marc-André Ter Stegen, however, but because they were so committed to attack there was loads of space for Barcelona to attack.
In total, they faced 25 shots, yet Rony Lopes was only rarely forced to make a dramatic intervention. And now they have a clean sheet against Barcelona and will head to the Camp Nou knowing that any goal they score will require two in response. A huge win for Bruno Genesio and his positive approach.
Loser: Ernesto Valverde
When Barcelona fans complained about Ernesto Valverde getting a contract renewal, the Spaniard’s exemplary record with the club was thrown back in their face. But games like this (and games like this are remarkably common, especially this season) are exactly why no-one was happy with him getting an extension on his deal.
Valverde picked a midfield trio that was all about pressing and defending, with Busquets by a distance the most creative member of the trio. That’s bad from the off, but then he had Ousmane Dembélé defend so rigorously he often had run out of steam when it came to taking the shot after his long, mazy runs through the Lyon side. But still, he caused danger.
So, of course, it was Dembélé who was removed for Coutinho (who did absolutely nothing, as per usual) instead of the almost comically bad Luis Suárez. And the pacy Malcom was nowhere to be seen when Lyon began looking very tired in the last 15 minutes. And at no point did Valverde think of bringing on Carles Alena to add some drive into midfield.
Ernesto Valverde did tremendously well in his debut season but now that Barcelona are a squad loaded with offensive talent, he is absolutely the wrong manager for the job. It has outgrown his cautious, risk-free approach to football and tonight’s game against Lyon showed it.
Winner: Jason Denayer
The Belgian centre-back was supposed to be the next big thing in defence. The leading light of a new generation of Belgian centre-backs that would take over from Vincent Kompany and the golden generation. That’s what Manchester City were hoping, anyway. What ended up happening was… he didn’t. A series of increasingly embarrassing loans didn’t help, but in the summer, he moved to Lyon.
Since then, he’s rediscovered his form and, tonight in particular, he showed that he may yet reach that lofty ceiling set for him all those years ago. Denayer was superb against Barcelona, handling Luis Suárez and the rest of the Barcelona attack with remarkable ease. Countless times a cross or pass came in and it was Denayer in the way, heading or kicking it clear.
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Loser: Luis Suárez
At the weekend, Luis Suárez had a baffling 30-minute appearance off the bench where his movement was amazing and he gave Barcelona some genuine menace against Real Valladolid but added no goals because his finishing was shocking. He missed four big chances. Yet tonight in France, he managed to out-suck even that display. As much as Denayer played well, Suárez was abysmal.
It’s not a stretch to say that the best defender Lyon had on the pitch was Luis Suárez; no-one had a hand in ruining more Barcelona attacks than the Uruguayan. He could do nothing right against Les Gones; his touch was off, his vision impaired, his movement laborious and he completely destabilised nearly every single Barça attack with his poor decisions or lack of execution.
Winner: Nelson Semedo
One of the few bright sparks for Barcelona in this game was the form of Nelson Semedo. The Portuguese right-back has often had to battle to be considered first-choice despite his alternative, Sergi Roberto, being a horrific defender. However, with Roberto playing in midfield, Semedo got the nod at right-back tonight and proved why it should be his spot for the next seven years at least.
Semedo was superb against Lyon. Repeatedly winning the ball back, preventing Lyon from getting any serious penetration down his flank. The much-vaunted Ferland Mendy had no impact on the game and what little joy Lyon got came from staying far, far away from Semedo.
Loser: Luis Suárez
No, seriously. Luis Suárez was so irredeemably bad that he has to go down as a loser twice. This was a performance that defied belief. Not just that he was white-hot garbage trapped in a flaming car wreck inside a flaming dumpster, but he somehow stayed on the field for 90 minutes! He was there right up to the end when he, of course, missed a fantastic chance right at the death.
That was a fitting cap for an evening where every single thing he did went completely and utterly wrong. Barcelona would be better off with Prince Boateng up-front for the second leg, or Malcom, or Dembélé. Hell, fish some teenager out from La Masia because there’s no way they could be as abjectly terrible as Luis Suárez was tonight against Lyon. His worst display for Barcelona by some distance and if there’s a worse individual display in this round-of-16 then someone will have done something very, very wrong.