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Smart Transfers: Olympique Lyon

As the winter transfer window has drawn to a close, we will use Smarterscout’s advanced metrics and league benchmarking to assess the transfer business of selected teams that caught our eye.


French giants Lyon have endured a horrific first half of the 2023/24 season. They still find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle as they are three points above the drop zone after 20 rounds of fixtures have been played.

With the means to spend a substantial amount of money in such a situation, Lyon decided to go big in January. They shilled out over €50 million in the window to add seven new players to their squad. Was this money well spent, though? That is the question we will aim to answer here.

Gift Orban (from Gent)

Being in a relegation battle for Lyon means that basically everything has gone wrong to some extent with the team. Of course, it is impossible to fix everything with some signings in one month, so the aim then has to be identifying specific problems to solve.

Lyon’s underlying attacking numbers do not look that bad on the surface, but a huge problem quickly becomes evident when pulling up their goalscorers list. Besides Alexandre Lacazette, only center-back Jake O’Brien has scored multiple league goals this season! Clearly, they need someone to support Lacazette up front, and that is where the signing of Gift Orban from Gent comes in.

The Nigerian striker ripped the Belgian Pro League apart in 2023, so he was among the hottest prospects in Europe. Many were cautious about his extreme overperformance relative to Expected Goals, but our model does give a lot of credit to his exceptional shooting and ability to receive the ball in dangerous areas in the box.

All things considered, our model believes he should be able to offer some very good attacking output in France even if he regresses closer to the mean in terms of scoring. His link-up play and passing toward goal is also decent, so he should fit into this Lyon team well both with or in place of Lacazette.

Malick Fofana (from Gent)

From a player profile point of view, the glaring weakness in Lyon’s squad was left-leading attackers. Bar Chelsea loanee Diego Moreira, who barely made an impact and cut his loan short to return to London last month, they had no one who fits that bill.

With that in mind, €17 million on Malick Fofana starts to make sense, although it is still quite a hefty investment. The teenager was enjoying a breakout season at Gent this term in a very attacking left wing-back role, having spent most of his youth career as a winger. His directness stood out, both through his dribbling and link-up passing to get forward. Fofana also produced good attacking output, which is always a great sign for a youngster.

Lyon clearly hope this investment will be one that pays off in the future given the transfer fee they have agreed to, but Fofana should also have an immediate impact on their current season. He should offer them good versatility between operating as a winger and slotting in as a wing-back when they use a back-three.

Saïd Benrahma (from West Ham)

Saïd Benrahma is the other left-sided attacker Lyon brought in this January, although he is quite a different profile to Fofana.

The Algerian international’s standout attributes are dribbling and shooting, as he loves to drift inside, has exceptional close control with his right foot and can unleash curling strikes with his right foot. He does a pretty decent job of everything else too, including progressing the ball and linking up with his teammates in the final third.

So, while Fofana can be a more direct wide threat, Benrahma is someone who will thrive when it comes to breaking down deeper defenses as he can produce a moment of magic. Of course, both of them could work together as well in a 3-4-2-1 formation.

Orel Mangala (from Nottingham Forest)

The above three signings make perfect sense, but then comes a €11.7m loan deal for Orel Mangala (with an option to buy for €15m this summer).

Our model’s assessment of Mangala does not help in that respect either. It does not believe he has ever shown a level of performance to suggest he can be a particularly good player in France, so spending such a large sum of money on him does not seem a clever move at all.

Profile-wise too, Mangala does not appear to be the midfielder Lyon need. He is someone who can make things happen with the ball through his link-up passing and dribbling, but Les Gones already had similar players in their squad. What they needed was more solidity in midfield to improve one of the worst defensive records in the league, and it is tough to see how Mangala is the right player to bring in for that.

Nemanja Matić (from Rennes)

With that being said, Nemanja Matić appears to be a much better fit in terms of player profile. Of course, he is someone with proven quality too, having spent a good deal of his career at Chelsea and Manchester United.

On paper, this move looks good enough even though he did not have a great time at Rennes after joining last summer. He did not leave them on the best of terms either, but we cannot read too much into that. From Lyon’s point of view, they might be glad to benefit by paying a lower transfer fee of just €2.6m, but that does not tell the whole story.

Les Gones have reportedly made him the highest-paid player in their squad and signed him to a contract that runs until the summer of 2026. A bit of simple multiplication reveals that this would cost Lyon a further €16m. For someone who already is 35 years old, that does not look like such a good piece of business anymore.

Adryelson (from Botafogo)

Lyon’s squad did not suggest a desperate need for center-backs as it did in some of the other positions, although a bit of depth would have been handy especially if they wanted to continue using a back-three more often in the second half of the season. That probably is why they signed Adryelson from sister club Botafogo, whose season recently ended in Brazil.

Our model does not mind this move at all, as it believes Adryelson has been operating at a pretty good level in Brazil for the last two years which should translate decently to Ligue 1. He should not be expected to become a regular starter immediately, but should be a good rotation and back-up option.

Lucas Perri (from Botafogo)

Joining Adryelson on the journey from Brazil to France was goalkeeper Lucas Perri.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has earned a rating of 70 for saving non-headers from open play, which puts him a little way off Lyon’s current first-choice keeper Anthony Lopes (who gets an 85). By that logic, Perri is likely to be a back-up goalkeeper, although his better ball-playing ability might bring him closer to challenging the former Portuguese international for a starting spot.

Verdict

Lyon’s transfer business in this window is best assessed in three parts.

First, there are the attacking signings on whom they have spent a good deal of money, but they are all very promising players with a very evident fit in the squad. All things considered, these three seem good signings.

But then come the midfielders. Les Gones have not only overspent in this department, but they have also seem to have signed the inappropriate profile of players be it in terms of stylistic fit in the case of Mangala or age in the case of Matić.

Finally, there is the dual defensive signings from sister club Botafogo. Both Adryelson and Perri appear to be sensible squad depth additions, so there can be no complaints about them. However, that means Lyon have not directly addressed their glaring defensive weakness in the transfer market, which can only suggest that they exare counting on a tactical solution. Their recent run of results under Pierre Sage seems to suggest that is the correct approach.

All things considered, Lyon’s transfer business has just about been good enough. Their attacking signings are really the ones who can help save their season and continue to prove very valuable in the future. The midfield signings will mainly impair them financially going forward, but if their sole focus is on staying up for now, they may be overlooked temporarily.

 

By Neel Shelat

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