So… this is awkward. We posted our feature piece on Nabil Fekir at 12:00 PM MST yesterday on just how exciting a player he is and projects to be (the words “next Lionel Messi” were used in a non laughing matter). Almost an one hour later, he tore his acl and is projected to be out for at least the next six months. You really can’t ask for more bad timing than that.
There’s no going about this other than the following: this sucks. This really, really, really sucks. Olympique Lyonnais were heavily depending on another great season from Nabil Fekir to both make it out of the Champions League group stage and if they couldn’t somehow make up some ground on PSG for the league title, finish in the remaining two CL spots. Being honest, no one was ever going to catch PSG in Ligue 1 and even the most optimistic Lyon fan would probably concede that dream.
But with the new stadium opening in early 2016 combined with the frankly doable CL group they’ve been handed this season, it certainly was reasonable to suggest that a CL knockout stage appearance and a good showing domestically were in the cards for Lyon and the Fekir injury puts everything into limbo. Lyon lose their most exciting offensive talent and their best offensive player until at least sometime in March. The prognosis for the injury is reportedly around six months, which is probably the most optimistic timeline for a knee injury of this severity. Of course there are examples of players who have come back from this sort of injury in around that time span. But there’s always a Jay Rodriguez example to counteract that, and it took him around 15 months for him to return from his ACL tear.
It goes without saying but Lyon really need to be careful with Nabil Fekir. He’s only 22 and he’s just embarking on the prime 8-10 years of his career. I’m certain that the allure of being part of the France Euro 16 squad and the tournament being in his home country would make him want to return as soon as possible but even if the injury take 8 months to heal (and that might even be slightly optimistic too), that would take Fekir into early May and have probably 2-4 games to prove that he’s good enough to be part of the French squad.
It’s really tough to envision a scenario where Fekir could play for France next summer outside of a huge gamble being placed on him by Deschamps. Rushing him too quickly could have drastic, and I repeat, drastic consequences on Fekir’s career going forward. Medical science has come a long way in the past two decades or so and cruciate ligament recoveries have gotten better and better, but it’s still not perfect and every measure needs to be taken to make sure Fekir will have a full recovery and a greater chance of this type of knee injury not happening again.
Fekir and Euro 2016 is another story for another day, the injury implications are just too big on a domestic level to really worry about Euro 16 right now. It’s well documented that Lyon have not been great offensively through four games this season. Yes they’re one goal behind a bunch of Ligue 1 teams for 1st in goals scored this season but that’s more been a product of good fortune than anything. Lyon rank 8th in expected goals for, tied for 5th in danger shots for and tied for 17th in big chances for. Admittedly those numbers are a bit scattered all over the place but the point is that they have not been anything more than satisfactory.
The need for Alexandre Lacazette to be back to his 14-15 best has been ratcheted up significantly with Fekir’s injury as he’s not been good at all with the back injury he played through for 2.5 games this season. The only silver lining to this whole thing is that the keys for probably the rest of the season will be given to Mathieu Valbuena. The Fekir/Valbuena partnership so far has been uninspiring this season and their skill set do overlap each other to some extent. Having Valbuena dictate the tempo to his liking could soften the blow a bit in Fekir’s absence, and Lyon will probably play Claudio Beauvue and Lacazette together as a striker duo. This would enable Valbuena and the high venturing Lyon fullbacks to cross balls into the box and get Beauvue as a target man of sorts, a deviation from what they were last season as a club.
If Lyon can’t somehow cobble enough offensively, they’ll have to rely on their defense to get buy. There’s both good news and bad news. Good news: Lyon have been good defensively this year. They rank 8th in expected goals against, tied for fifth in big chances conceded and tied for 2nd in danger shots against. Bad news: Lyon weren’t particularly good last season defensively with most of the same core even though they ranked 3rd in goals conceded. Lyon had an expected goals against of 41.8 and they had a number of moments where their backline would commit a bad error that would lead to chances for the opposition. Lyon ranked 11th in defensive errors and tied for 10th in errors leading to goals. Yes they have strengthened their defense with the acquisition of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, but it’s a guess as to whether they improve greatly on that blemish and not have to rely on Anthony Lopes to be Hugo Lloris 2.0.
There is something that Lyon could do however to help their attack woes. There’s a clause in LFP that could help Lyon find a replacement for Fekir. My friend Bastien L (@Puchkin_B on Twitter) discovered Clause 213, part 5 from LFP and I asked him to translate it in English:
213-5 / « Joker Medical » A Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 club can, at any time, recruit a player in one of the following situations:
– Death of a player under contract
– Serious injury to their goalkeeper or to the goalkeeper’s substitute (In which case only another goalkeeper can be hired)
– Serious injury to a player under contract during a match with the French national team, if the injury triggers an incapacity to play for a duration of three months or more. In the latter two situations, the injuries will be examined and assessed by the doctor of the national federation. The injured player and the player recruited cannot, in either of these situations, be present on a match sheet at the same time during the three months following the assessment of the injury.
These authorisations for additional recruitment can be completed within the following boundaries: – Respect of the regulation regarding the number of players non-citizen of a EU or EEA member state
– Respect of the regulation regarding players who are citizen of states having signed an association or cooperation agreement with the EU.
– Respect of the FIFA regulation regarding the number of authorised transfers.
– Respect of the DNCG’s ruling
– Respect of the present regulations and of the “Charte du football professionnel”.
Since Fekir’s injury was both during his time in the French National Team and his injury will be for longer than three months, Lyon qualify for this clause and could in theory do a deal for a Fekir replacement in the near future. Who Lyon try to get is anyone’s case. The club is lacking in speedy attacking midfielders since the departure of Clinton N’Jie so that could be something that is addressed.
In less than a week, the two favorites for the other two CL spots behind PSG have suffered massive blows to their 2016-17 CL aspirations. Monaco sold off Martial/Abdennour/Kurzawa while Lyon have to make due with a Fekir-less attack. This opens up opportunities for the following candidates:
This is probably the team with the longest odds of getting into the top three, but their summer business has been done really smartly. They’re still in talks to sign free agent Yoann Gourcuff (who was really solid last season when he could get his shattered body onto the pitch), got a solid prospect in Juan Fernando Quintero on loan, managed to keep Abdoulaye Doucouré and Paul Georges Ntep has returned from injury. Last season, it was a struggle for Rennes to score goals. This year? Perhaps not. And a Rennes club that could be around league average offensively and spectacular defensively has an outside chance at a top 3 finish, just like 2014-15 Saint Etienne.
This is a team I don’t feel too differently about after four games this season. Yes they peppered Bastia last weekend and generated a xG rating of 2.46, which is the 2nd best single game rating for a Ligue 1 team this season, but Bastia at one point went down to nine man and one of the goals for ASSE came off of an error. You have to be West Brom levels of awful offensively to not do anything against a team not playing at full strength.
I liked the loan acquisition of Jean-Christophe Bahebeck from PSG this season, as he can do an admirable job of playing as a LW alongside Nolan Roux. Romain Hamouma is a quirky but solid RW and they made interesting acquisitions of Neal Muapay and Valentin Eysseric. It’s a lot of cobbling together talent so they could replace Max Gradel and perhaps it could work. It’ll certainly help them navigate between the Europa League and Ligue 1. However, just by the amount of turmoil that’s happened with Monaco/Lyon, their CL hopes have gone up by a little bit.
I know Marseille have three points in four games and Marcelo Bielsa quit right after the first game versus Caen, but they’ve been better than their point total. They’re 6th in my predicted points model this season and they’re doing really decently in other underlying metrics. I didn’t think Marseille had much of a shot at finishing in the top 3 but that was also envisioning a world where Lyon weren’t without Fekir and Monaco didn’t sell their three prized assets. Now? They were already probably the team with the best chance of making it and their odds have gone up substantially.
It’s going to be a slog fight for the final two CL spots. There are 5-6 teams in Ligue 1 who are incredibly flawed that have different ranges of expectations to nab one of these spots. If Lyon could somehow find a replacement for Fekir via that LFP rule, they should still have enough to be in the top three. Monaco need to prove that their first four games are just a small sample size and not a harbinger of more bad things to come for their defense.
It really sucks that we won’t be able to see Fekir for the majority of the 2015-16 season as he looked prime to become maybe the best young talent in Europe. Ligue 1 needs all the exciting young attacking talents it can have, and Fekir is the best one they have. His hopes for playing in Euro 16 are all but dashed and it’s another case of how much of a strain international football puts on a players body when taking into account the amount of domestic football these guys play in a season.
In a weird way, this will probably help Lyon keep Fekir longer as clubs will be scared off by a major knee injury to a player who uses his change of pace and acceleration to wreak havoc. Their hope is that 2016-17 Fekir will be 100% fully operational and won’t miss a beat from the long layoff. Not a lot of injuries can swing the balance of multiple teams’ hopes for a Champions League appearance, but Nabil Fekir qualifies as that special case.