A little less than a year ago, Lyon relinquished their Women’s Champions League title for the first time since their relentless run of five successive triumphs began in 2016.
Next month, though, they will go to Turin to do battle with the Barcelona team that took it from them, having overcome Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 at a hostile Parc des Princes on Saturday night, and 5-3 on aggregate in their semi final tie
The last time Lyon were not European champions was a spell between 2013 and 2016. They reached the final in the first of those three years, but went out in the last 16 the following two seasons.
When GOAL asked Eugenie Le Sommer, a seven-time UWCL winner with OL, what the feeling was like in that period in a previous interview, the forward produced an answer that was telling of this team’s mentality.
“I remember watching the games, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the final, at home,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want to watch it again on my TV. I want to play these games’.
“It’s a motivation for me, it was for the team too. I think this experience made us better and stronger in our mentality.”
On Saturday, they faced the team that spoiled their season last year. PSG not only took their league title from them for the first time ever, but they knocked them out of the Champions League for the first time in seven years, too
The time before that when they were last eliminated from the competition, in 2014, it was also at the hands of PSG, in what was the club from the capital’s first win over France’s most illustrious club.
The reasons why Lyon have been able to remain at the top and enjoy such wonderful success in the eight years since that result – with a chance to make it six titles in that time next month – lies in that round of 16 defeat.
A look at the teams that day and you will see four names in the Lyon team that were also on the teamsheet at the Parc des Princes this weekend – Sarah Bouhaddi, Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry and Le Sommer. You will also see Amel Majri, who remains with the team but is absent due to an ACL injury.
On PSG’s side, there is no player still at the club. Lyon has players in its squad that signed as long ago as 2006, while every player representing the Parisians made their club debut after 2015 – after that UWCL win over Lyon.
While there are a lot of new faces involved for OL, too, the consistency, experience and chemistry that runs throughout the team is steeped in that continuity. The head coach, Sonia Bompastor, only adds to that, having won 11 trophies during her six years at the club as a player.
Added to that this season, though, is a bit of a chip on their shoulder. While Lyon had a difficult season last year, Barcelona had an unstoppable one, drawing well-deserved praise for their treble-win.
But, as Ada Hegerberg alluded to in the build-up to this semi-final, there is perhaps a feeling within Lyon’s camp that their success and achievements have been forgotten about.
It’s added a fuel to the fire in a team that already consists of many of the world’s best – be it the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner in Hegerberg, the scorer of the game’s first goal; or the first player to reach 100 UWCL appearances in Renard, scorer of the second.
This semi-final victory allowed them to exorcise some of the demons of last season while sending a message to Europe: We are still here and we are here to win.
It’s fitting, then, that the end will see them take on the team that so many have spent the past year talking about instead.
“When you win all the time – even in Lyon, it was kind of normal for us to win – but in some way, it’s good sometimes to just wake up and understand that, ‘OK, we have to work harder and do it again ‘” Lotta Schelin, the legendary former Lyon striker told GOAL in a past interview, when presented with Le Sommer comments about those years without the UWCL title.
“That’s why Lyon, as a team, as a club, they are amazing, because winning, okay, that’s hard enough, but losing and then coming back…
“That’s when you can see the real winners.”