William Saliba continued his increasingly positive run of form against Lyon on Sunday, but he still ended up on the losing side of the derby.
St-Etienne is facing another crucial week, where every game matters considering how precarious their situation is. In that context, the Derby du Rhône against Olympique Lyonnais felt even more important. And whilst Les Verts are in great danger as they are only two points clear of the relegation zone, Rudi Garcia’s team were full of confidence after winning against Juventus in Champions League.
In the midst of that particular context, Claude Puel went for a 4-4-2 with Trauco and Kolodziejczak on the flanks whilst Fofana and Saliba were the centre-back pairing.
The game was even more important for the two of them coming from the academy and having played several derbies against Lyon before.
Right from the first minute, Lyon put St-Etienne under pressure and completely suffocated them. With Aouar and Guimarães in midfield, Lyon controlled everything.
For the whole first half, there was only one team on the pitch. St-Etienne could simply not hold the ball and when they had it, Lyon’s pressing was brilliant. As a result of that pressure, Saliba made some mistakes in the first minutes of the game as he lost the ball in dangerous areas, right in front of the box.
Yet, if Les Verts were only 1-0 down at halftime, it was also because Saliba did everything he could to disrupt Lyon’s plans. After 14 minutes, he had already touched the ball 23 times. Ultimately, both Fofana and Saliba did their best to make sure their team could stay alive and not drown under the pressure. The two of them showed some great cooperation. In one move, Fofana defended perfectly against Traore and could then pass it to Saliba who managed to go forward a bit. His teammates could not retain the ball though.
Following a foul by Debuchy outside the box in the 25th minute, Lyon won a free-kick. Terrier took it and put the ball in the box for Moussa Dembele to score, completely unmarked, allowing Lyon to take a deserved lead. Yet, they had scored from what could be seen their ugliest chance so far. St-Etienne’s man-marking failed them since was Kolodziejczak not on his man.
The remain 20 minutes were just the same as the previous 25. Lyon kept pushing, attacking against an unresponsive St-Etienne side only surviving thanks to its centre back pairing and Traoré’s clumsiness.
After halftime, St-Etienne came back with better intentions. They finally started playing football, they started pressing Lyon and managed to be more dangerous. Both Saliba and Fofana remained crucial though, especially the Arsenal loanee.
Even though he had a difficult start, Saliba ended up being the rock of the defence. His physical abilities combined with his composure and his good reading of the game appeared to be decisive on every Lyon attack.
Whilst the home side had two goals disallowed (one offside and one handball), St-Etienne got denied two times on the line. They had opportunities to equalise, but they did not manage to. Lyon ended up scoring their second goal of the evening after a handball from Kolodziejczak in the box. Moussa Dembele’s penalty was perfect and he secured his team the victory.
In the end, it is another defeat for St-Etienne, whose situation remains complicated. On the other hand, Saliba appears to be back at his level after some tough games, and that is important. Les Verts desperately need that, among other things. They will also need it on Thursday at home, against Stade Rennais, their opponent for the semi-final of the Coupe de France. This game could bring some light in a very grim season.
Saliba spoke to the media after the game, saying: “It is clear that we messed up our first-half. We were all over the place [but] we still had two opportunities.
”We improved during the second half but we could not score and they sealed the game at the last minute. It is always upsetting to lose a derby, we are chaining bad results, we have to put our heads up quickly and we will try to do it from Thursday on.”
As for his indivudal stats, Saliba won six of his nine duels, touched the ball 52 times and lost it eight times, he did 37 passes with a completion rate of 84%, he made three tackles and two interceptions.