“Objective: maintenance. » This was the message of the banners deployed at the end of 2023 in the bays of Groupama Stadium. But the truth of November is not the truth of spring. Threatened with relegation a few months ago, Olympique Lyonnais (OL) are now 10th in Ligue 1 with 35 points, the threshold set by their coach Pierre Sage to consider remaining in the elite for granted. Better still, Les Gones can still dream of a qualifying place in the European Cup, from which they have been absent for two seasons.

OL face Valenciennes in the semi-finals of the Coupe de France – the winner of which qualifies for the Europa League – on Tuesday April 2 at 8:45 p.m., in Décines-Charpieu (Rhône). On paper, victory awaits him. Red lantern of Ligue 2, his opponent has resigned himself to experiencing a downgrade in National next season.

However, there is no question for Pierre Sage of giving in to triumphalism. On the contrary, insists the technician: it is the “worst possible draw”, his evening rival having “nothing to lose”. Especially since the final of the oldest French competition will be played this year at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d’Ascq (North), around fifty kilometers from the VAFC districts. The opportunity is too good for a club which has only won the title once in its history, in 1951 (3-0 defeat against Strasbourg). “In this context, distrust is completely required,” judged the Lyon coach at a press conference.

Last of Ligue 1 in November

Pierre Sage knows it better than anyone: if his team is doing better, it nonetheless remains fragile, marked by a nightmarish start to the season. When he found himself propelled onto the Rhone bench on November 30, 2023, OL were in last place in Ligue 1 with 7 small points. The director of the club’s training center, former assistant to Habib Beye at Red Star, was then tasked with acting as interim manager after the dismissal of Fabio Grosso, the day after a defeat (0-2) against Lille. He became the third man to be entrusted with the reins of the team since the start of the season, after the Italian world champion and his French counterpart Laurent Blanc.

Four months later, the 44-year-old from Jura is still there and he is certain to finish the 2023-2024 financial year in his position. Seven days before the end of the championship, Lyon is only four lengths from 7th place, occupied by Marseille and which would open the way to participation in the Europa Conference League if the winner of the Coupe de France ranks. among the top six in Ligue 1. A possible outcome: barring any surprises, Paris Saint-Germain should win the league title, but the capital club faces Rennes, currently 8th, on Wednesday at 9:10 p.m. during the second semi final.

Their dream of Europe, totally utopian in the fall, the Lyonnais knew how to maintain it by showing a different face in matches. But before thinking about the field, Pierre Sage, who will soon pass the professional football coaching certificate (BEPF), strived to bring dialogue and confidence back to a locker room consumed by dissension. Out of the nineteen matches, in all competitions, managed by the technician, OL won thirteen victories. The Rhone club lost five times, against Lens (back and forth), Marseille, Le Havre and Rennes.

A winter transfer window worth 50 million euros

The winter was also fertile. Firstly thanks to the transfer window, where the recruitments for more than 50 million euros of Saïd Benrahma, Malick Fofana, Gift Orban and especially the experienced Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic brought a lot to a collective which lacked creativity and speed .

Other arrivals have brought stability and serenity since December: those of Laurent Prud’homme as general director, then David Friio as sporting director, have clarified the organization of the club and put a stop to the governance crisis which has been raging since the takeover, in December 2022, by the American John Textor.

Aware of the importance of Tuesday’s deadline in his team’s journey, Pierre Sage decided to err on the side of caution. He therefore preserved his squad and rotated players in Ligue 1, against Reims on Sunday. “Beyond managing the two matches, we had to manage the international break and some players had a lot of playing time with their selection. The offensive players who entered the second half all played for the national team,” recalled the Lyon technician, who escaped with his very first draw (1-1). No offense to their coach, OL, five times winners of the Coupe de France (1964, 1967, 1973, 2008 and 2012), remain favorites this Tuesday.