He was born in Pusignan, in the Lyon suburbs, on August 17, 2003, barely a year after the first of the seven consecutive titles of champion of France gleaned by Olympique Lyonnais. Sixteen years and five months later, the young Rayan Cherki carried OL on his shoulders to eliminate Nantes (4-3) on Saturday January 18, at the Beaujoire stadium, in the poster for the 16th finals of the Coupe de France .
Two goals, two assists, a penalty obtained – and missed by Moussa Dembélé – is Cherki’s impressive statistical record for his second tenure of the season (six appearances in total). And Olympique Lyonnais really needed it in this clash between two fit teams who wanted to gain confidence before a series of complicated meetings.
The Lyonnais picked their hosts cold and opened the scoring after barely fifty seconds. Served in the box, Dembélé passed the ball back to Cherki, who defeated goalkeeper Alban Lafont (0-1). OL continued to push but first hit the post which returned the shot from Martin Terrier, also served by Dembélé (7th), before Cherki, again, weighed down by sliding between Lafont’s legs a ball offered by Bertrand Traoré (0-2, 9th).
Far from being discouraged, the Nantes have closed ranks, rebalancing the exchanges, and were rewarded for their efforts by a clever head of the Belgian striker Renaud Emond, served by Moses Simon, who thus scored his first goal in yellow since his arrived from Liège ten days ago (1-2, 16th).
The opportunities then multiplied on both sides, such as this shot by Dembélé pushed away from the end of the glove by Lafont (23rd) or that of Mehdi Abeid pushed away in a corner by goalkeeper Anthony Lopes (25th). But Lyon finally got a head start when Cherki, again, served in depth Terrier, launched at full speed almost from the center circle (1-3, 37th).
Kylian Mbappé appreciated
After returning from the locker room, the Lyonnais sought above all to manage their lead, sometimes to the dismay of the 24,000 Nantes supporters. But despite the Canaries’ hints, the real opportunities remained in Lyon. Thus, a grazing strike from Cherki, still him, narrowly missed the frame (60th), then Dembélé missed a penalty obtained by … Cherki following a disagreement in the Nantes defense (67th). Dembélé caught up just after putting in the bottom a ball served by … Cherki (69th, 1-4).
Asked at the end of the match by Eurosport about the surprising maturity he showed, Cherki assured: “I acquired it thanks to my teammates”, before talking about his relationship with Dembélé. “With Moussa, we are like two brothers on the ground”.
Rudi Garcia, the Lyonnais coach, was right when he gave him the chance to start the match. “Rayan Cherki, we know he’s a boy who has the ability to be decisive. Of course I liked it. Of course my role is also to lower the levels because everyone is going to bring it to the skies “, he nuanced. “What I liked most was his collective game with the others this evening, the intelligence of his play choices, and his defensive races. If he continues like this, he can continue to progress “, he added at the end of the match too.
The high-flying performance of the young Lyon phenomenon has not escaped the current wonder of French football. On her Twitter account, Kylian Mbappé – who also started out at 16 with professionals – posted a note in the blink of an eye about Cherki’s precociousness. “You shouldn’t talk to her about age too much”, wrote the PSG striker, resuming a tweet giving the Lyonnais evening statistics.
You shouldn’t talk to her about age too much 🙃. @rayan_cherki https://t.co/lqZ6ihu600
Nantes energy boost
At the very end of the game, a revival of Nantes energy electrified the stadium, which began to hope after a goal from Imran Louza (2-4, 83rd) then a resumption of Simon pushed back into the goal by Anderson (86th , 3-4). The match ended in a tense atmosphere, with the start of a general fight when the Lyonnais dragged to put the ball in play.
OL will have to build on this success in an attempt to continue its rise in the league, while avoiding overheating since the Lyonnais thus remain involved in the two national cups – with a semi-final of the League Cup on Tuesday against Lille – and will also have to negotiate their Champions League round of 16 against Juventus Turin.
Nantes will have a week before receiving Bordeaux Sunday – a match that will be remembered by striker Emiliano Sala, died a year ago in a plane crash – then to face Rennes and PSG in the following days.