Sandwiched between Town’s two tours of continental Europe, Town played out a well-fought win over Olympique Lyon in a pre-season encounter. Max Cornet’s early second-half strike was canceled out by Terence Kongolo’s first goal for Town with striker Laurent Depoitre scoring a brace for a 3-1 victory.
Talk of the Town author Elliott Wheat-Bowen offer his thoughts on the game with eight conclusions that are worth considering:
1) Searching for the striker
In one of Town’s brightest games of pre-season to date, a reoccurring theme has been the concerted effort to find Steve Mounié and Laurent Depoitre when the ball went wide.
Chris Löwe and Florent Hadergjonaj both found Steve Mounié in the first half with crosses. This was complemented by new signings Adama Diakhaby and Ramadan Sobhi who also went searching for the Beninese international at every opportunity.
In the second half, however, we saw this slightly more direct approach reap its rewards. Laurent Depoitre was at the centre of an impressive comeback as he picked up a brace courtesy of excellent work from Alex Pritchard and Philip Billing.
Whilst Town’s struggle to score was clear to see last season, none of the blame could be apportioned to Steve Mounié and Laurent Depoitre.
Both strikers showed on countless occasions that if they are provided with service, they will score. Tonight, we saw a slight change in tactics as Town played both of their strikers and they were heavily involved and heavily influential throughout.
2) Diakhaby is a rough diamond
Adama Diakhaby’s first appearance at the John Smith Stadium was somewhat of a mixed bag. We saw the dominant athleticism and sheer pace which could prove so useful over the course of this season.
However, at the same time, we also saw that he remains a raw prospect at the age of twenty two with a sliced effort in the first half reflecting his expected inconsistency.
Despite a mixed performance, undoubtedly Adama Diakhaby is a rough diamond and one that will improve and develop under the close eye of David Wagner.
It is yet to be seen whether Tom Ince’s departure and the subsequent transfer fee will make way for a direct replacement which will see Adama Diakhaby fall slightly down the pecking order.
But, I have no doubt that if David Wagner can help him find some consistency in the final third, he will prove to be a great success for Town.
3) Sabiri looks set to be Town’s midfield wildcard
Once again, David Wagner showed trust in Abdelhamid Sabiri to give the 21-year-old Moroccan an opportunity.
Despite typically playing in the number 10 role, this pre-season we have seen him play in a deeper role and with that, he has seemed to thrive.
Having featured as a box-to-box midfielder, tonight we saw him anchor the midfield with Aaron Mooy in the first half against an exceptionally strong Lyon side.
Whilst Lyon did have the better of the first half, Abdelhamid Sabiri did impress, particularly defensively as he made a number of vital interceptions and a number of recovery challenges.
Sabiri does still have a raw element to his game but he seems to improve and mature with every game that passes, something that could see him become Town’s midfield wildcard option for this Premier League campaign.
4) Town’s untidy defensive line eventually got punished
After an end-to-end first half in which Memphis Depay could have and probably should have scored a hat-trick in the first fifteen minutes of the game, Town’s defence was untidy, to say the least.
Gaping holes and miscommunication allowed OL Lyon to slice through Town on numerous occasions and with more composed finishing, it truly could’ve been a cricket score.
In the 50th minute, Town’s untidy defensive line was eventually punished as Max Cornet managed to evade his marker and after rounding Ben Hamer, he had the simple task of placing the ball into the empty net.
It did, however, prove to be the only blemish in an excellent second-half display.
5) Ben Hamer puts in another impressive display
In the absence of Jonas Lössl, it is safe to say that Ben Hamer, having been given an extended run in the side, is making the most of the opportunity that he has been granted.
Having rarely been called upon against Dynamo Dresden and SV Darmstadt, tonight we saw Hamer called upon on countless occasions. For the most part, he was more than equal to the challenge.
From one-on-one situations to long-range strikes, Hamer seemed to have the answer for almost everything that Lyon could possibly muster.
As mentioned above, Ben Hamer was eventually beaten on one occasion courtesy of a well-taken goal from Max Cornet but it was another impressive display from the 30-year-old goalkeeper.
6) Tommy Smith stars in the second half
Coming on in place of Florent Hadergjonaj, Tommy Smith’s second-half performance reminded Town fans precisely what he is capable of.
In a performance that was almost a throwback to his final season in the Championship, Smith’s marauding runs and composure in the final third was a major contributory factor in the second-half comeback.
It was his high-pressing which gave Alex Pritchard the opening for the second goal and throughout an entertaining second-half, Smith from right-back was at the heart of every Town attack.
Relentless running and consistent overlaps were finding him in space and unlike others, he was not afraid to send in inviting deliveries for Laurent Depoitre to attack.
If David Wagner is taking note of who stands out in these pre-season friendlies, Tommy Smith’s starring second-half performance will certainly give Town’s head coach some food for thought.
7) Alex Pritchard looks braced to take on the mantle as Town’s chief creator
Throughout pre-season, I have waxed lyrical about Alex Pritchard and with the diminutive midfielder receiving more and more of the ball, he looks like the danger man capable of making something happen.
Coming on in place of Elias Kachunga who impressed for different reasons, against higher level opposition, Alex Pritchard looked far from out of place.
Instead, he seemed to revel in the fact that he was tasked with the responsibility of being Town’s spark of inspiration. From inch perfect deliveries to the pass that set up Town’s second goal, Pritchard was playing with exuberant confidence and it can only be a positive going into the new season.
Whilst over the course of the past two seasons, Aaron Mooy has been the man that Town have turned to in search of inspiration, it seems that Alex Pritchard looks braced to take on the mantle as Town’s chief creator.
8) Laurent Depoitre mounts the case for a start against Chelsea
Coming on at the break in place of Steve Mounié as part of a much-changed Town XI, Laurent Depoitre looked hungry to impress.
We saw some of his much-heralded hold-up play with his back to goal but it was his second-half brace which will have David Wagner sitting up and taking notice.
The first came as a result of his intelligent movement which saw him picked out by a perfectly clipped pass from Pritchard, whilst his initial volley was saved, he quickly followed in to place the ball past Mathieu Gorgelin.
Depoitre needed only wait nine minutes for the second as he took advantage of some brilliant work from Philip Billing which set him through, with the presence of mind to shield off his man, Depoitre showed composure and sumptuous finesse to fire past Gorgelin with exquisite ease.
Having scored against Chelsea in both fixtures last season, Depoitre has begun mounting a strong case to start against Maurizio Sarri’s side on the opening day of the season.