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A positional switch has changed fortunes for Depay and Lyon

April 12, 2018

FILE - In tis file photo dated Sunday, April 1, 2018, Lyon's Memphis Depay controls the ball during a French League One soccer match against Toulouse in Decines, near Lyon, central France. After being moved from a wide left position into a central striker’s role, the notoriously erratic Depay seems to have hit top form for the last games of the 2018 season. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, FILE)

PARIS (AP) — A positional switch has led to a change in fortune for Memphis Depay.

After being moved from a wide left position into a central striker’s role in a 4-4-2 formation at Lyon, the notoriously erratic Depay has hit top form in the past three games.

Lyon has won all three of those matches to overtake Marseille on goal difference in the hunt for third place and a spot in next season’s Champions League playoffs. With six games left, Depay is peaking at the perfect time.

Last weekend, the Netherlands forward played a part in all five goals, scoring one and creating four in a 5-0 win at Metz. The last player to do so in Europe’s top five league was Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, back in 2013.

“I like playing in this position because I’m closer to goal,” said the 24-year-old Depay, who is partnered at center forward by Mariano Diaz.

Depay also scored two in a win over Toulouse and headed in a late winner at Marseille before that. Overall, he has scored or created Lyon’s last eight goals.

“He’s happy on the field,” Lyon coach Bruno Genesio. “But his positioning, with more freedom and less defensive work to do, helps him.”

Depay has been decisive for his country, too, recently scoring in a 3-0 win over Portugal.

Lyon’s elimination from the last 16 of the Europa League has had a positive knock-on effect in the league. Genesio has had more time to work with his inconsistent side, which was awful during February and March when the coach was juggling domestic and European competitions.

“Because we now have a full week (of training) it helps us develop things tactically,” Genesio said. “The midfield we have, with Houssem (Aouar), Tanguy (Ndombele) and Lucas (Tousart) is very, very good. Nabil (Fekir) is looking good for his return, and Memphis is happier in this position.”

Fekir has not played since getting injured in the 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne, but his imminent return gives Lyon its three leading scorers for the run-in.

Diaz has 17 league goals while Fekir has 16 and Depay has 13. Fekir is likely to play wide right, where he can push up to support Diaz and Depay in a 4-4-2.

Depay finds himself in a position of strength, after some frustrating times.

Three years ago, he joined Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven for 31 million pounds (then $48 million) and amid much fanfare. Depay was given the club’s iconic No. 7 jersey worn by George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo, but he scored only seven goals in 52 games.

He joined Lyon on a 4½-year contract in January 2017. The fee was 16 million euros ($17 million), with a further 6 million euros in incentives and another 3 million euros if he extends his contract. United was also given a buy-back option of about 35 million euros ($43 million).

Depay showed glimpses of his skill and vision last season, lobbing the Toulouse goalkeeper from near the halfway line in March 2017. Collecting the ball just inside the halfway line, Depay turned and swiftly went past two players. Without looking up, he clipped an arcing shot over the head of Alban Lafont.

But Depay has also expressed frustration at not always starting games — 12 of his 46 league appearances have been as a substitute — and having too much defending to do. Genesio has listened and Depay is looking much sharper.

“Memphis is coming back to his best level,” Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said. “I’m happy for him because we’ve heard how tough it’s been.”

Buying Depay paved the way for the sale of Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal for 60 million euros ($68 million), and with Fekir also expected to leave, Lyon needs Depay to stay.

“I can do even better,” Depay said, “if I believe in myself more.”

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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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