What Lyon Can Expect from Group H Opponents Gent
Just by making Europe’s premier competition represents a tremendous turnaround in fortunes for one of Belgium’s biggest clubs Gent. Despite being one of the country’s most recognisable sides, the big one had always alluded De Buffalos – that was until last season.
Hein Vanhaezebrouck stepped into the hot seat last summer, with the mandate of restoring pride to Gent after a series of disappointing campaigns marooned in the middle of the table. He did that and more, sensationally bringing the league crown to the club in his first full season in charge, surprising many pundits along the way.
Gent edged out another club suffering their own title-drought out in the championship playoffs in Club Brugge. Though they were aided somewhat by their rivals playing across several competitions, Gent really were deserving champions due to having the best team chemistry and playing some fairly inspiring football at times under Vanhaezebrouck. Silverware arriving so early in his reign may have caught even him by surprise, but it’s just reward for a manager that has consistently brought the best out of the players/budget at his disposal down the years at Kortrijk.
Vanhaezebrouck has a habit of making previously unfancied players play out of their skin. He’s moulded striker Laurent Depoitre into one of the league’s most valuable strikers. A fairly regular scorer at KV Oostende, Depoitre pitched in with 12 goals in their title run. He’s been critical this season too, bailing the side out a few times with three equalising goals.
The manager’s extensive scouting network has also reaped dividends. As well as signing players who he knew from his time at Kortrijk, he equally took players from obscurity. Nigerian Moses Simon signed from relative unknown Slovakian outfit AS Trencin in January 2015, providing electric pace and skill on the wing . He turned out to be the revelation of the season of Belgium, courting plenty of admiring glances from bigger clubs in the summer.
Gent tend to play a 3-5-2 formation, with the intention of keeping the ball, but they may not get that against the calibre of the opposition in the Champions League. Either way, Vanhazebrouck is wise enough to keep things fresh in his first eleven, switching to either a 4-3-3 formation or 4-2-3-1. He could even throw something else out of the blue to deal with a threat if needed.
Predicting the first eleven is anyone’s guess. Depoitre could equally be supported by Simon, Benito Raman (a 20-year old prodigy still finding his way a bitl), Danjiel Milicevic or Brecht Dejaegere if fit. Anchoring the midfield are Sven Kums, a cultured midfielder previously at Heerenveen and Vanhaezebrouck’s old stomping ground Kortrijk, plus Renato Neto. They’ll be the ones to provide the shield to the defence. Rafinha, Asare and Nielsen seem likely to start as a back-three, but the coach is more than ready to tinker with his tactics to fit the opposing threat.
Gent are the only unbeaten side left in the Jupiler Pro League, yet they are down the order due to five draws from the opening seven games. They’ve only conceded five times, suggesting a rock solid foundation, but have found goals hard to come by bar Depoitre’s share of four. Others need to chip in to help lighten the load.
The weekend draw against Zulte Waregem wasn’t the ideal preparation for Wednesday’s game against Lyon, with Vanhaezebrouck saying his team need to find their level of last season sooner rather than later. Frustration in being unable to find a winner led to long balls, something which could be replicated midweek.
Gent aren’t expected to pull up trees in this competition and should be considered as outsiders for Group H. The draw has been kind to them, avoiding the bigger names, yet that given them a false sense of confidence. Equally still, they could easily throw up a shock if everyone is on the same page.