Preview : Olympique Lyonnais v Sevilla – Champions League
Lyon welcome Sevilla in a match where qualification for the knock-out stages is still possible, the hosts needing to win by two goals to progress.
Lyon’s trip to Metz at the weekend was never supposed to be the maelstrom of distraction that it became. Bruno Genesio had put out a rotated side, with Corentin Tolisso, Nabil Fekir and in-form Mathieu Valbuena all rested. Metz had shown flashes of form, but the team was missing several key performers and had been thumped by Nancy in their previous match; they were never supposed to trouble their visitors. Instead, Les Grenats started the match well and went ahead through a brilliant individual strike by Gauthier Hein before all hell broke loose.
Fans behind the Lyon goal threw fireworks at Anthony Lopes and members of both teams after Hein’s goal, causing the match to be abandoned and becoming the story of the weekend, no mean feat considering Montpellier handed Paris Saint-Germain the heaviest defeat of the QSI era. Lopes, suffering from hearing loss, has trained with the side, but remains a doubt. Third-string goalkeeper Lucas Mocio having been included in the side’s provisional list of players serves to underscore the severity of the Portuguese international’s injury.
Prior to Saturday, Lyon had been showing good form, making the events at the Stade Saint-Symphorien even more frustrating. Manager Bruno Genesio had made the bold switch to a 4-4-2 double pivot against Paris Saint-Germain, bringing on Mathieu Valbuena and Nabil Fekir, with Rachid Ghezzal used as more of an orthodox winger; the result was perhaps the team’s most accomplished attacking performance in recent memory. Marquinhos and Thiago Silva’s efforts and a sublime team goal from the champions prevented Lyon from picking up any points, but a midweek fixture against Nantes saw the team score six, with a suddenly in-form Valbuena the catalyst.
The veteran has been used out of position, struggled with injury, and had that sex-tape scandal in the fifteen months since arriving in Lyon, and has failed to settle as a result. Never welcomed by the club’s fans as a former Marseille player, he lost his place in the national side and looked to be washed up at 32. It is obviously too far to say that he is “all the way back,” but his goals against PSG and Nantes showed he still has the predatory instinct that helped him earn fifty caps for his country. Both were one-touch finishes, lashed into the net with supreme confidence; in the absence of Nabil Fekir, Lyon have struggled to find a second goal-scorer, and Le Petit Velo may find another chance to rise to the occasion against Sevilla.
As well as the 4-4-2 worked against PSG, Genesio reverted back to the 4-3-3 against Nantes, but with Valbuena on the left and Ghezzal on the right. Given their form, the two look certain to start, as well as Corentin Tolisso and Maxime Gonalons. Lopes remains a doubt, but the back four will be Rafael, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mouctar Diakhaby and one of Maciej Rybus or Jérémy Morel; the Polish international gives a bit more attacking thrust, but Morel’s solidity balances the attacking forays of Rafael. If Lyon do opt to play the 4-3-3, Sergi Darder could start on the right of midfield, but with the double pivot, Nabil Fekir will likely partner Alexandre Lacazette.
Given that Fekir was rested at the weekend, the 4-4-2 seems the better option, as it gets of all of Lyon’s most dangerous attackers on the pitch together in more or less their best positions. It admittedly leaves the team open at the back, but in a match that means success or failure as regards their Champions’ League campaign, Genesio should throw caution to the wind.
Sevilla, for their part, are likely to deploy a three-man defense that will manifest as a 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid, with the movement of Samir Nasri in a free role the difference as he returns from injury to take the place of the suspended Franco Vazquez. Given the amount of pace and trickery that Lyon will deploy, using three center backs and both Steven N’Zonzi and Vicente Iborra will allow Sevilla to clog midfield but also give Mariano and Sergio Esucdero more space to wreak havoc on the flanks.
In attack, Vitolo’s imperious form makes his inclusion a given, while manager Jorge Sampaoli has been elusive as regards his striker for this evening, lauding both Wissam Ben Yedder and Luciano Vietto. The Argentine could have had a hat trick in the reverse fixture, but the former Toulouse man hasn’t started a match since October; neither offer the kind of sure-fire finisher that the team need, but Ben Yedder would do better to stretch a Lyon back four who will be more desperate to aid the attack than prevent the Spanish side getting forward.
Olympique Lyonnais (4-4-2 “double six”): Anthony Lopes; Rafael, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mouctar Diakhaby, Jérémy Morel (or Maciej Rybus); Rachid Ghezzal, Maxime Gonalons, Corentin Tolisso, Mathieu Valbuena; Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir
Sevilla FC (3-5-2): Sergio Rico; Nicolas Pareja, Gabriel Mercado, Adil Rami; Mariano, Steven N’Zonzi, Vicente Iborra, Samir Nasri, Sergio Escudero; Vitolo, Luciano Vietto (or Wissam Ben Yedder)
Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Sevilla