Europa League Preview : Lyon v AZ
Lyon’s occasionally confusing season continues with a home return tie into which they bring a 4-1 lead after a reasonably comprehensive battering of AZ in Alkmaar last week. Even the ‘1’ was described by L’Equipe as “un penalty inexistant” after Levi Garcia fell over but Emanuel Mammana got the blame.
At that point Lyon were 3-0 up through Lucas Tousart’s first senior goal and a double from Alexandre Lacazette, although AZ had some good chances. Ilias Bel Hassani had a shot just wide at 2-0, and top-scorer Wout Weghorst forced a double save from Lopes just before the penalty incident. Mammana headed clear off the line late on, and Jordan Ferri restored the three-goal cushion late in injury time after a five-on-two break with Tim Krul only deflecting Nabil Fekir’s shot into Ferri’s path. If you’re into making predictions, you should visit this website; a home win looks likely, and the aggregate score will be big, but don’t rule out AZ getting a goal.
Lyon seem more comfortable at home recently, after away losses to Saint-Etienne and Guingamp in the league, but putting four past both Nancy and Dijon at Parc OL. Their last league match wasn’t all plain sailing, however, as DFCO spent a long time 2-1 up, before being pummelled by three goals in the last ten minutes, including a penalty (also inexistant? – Ed) from Lacazette.
OL’s main striker, still routinely linked with a move to the Premier League (Arsenal and West Ham apparently ‘on alert’, despite a rumoured £60m release clause), now has 21 league goals, second in the scoring charts after Edison Cavani, and 26 in all competitions. Next highest scorer is Corentin Tolisso with 10, who bounced back from a poor performance against Saint-Etienne to get an assist in Alkmaar, and a double against Dijon at the weekend.
Elsewhere in the squad, Rafael is back from injury, but Matthieu Valbuena isn’t, although he may be back for the game against Metz at the weekend, according to coach Bruno Genesio. Maciej Rybus trained on Wednesday but also isn’t in the squad, and 18-year-old midfielder Houssem Aouar is included after making a brief appearance in the first leg for his senior debut.
Having dropped down from the Champions League, the Europa League is a decent focus for OL, as they stand 13 points off Nice in third in the league, which looks a big gap even with a game in hand – against Metz, whom they also face on Sunday. They are out of both domestic cups, and there is a four-point gap down to rivals Saint-Etienne in fifth in the league, which should get bigger with that game in hand. With Genesio continuing to receive criticism, keeping this run going is important.
OL’s league form since the restart is four losses from seven, and while the most galling will be the derby defeat at Saint-Etienne, those to Caen, Lille, and a Guingamp team on a bad run of form, are the more worrying. Even in victory, there are notes of concern – the (league) Olympico against Marseille covered a deal of issues that OL have at the back, as OM conspired to be worse. OL then also lost that (cup) fixture at the Velodrome, as they were knocked out in extra time, 2-1. Genesio will be hoping that his side can not only keep their scoring form going, but iron out some of the significant issues they have had at the back, particularly as they have a tricky run of matches coming up, away at Bordeaux, at home to Toulouse, and then against PSG at the Parc des Princes.
AZ have dropped to fifth in the Eredivisie after drawing 1-1 at mid-table Willem II last weekend, when defender Derrick Luckassen’s header was cancelled out by a 93rd minute equaliser from the home side. They are just one point behind Utrecht in fourth, however, so John van den Brom might think there is little point chasing the dream here and focus on the league fixture against PEC Zwolle on Sunday. A fairly young team played the first leg, but we may see more from the youngsters, including Garcia, who made up the bench last time. Helpfully Jonas Svensson and Ron Vlaar are both back after absences (Vlaar out since early December) which should help to shore up the defence that Lyon found rather easy to take apart last time.
Genesio’s selection will be interesting, with Lacazette and Tolisso probably starting on the bench, and Fekir starting up-top. Another factor is that Darder, Gonalons and Rafael all face suspension if they get booked. Even with changes, and according to this tipster site, OL should have enough to win this, but need to avoid too much change, and keep their focus.
Lyon : Gorgelin, Lopes – Diakhaby, Jallet, Mammana, Morel, Rafael, Yanga Mbiwa – Aouar, Darder, Ferri, Gonalons, Tolisso, Tousart – Cornet, Fekir, Ghezzal, Lacazette.
AZ : Rochet, Krul, Olij – Johansson, Vlaar, Haps, Hatzidiakos, Svensson, van Eijden, Luckassen – Rienstra, van Overeem, Til, Bel Hassani, Seuntjens, Ouwejan, Helmer, Wuytens – Jahanbakhsh, Weghorst, Tankovic, dos Santos, Friday, Garcia