Europa League Preview : Roma v Lyon
The first leg of this clash ended 4-2 to Lyon, but there were some nervy moments as Roma went in at half-time 2-1 up, and let’s face it, nobody in France right now is looking at first-leg scorelines and going “ooh, comfortable“.
Things started well at the Parc OL as break-out centre back Mouctar Diakhaby opened the scoring inside ten minutes with his fourth goal of the season, across three competitions. There was a downturn as Mohamed Salah and Fazio got the visitors ahead at the break, but OL stepped it up in the second half. The goals came from three of their best players, Corentin Tolisso levelling things shortly after the restart before Nabil Fekir put them ahead and Alexandre Lacazette topped things off with an injury-time fourth.
Tolisso’s goal, just 2 minutes into the second half, was a key moment in the home team taking back control. For Roma fan Nicolle Zamora, there was an air of inevitability about what happened next : “we are a very emotional team that depends on our confidence, and when Lyon came roaring back in the second half I knew we’d let in more goals. As soon as that tying goal happened, we began to panic and made some silly mistakes. We definitely held back and let Lyon on the ball too much.”
The OL Twitter account was understandably very excited by the second-half fightback, but you do have to wonder if tweeting this challenge to followers could come back to bite them on the arse in a very real sense if things don’t go well in the second leg. From our POV one of the funniest things about Lacazette’s hardman goal celebration was Diakhaby inadvertently smacking #EmpereurAlex in the face in his excitement.
However – what looked like it could be a tough test for OL in their next game turned out to be nothing of the sort as Lyon rolled a recently-not-scoring Toulouse 4-0 with goals from Christophe Jallet, Maxwel Cornet, and a brace from Memphis, including a frankly ludicrous ‘am I in their half? Whatever’ lob. Meanwhile Roma were seeing a first contribution from new-boy Clement Grenier (who he? ed.) as he put in the assist for Stephen El Shaaraway’s first in a 3-0 win over relegation-fodder Palermo to keep them second in Serie A, two points ahead of Napoli. Clemmy in fact got the fans’ vote for man of the match – however he is cup-tied, having already played one European match for OL, a 12 minute cameo in the goalless draw against Sevilla.
Apart from him, there are no big absences for Luciano Spalletti to deal with; but rumours of a switch to four at the back to deal with what he called a ‘tactical imbalance’ in the first leg. For Zamora, while a little more caution is to be expected, but it is a delicate balance : “I’m still very happy that [in the first leg] we came out strong as it was the right approach for our style of play; when we go into a defensive shell we are more likely to get flustered. I do think Spalletti will start off a little more cautiously but he’s not going to hold back on pushing forward, not at home, not after the weekend win.”
Bruno Genesio has nearly a full pack to deal from; Nicolas Nkoulou and Maciej Rybus are out, and Memphis is cup-tied, although arguably he more than did his bit on Sunday. Young midfielder Houssem Aouar gets another call-up, and Diakhaby is back after suspension at the weekend, as is Rafael after being rested after a slight knock in the first leg. He, almost inevitably, is on a booking that means he will be suspended if he gets another (as are Kostas Manolas and Leandro Paredes for Roma, and Cornet, Sergi Darder and Maxime Gonalons for Lyon).
Since the loss to Guingamp in game 25 in the league, OL are unbeaten in seven in both competitions, scoring 29, and conceding just seven, but are still 13 points off the podium, albeit with a game in hand (against Metz, now scheduled for 5 April). So, a reasonably surgent Lyon take a two-goal lead into this, but those Roma away goals are a concern, so they should be looking to score. Jallet may be preferred at right-back given the Rafael sitch, and Lacazette is nailed on to start having been rested at the weekend, so the key questions will be who will be picked to flank him, and the make-up of midfield, where Genesio also has a balancing act – to be careful, but not too cautious.
Roma : Alisson Becker, Lobont, Szczesny – Manolas, Emerson, Rudiger, Rui, Fazio, Vermaelen, Peres, Juan Jesus – Gerson, De Rossi
Diego Perotti, Strootman, Paredes, Nainggolan – Salah, El Shaarawy, Totti, Dzeko
OL : Gorgelin, Lopes, Mocio – Diakhaby, Jallet, Mammana, Morel, Rafael, Yanga Mbiwa – Aouar, Darder, Ferri, Gonalons, Tolisso, Tousart – Cornet, Fekir, Ghezzal, Lacazette, Valbuena.