Europa League Preview : Besiktas v Olympique Lyonnais
It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for Lyon. First they contrived to lose 4-1 at home to Lorient, who had only just managed to drag themselves off the bottom of the table, with a series of defensive screw-ups, and after an ill-judged-in-retrospect Lions v Fish tweet from Memphis.
Then the first leg against Besiktas saw kick-off delayed by 45 minutes as the visiting fans – helpfully placed on an upper tier – pelted the home support with projectiles, forcing them onto the pitch, and Jean-Michel Aulas into the stands to make a stand against that sort of thing. He was there to see Ryan Babel open the scoring for Besiktas 15 minutes in, but back in his box for the second half, as Lyon scored two in two minutes through Corentin Tolisso and Jeremy Morel, after pinging a couple off the woodwork. A win, then, but it was by no means plain sailing and the Babel goal an added complication as Bruno Genesio and his team looked towards the away fixture.
After those aggravations, therefore, OL could really have done with a nice, calm, routine game at the weekend. Yuh-huh. Now, travelling to Bastia will never be that, but the Corsicans’ habitually assertive behaviour has been worsening with their league position. This entry in their long rap-sheet saw a pre-match pitch incursion, a 50-minute delay to kick-off, and further trouble at half-time, which involved SCB staff members ‘getting involved’. A steward has been fired, three OL players have made formal complaints, and in a break with reality so large it’s almost an art project, SCB President Pierre-Marie Geronimi says he is not expecting any sanctions from the LFP. The Disciplinary Committee meets on Thursday, in a session that could well last to the weekend given the size of the book they will almost inevitably throw at Bastia.
So, not the best of preparations for a key European game – and all this came after Nice had secured for themselves at least third-place with a 3-1 win over Nancy on Saturday, giving them an insurmountable (even with the game in hand) 19-point lead over Lyon in fourth. Heading to Istanbul, the players would be forgiven for wondering what the hell is going to happen this time, particularly given the approach the Besiktas fans took at the Parc OL; what could they possibly come up with on their own turf? Christophe Jallet, who missed the events at Bastia, has done his best to sound unworried by the «grosse ambience» expected at the Vodafone Arena, where there will be no away fans, but adding «je n’ai pas peur pour ma sécurité» does suggest that the rightback has something on his mind.
Besiktas are top of the Turkish Super Lig with a five-point lead over Başakşehir, and will be hosting bottom-of-the-table Adanaspor on Monday, a rather different proposition from Lyon’s upcoming Sunday night clash with Monaco. Coach Senol Gunes will be without on-loan Vincent Aboubakar and centre-back Marcelo (the other one) who are both suspended, but will clearly be fully focussed on this match, saying after the first leg “We are more disappointed with the score than our overall performance on the pitch. Losing with late goals always make you stop and think. However, we’ll spare no effort in Istanbul to get a better result and qualify from this round.”
OL, meanwhile, have Rafael suspended and Emanuel Mammana not fully back from knee injury, but further forward have a full complement, with Mathieu Valbuena cleared to travel. Bruno Genesio’s options may be limited in defence, therefore, but he will also have one eye on the weekend’s game when making the rest of his selection. He was not happy with the decision to go ahead in Bastia after the pre-match trouble – contrary to Aulas, who insisted they play – and while the LFP looks into that one, UEFA are having their own committee meetings, fining both clubs €100k for the security shortcomings in the first leg and applying a two-year suspended ban for the clubs as a result.
Everyone will be on edge tonight, therefore – and the OL players may also be short on sleep, after locals took to boats to ‘welcome’ the visitors with fireworks, with the Coast Guard called to calm things down. Genesio has been stressing that his team are not afraid, just wanting to get a good result : «C’est dans la difficulté qu’on voit les hommes.»
It is fair to say that OL have been dans la difficulté for a lot of the season, as despite hitting fourth spot and hanging onto it since game 15, they have not managed to make inroads up to the podium. Their attacking prowess is solid – fourth also in conversion in the league – but the frequent mishaps at the back are definitely not helping (they are lower half for stopping shots), and they seem more enthusiastic than efficient. That means problems when their attack is frustrated, as behind Alexandre Lacazette, Tolisso is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so if their keynote players have a collective bad night, you get results like, well, 1-4 against Lorient, and 0-0 at half-time away at Bastia.
0-0 here would obviously be OK, but Genesio cannot seriously plan to rely on his defence managing to keep a clean sheet, so will have to at least try to score. This loads the pressure back on Lacazette, Tolisso, Nabil Fekir, and the rest of the attacking squadron. They will be needed, as OL will almost certainly need to score.
Besiktas predicted starting XI: Fabri – Gonul, Mitrovic, Tosic, Beck – Ozyakup, Talisca, Hutchinson – Quaresma, Babel, Tosun
OL : Gorgelin, Lopes, Mocio – Diakhaby, Gaspar, Jallet, Morel, Nkoulou, Rybus, Yanga Mbiwa – Aouar, Darder, Ferri, Gonalons, Tolisso, Tousart – Cornet, Fekir, Ghezzal, Lacazette, Mateta, Valbuena.