Josh Mart previews tonight’s Europa League round of 16 encounter between Lyon and Czech side Viktoria Plzen at the Stade Gerland. Lyon progressed to this stage of the competition after an extremely narrow 1-0 aggregate victory over Chornomorets Odessa, in which the Ukrainian made life very difficult for Remi Garde’s men. Viktoria Plzen were superb in their unexpected triumph over another Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk, who have substantially more pedigree and wealth than the side from Plzen. The first leg in this tie could be key to deciding which side is to progress, as if Viktoria Plzen can get a positive result here, it will be very difficult for Lyon in the return leg.
Lyon have really turned their season around after such a poor first half to the campaign. They now sit 5th in the Ligue 1 standings, and are well in the race to challenge for a European place next season as they are just 3 points behind bitter rivals St Etienne who sit 4th. Sunday’s dramatic win at Bordeaux pays homage to the transformation since the winter break, with Lyon fighting until the end and grabbing two goals in stoppage time.
Viktoria Plzen have also been in good league form, winning 4 out of the last 5 league games. However, Sunday’s defeat to table topping Sparta Prague has seriously dented Plzen’s title ambitions. With this in mind they can focus on progression in the Europa League, and enjoying the challenge of facing a side of Lyon’s stature.
Squad Selection and Tactics
Garde was heavily criticized for his decision to adopt a 3-5-2 formation against Bordeaux at the weekend. Several players seemed unsure of what they were supposed to be doing with Bedimo being particularly critical. However, Garde noted this and duly changed formation to Lyon’s normal 4-2-2-2. I expect Lyon to lineup in this formation tonight. However, both Gourcuff and Grenier will be missing for OL tonight, and Lyon usually miss their creativity in games such as this. On a more positive note, Fofana could return to the starting 11 alongside Gonalons and Ferri in midfield. Lyon will need Lacazette and Gomis to finish any chances that come their way tonight.
The visitors will probably lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, a style suited to continental competition and one that outwitted Shakhtar Donetsk over 2 legs in the previous round. Despite losing talisman Rajtoral to Hannover in January, Plzen still have enough quality to cause Lyon trouble. The back 4 is likely to consist of Reznik, Prochazka, Hubnik and Cisovsky who were fantastic in the away tie in Ukraine. Horvath and Horava will anchor the midfield allowing the creative players such as Petrzela and Kolar to sparkle. Tecl is expected to lead the line for the visitors.
Gomis (Lyon) – Despite criticism over his lack of commitment to Lyon at times this season, Gomis is a great player on his day. He is powerful, quick and good in the air and can cause defenses a lot of problems. The question with Gomis is whether he really wants it enough: if he does, Lyon could do well in this match.
Petrzela (Plzen)- The little winger caused Shakhtar no end of problems with his intelligent movement and intricate build up play with Kolar, so expect the former Augsburg man to have an impact on the game tonight.
This game is really tough to call as both sides are in good form and playing well. It could be argued that home advantage could sway the match in Lyon’s favour but without Grenier and Gourcuff and coupled with the fact that Plzen won so impressively in Donetsk, this tie could prove very tricky for Les Gones. I expect a close encounter and a score draw.
Prediction: Lyon 1-1 Viktoria Plzen