Eric Devin previews Lyon’s final European game at the Stade Gerland. Their opponents? Gent.
Insult to injury, or injury to insult? Despite a stirring derby win over Saint-Etienne prior to the international break, Lyon’s season took another turn for the worse on Friday. As if getting hammered by Nice, 3-0 weren’t enough, Christophe Jallet is out with broken rib for something in the neighborhood of two months.
While recent weeks have seen the France international lose his battle for a starting position with Rafael, the older man’s assuredness and capability in defense mean that Lyon will miss him dearly, especially against teams that like to play on the counter.
Despite this being only the latest of many injury issues, the team are sitting in a fairly decent second place domestically. However,Lyon have been woefully off the pace in Europe, sitting bottom of the group at present, with just their draw away to Gent to show.
The Belgians, meanwhile, have been unlucky not to have done better, losing to Valencia on a pair of own goals and wasting several fine chances in the match against Lyon. Another point or two and they would be in the driver’s seat for second place and its attendant advancement to the next round.
Realistically, though, unless Zenit St. Petersburg find some sort of motivation to beat Valencia, these two are playing for the Europa League. For Lyon, it would be an unnecessary and shameful end to a Champions’ League campaign that started with much promise.
For the Belgian upstarts, it would represent tremendous success, having fended off the challenges of clubs with operating budgets that dwarf their own. Both sides will be motivated for this encounter, but with Gent playing with nothing to lose, and Lyon playing to scrape some level of dignity, whether success is a better motivator than failure will show the match’s outcome; even a draw is enough of a result for Gent to keep their European dream alive.
Team News and Tactics:
L’Equipe’s Bilel Ghazi has predicted one “surprise” in each part of Lyon’s squad. Taking that as defense, midfield and attack, here is how that could shake out for Lyon, provided they stick to Hubert Fournier’s favoured diamond 4-4-2:
Besides the aforementioned Jallet, and long-term absentees Nabil Fekir, Clement Grenier and Gueida Fofana, Lyon are also missing Samuel Umtiti (knock) and Aldo Kalulu. While Kalulu is a still-young prospect who was unlikely to figure, Umtiti is a huge miss. His ability to play the ball out of the back, as well as his pace, has generally (in the league at least) allowed Lyon to be relatively solid.
With his absence, Hubert Fournier as a number of options. Lindsay Rose has been named in the eighteen, a month after being asked to train with the CFA side after a training ground incident with Corentin Tolisso.
Jeremy Morel has shown that he can play centre back as well, but the physicality of Laurent Depoitre, Gent’s hulking centre forward, makes him an unlikely option. Milan Bisevac isn’t the paciest option, but his presence has been key to Lyon’s best defensive performances, the team keeping a clean sheet in four of the six matches in which the big Serb has featured.
While Maxime Gonalons has operated as a deputy centre back several times this season, his yellow card accumulation means he is unavailable for this match, leaving Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to partner Bisevac.
While there is something of the headless chicken in the former Montpellier man’s play, the hope here is that lining up alongside the more experienced Bisevac will prove a calming influence, although the fact that the two have never played alongside each other is somewhat of a cause for trepidation.
In midfield, one would expect the diamond to be Tolisso taking up the absent Gonalons’ holding role, with Jordan Ferri and Sergei Darder in central midfield and Mathieu Valbuena furthest forward. While this seems a logical move, Lyon have been robbed of Tolisso’ goal-scoring when he is played deepest.
If Fournier is after a much-needed win, he could look to one of Steed Malbranque or Arnold Mvuemba to anchor midfield. While neither are of the defensive standard exactly required, Malbranque was an integral element of Remi Garde’s double pivot two season ago. Mvuemba may lack somewhat in defensive nous, but his inclusion could add a bit more passing dynamism to Lyon’s attack, with Ferri dropping deeper to aid the former Lorient man with his defensive responsibilities.
In all likelihood, Tolisso likely will reprise his role at the base of midfield, but with little to lose besides pride, Fournier could roll the dice on one of his two veterans.
In attack, Alexandre Lacazette and Claudio Beauvue look certain to start, but might Fournier give more of a look-in to Maxwell Cornet? Like the aforementioned Kalulu, Cornet hasn’t been given much of a chance, but his record for Lyon’s B team and France’s youth internationals shows he has a nose for goal.
With Beauvue misfiring both domestically and in Europe, the manager could do worse to give the teenager a chance in the Gerland’s European bow.
For Gent, attacking midfielder Thomas Matton, scorer of five goals in ten matches in all competitions, is a miss, but the team will otherwise likely field a very similar eleven to the one that proved so obdurate ten weeks ago.
Playing a 3-5-2 that has seen Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s side move to second place in the Belgian Jupiler League, the team will look to play wide, using their pace to catch Lyon out on the counter.
Matz Sels will be between the posts, while the three centre backs will be Nana Asare, Stefan Mitrovic and Lasse Nielsen. Sven Kums and Renato Neto will anchor midfield, with Danijel Milicevic playing a more attacking role.
The wingbacks should be the same as in the reverse fixture, Thomas Foket on the right and Brecht Dejaegere on the left. Moses Simon hasn’t been a regular domestically for Gent, but his pace working off of the holdup play of Laurent Depoitre (who is a doubt, but is likely to figure here) has proven to be deadly effective in the past. Look for Vanhaezebrouck to try to take full advantage of the lack of familiarity between Bisevac and Yanga-Mbiwa to get the young Nigerian running in behind or splitting defenders, looking for second-chance balls.
Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon
The reigning Ligue 1 scoring champion showed a fortnight ago what he is capable of at his best, decimating an esteemed Saint-Etienne defense with a sublime hat trick. He wasn’t at his scintillating best against Nice on Friday, but will feel unlucky to have hit the base of the post from some distance.
Not yet the player he was last season, Lacazette has shown increasing signs over the last month or so that he could yet return to those heights, and bagging a goal or two on the Gerland’ final European night would be sweet redemption after an uneven start to the campaign
Sven Kums, Gent
Scorer of eight goals, with five assists as well in the league, the deep-lying midfielder is Gent’s captain for a reason. With remarkable vision and a skillful approach to free kicks as well, the Anderlecht youth product recently received his first call-up for international duty from Marc Wilmots.
Events in Brussels precluded his gaining his first cap, but with the wealth of midfield talent on offer for the Red Devils, this accolade is an impressive one indeed, even with injuries to the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens.
Lyon 1-1 Gent