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Champions League PREVIEW: Valencia vs Lyon (29/09/15)

Eric Devin previews Les Gones’ trip to Spain against a Valencia side firing blanks with Nuno Espirito Santo under pressure to perform for VCF.

Neither Olympique Lyonnais nor Valencia CF could have been to pleased with the way their matches finished a fortnight ago. With Zenit St. Petersburg, the third recognisable name in the group in turmoil owing to the impending departure of manager Andre Villas-Boas and a newly reduced number of foreign players, the consensus was that the two teams would easily advance to the Round of 16.

Valencia were one of Europe’s biggest spenders in the transfer window and with an impressive, if slightly fortuitous victory over Monaco in the Playoff round, they probably edged Les Gones as favourites. Lyon had spent in the window as well, strengthening throughout the side in anticipation of an extended European campaign.

Imagine the disappointment, then, as a late Axel Witsel winner condemned the Spanish side to a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Zenit, the team having been uncharacteristically open in defence.

Lyon, meanwhile, were unable to defeat what was eventually the nine men of Gent in Belgium, achieving a 1-1 draw that was itself less than impressive, as only a poor performance from the hosts’ bulky striker, Laurent Depoitre saved OL from conceding after a host of chances.

Things haven’t gone much better in the league for either side, as Lyon have been frustratingly uneven in the wake of Nabil Fekir’s injury, turning in a solid display against Marseille last weekend, but struggling to find any sort of shape against Bordeaux on Saturday. Valencia have one of La Liga’s best defences, having conceded only twice, but have had issues finding the back of the net, having scored just three times in their six league matches.

Team News And Tactics 

Lyon are dealing with an even bigger crop of injuries compared to their last European tie, as Rafael, Henri Bedimo and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa have all joined Nabil Fekir on the injury list. Even with this host of personnel issues, manager Hubert Fournier will persist with his 4-4-2 diamond, with Alexandre Lacazette returning to partner Claudio Beauvue ahead of Mathieu Valbuena.

In midfield, Maxime Gonalons was rested at the weekend, and he should per joined by Corentin Tolisso and one of Jordan Ferri or Sergei Darder. In defence, Milan Bisevac will likely replace Yanga-Mbiwa alongside Samuel Umtiti, while Jeremy Morel and Christophe Jallet will retain their places as fullbacks.

Nuno Espirito Santo, the Valencia boss, will likely counter with a 4-3-3, even in the absence of central midfielder Andre Gomes. The club as its own injury issues, with both Matt Ryan and Diego Alves unavailable in goal, where Jaume will start. In defence, former Toulouse and Monaco player Aymen Abdennour is set to make his return after missing the midweek match, partnering Shkodran Mustafi. Joao Cancelo will continue at right back, while on the opposite flank, Lucas Orban comes in for the injured Jose Gaya.

The forwards look set to be Alvaro Negredo, Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli, with the latter two operating in somewhat free roles behind the former Manchester City striker. Midfield is likewise a given, as all of Javi Fuego, Enzo Perez and Dani Parejo have started the season well in Gomes’ absence, Fuego playing just in front of the defence. With none of that trio particularly effective going forward, Valencia will once again rely on playing counter-attacking football, meaning that the likes of Bisevac and Umtiti will need to be at their sharpest.

Danger Men 

Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon

After missing Saturday’s loss to Bordeaux and turning in an indifferent performance against Bastia in the week, whatever hopes there were for a revival of sorts for Lacazette seem to have quickly disappeared. Despite a penalty converted and hitting the post with another shot against Marseille, the club’s star striker is still lacking in confidence and has perhaps only made things worse with comments about manager Fournier and the club’s president, Jean-Michel Aulas.

That said, the more that Lacazette talks, without backing up his words with the goals of last season, the more that he will seem a distraction. A confident performance against the Spanish side is essential to not only silence his critics but to turn the conversation surrounding the striker back to football.

Paco Alcacer, Valencia

Still not yet a regular starter after the acquisition of Alvaro Negredo in the summer, the diminutive striker may be one of La Liga’s best players not at one of Barcelona or Real Madrid. Scorer of three goals in this summer’s UEFA U-21 Championships on the back of 11 league goals last campaign, Alcacer has the pace and talent to be a dangerous option of the bench. If the match remains a tight affair heading into the last twenty minutes or so, don’t be surprised to see Santo call on the youngster.

Prediction 

With both teams injury-hit and playing unevenly, the result is anybody’s guess. The hope here is that Lacazette can use his frustrations to show some motivation against a higher level of competition, giving Lyon a much-needed three points.

Lyon 2-1 Valencia

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