In the furore surrounding the incidents in Metz on Saturday, it may have been easy to forget that what is Lyon’s biggest match of the season takes place this evening at the Parc OL.
Defeat Sevilla by two goals or more and Lyon are through to the knockout stages of the Champions’ League for the first time in five years. Any other result sees them drop into the Europa League, a result which, while disappointing, still comes on the back of two of the club’s most impressive performances.
Going toe-to-toe with Juventus was hardly to be expected given the way the club had capitulated against Sevilla at the Pizjuan, but the point earned in Turin was enough to make this match matter after the Bianconeri did Lyon a favor by winning 3-1 in Spain.
Lyon have nearly a full complement of players available to them, as Anthony Lopes, the primary victim in Saturday’s incident, has returned to training. Likewise young centre back Emanuel Mammana, who has brushed off a thigh injury and could see a place on the bench owing to his lacking match fitness.
Christophe Jallet is still a miss at right back, but otherwise the team is fully fit, and the only questions surround how Bruno Genesio will set the team up.
The team had played an expansive double pivot system in the second half against Paris Saint-Germain, turning in one of their more coherent attacking performances in the process. Needing to score, Genesio should do well to progress with that system.
Lopes should start in goal if training yesterday wasn’t an issue, with a back four of Rafael, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mouctar Diakhaby and Jérémy Morel.
Maciej Rybus could supplant the former Marseille man at left back, but with Rafael more likely to be getting forward in attack, Genesio will crave the solidity that the veteran brings. Corentin Tolisso and Maxime Gonalons will be in central midfield, with Mathieu Valbuena and Rachid Ghezzal in wide areas.
Nabil Fekir was rested against Metz, and he should partner Alexandre Lacazette in a slightly withdrawn role. There is a small chance Genesio could opt for a 4-3-3 with one of Sergi Darder or Jordan Ferri in and Fekir, Ghezzal or Valbuena dropping to the bench, but the manager should opt to have as many goal-scoring options on the pitch as possible.
Sevilla have a similarly empty treatment table, although Fran Vazquez is suspended after being sent off against Juventus and Dani Carrico is unlikely to feature owing to a thigh injury, while former Bordeaux man Benoit Tremoulinas is a long-term absence.
Even though we have a fairly solid idea of the personnel available to manager Jorge Sampaoli, guessing how he will deploy them is another matter. A draw is enough to secure progression, but a win could see Sevilla top the group on 13 points if Juventus should stumble against Dinamo Zagreb.
Sergio Rico is a given in goal, and a nominal 4-2-3-1 makes the most sense, especially given the propensity of the fullbacks to get forward, but a three-man defence could also be deployed, as it provides more solidity in central areas without sacrificing the attacking intent of the full-backs.
If the latter is the case, Adil Rami, who missed the reverse fixture, will start alongside Nicolas Pareja and Gabriel Mercado, with Timothée Kolodziejczak a candidate as well.
Mariano and Sergio Escudero, who was magnificent when these team met earlier, would be wing-backs, with a midfield of Steven N’Zonzi, Vicente Iborra and Samir Nasri.
Vitolo would then play off of one of Luciano Vietto or Wissam Ben Yedder. The Argentine was profligate against Lyon earlier, but has been more decisive in the league of late.
That said, Ben Yedder may be a better option given his ability to stretch play on the counter. Sampaoli himself was elusive about his eleven in yesterday’s pre-match press conference, acknowledging the different abilities of the pair and saying the it was a decision he was yet to make.
However he sets his side up, Sevilla, who sit third in La Liga, are still a dangerous opponent, and Lyon will do very well to get the result that they need.
Mathieu Valbuena, Olympique Lyonnais
Rested against Metz at the weekend, “Le Petit Velo” has been incandescent of late, scoring against Paris Saint-Germain and delivering a man-of-the-match performance against Nantes a week ago.
Misused tactically upon arriving in Lyon and suffering under the emotional weight of being a former Marseille player and his sex tape scandal, Valbuena rarely demonstrated his considerable capabilities last season. This campaign has been marred by injury, and he is only recently back to full fitness.
Playing on the left of a 4-3-3, his preferred system, his dribbling ability and passing have been top-drawer, and with Rachid Ghezzal similarly stretching play on the opposite flank, Lyon have finally showed themselves to be a capable attacking side.
With at least two goals needed against Sevilla, if Les Gones are to have any hope of progression, Valbuena will have to be back to his incisive best.
Steven N’Zonzi, Sevilla FC
N’Zonzi has always been a player of some quality, having impressed during his time at Stoke City. He was also an integral part of Sevilla under Unai Emery’s management as well, but under Jorge Sampaoli, he has blossomed, even being discussed for the national side.
Given the competition for places under Didier Deschamps, that is still an unlikely scenario, but is a testament to his energy and work rate. Against Lyon in the reverse fixture, and often in La Liga, N’Zonzi has been a one-man wrecking crew in midfield, his endless running covering the ground two or three players would.
This has allowed Sevilla to play with not only a slew of attacking midfielders but also see the fullbacks bomb on as well.
It may seem reckless to play with only one defensive midfielder and two centre backs as orthodox defensive players, but the way N’Zonzi can control a midfield means that the club’s performances have rarely suffered.
Score Prediction: Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Sevilla FC