Lyon return this evening to Cyprus, site of one of their most ignominious moments in the recent past. While this is the Europa League, and not the Champions’ League, that loss to an eminently beatable APOEL Nicosia side still hangs heavy on many fans, even if the players involved have all moved on. A shot at psychological redemption, then, may not be the order of the day, but the hosts will nonetheless offer up similarly combative football, having entered this competition in the second qualifying round, in mid-July.
After a very busy transfer window, Apollon Limassol dispatched Moldovan side Zaria Balti before moving past Aberdeen and Midtjylland. Unseeded in the group stage draw, they nevertheless boast some recent experience in Europe, and a cadre of players with experience in Europe’s major leagues, including a host of Brazilian players. Manager Sofronis Avgousti is young, at 40, and this is his first foray into management, he will likely see this match as a free hit, giving he and his charges the ability to play free of fear.
Limassol don’t have any major absentees and should line up in a 4-3-3. They have a fine record at home in this competition, with an unbeaten run stretching seven matches, with eighteen goals scored over that span; Lyon’s defence must be on its guard to compete with the trickery of the likes of attacker André Schembri and left back Jander. Former Reims defender Valentin Roberge is also likely to feature, but a dynamic, attack-minded side is more likely to try to get at a Lyon side that they may see as suspect defensively.
Lyon have a similarly fully fit squad save youngster Pape Cheikh Diop; expect Bruno Génésio to name his strongest side. Who exactly comprises that side might be a matter of some debate, particularly in the full-back areas. While Kenny Tete and Ferland Mendy do seem to be the future for Lyon, the experience of Marçal and Rafael should see the two older players start, while Jordan Ferri should get the call alongside Lucas Tousart in central midfield, despite the promise shown by Tanguy Ndombélé. The front four should be as you were, with Mariano ahead of Nabil Fékir and Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traoré on the flanks.
André Schembri, Apollon Limassol
Able to play both centrally and off the left wing, the Maltese international has had an itinerant career, but has generally met with success. He has a good deal of experience in Europe, and in Cypriot football, having previously played with AC Omonia. Always eager to cut inside, Schembri is not the quickest player, but his creativity and vision will doubtless make him a handful for Lyon.
Nabil Fékir, Olympique Lyonnais
Firmly shaking off his ACL injury, the playmaker has been arguably Ligue 1’s best player after Neymar this season. Even after an aenemic opening to his performance against Guingamp, he fully redeemed himself with a superb solo goal. More consistency would be ideal, but Fékir is looking increasingly like the player he was two years ago, and Limassol would do well to be wary of his talents.
Lyon insist this competition is their priority this season, and there is no better opportunity to prove that statement than in the same place as one of their biggest disappointments of recent years, a Champions’ League elimination to APOEL. A draw will be a creditable result, but with a deep Everton also in the group, a win is really ideal. Lyon’s individual talent should be enough to see them get three points, if only just.
Prediction: Apollon Limassol 1-2 Olympique Lyonnais