After an enthralling encounter at the Parc OL last Thursday, with the hosts coming back from a goal down to record a 4-2 victory, both Roma and Lyon continued their good form in the league at the weekend. Both sides rotated a handful of players, but continued to roll on against league opposition. Roma’s achievement lacks the lustre of Lyon’s, as they struggled for much of the match before recording two goals late on in a 3-0 victory over relegation-threatened Palermo.
Lyon, though, were scintillating against Toulouse, who have been one of Ligue 1’s in-form teams since the arrival of ex-Tigres striker Andy Delort in the winter window. Each of their four goals was superbly well-taken, although Memphis Depay, author of a brace on Sunday, will be absent.
Perhaps more important than the win, though, was the fact that Lyon kept a clean sheet, something they had been able to do with some degree of scarcity in 2017. Losses against Caen, Guingamp, Lille and Saint-Étienne had all seen Lyon look in good form going forward, if not exactly clinical with their finishing, but struggle to keep opponents from themselves finding the net.
Lyon are unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions, but only two of those have seen Les Gones record a clean sheet, something that will be all but imperative given Roma’s two away goals. If the visitors manage to stay sound defensively, that should be enough to progress, but Roma certainly won’t make things easy.
After struggling playing a 3-4-1-2 against Lyon in the first leg, with Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi playing a double pivot, there has been some suggestion that Roma could move to a 3-1-4-2, with the Dutchman playing as a lone screen in front of the back three. This would likely see Leandro Paredes in for De Rossi, partnering Radja Nainggolan in midfield. The wide areas are also a matter of some uncertainty; both Emerson and Bruno Peres, who started the first leg, are doubts through injury.
Diego Perrotti provides a like-for-like change for Emerson on the left, but on the right, Peres has no ready-made deputy. Mohamed Salah did well playing that position for Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations last month, but needing goals, it is doubtful that manager Luciano Spalletti would sacrifice the player who looked Roma’s biggest threat in the first leg to play the role of a wingback.
If Peres is unable to pass fit, Stephan El Shaarawy looks set to come in up front, providing a similarly pacey complement to Edin Dzeko, if not the goal threat of Salah. In defence, Antonio Rudiger returns from suspension, and looks likely to be played on the left of the back three, with Federico Fazio centrally and Kostas Manolas on the right and Juan Jesus dropping out.
Rudiger’s return does offer Spalletti the chance to play the returning German at right back in a 4-2-3-1, with Nainggolan playing off of Dzeko, but a three-man defence looks more likely given Rudiger’s relative lack of pace and crossing ability.
Lyon have considerably fewer concerns about fitness, with Rafael the only player who is absent from the first leg; the Brazilian was left out at the weekend after being forced off at halftime last Thursday. Christophe Jallet may be aging, but he is a more than adequate deputy at right back as Lyon will persist with a 4-3-3.
On the opposite flank, Maciej Rybus hasn’t made the trip to Rome, meaning Jérémy Morel will start again, the two veteran fullbacks providing strong contrast to Lyon’s youthful centre backs, Emanuel Mammana and Mouctar Diakhaby despite a good performance from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at the weekend.
In midfield, Genesio should leave things as they are, with Corentin Tolisso and Lucas Tousart playing box-to-box ahead of the more defensively-oriented Maxime Gonalons. The recent elevation of Tousart to first choice has been a boon to Lyon, as his dynamism allows more freedom in attack to Tolisso, a product exemplified by the academy product’s stunning equaliser in the first leg. Mathieu Valbuena and Alexandre Lacazette will keep their places on the left and centre, but Genesio must decide between Maxwel Cornet and Rachid Ghezzal on the right flank.
Ghezzal is better at keeping the ball and drawing free kicks, but offers less of a goal threat than the former Metz youngster, whose pace makes him a real threat, to say nothing of offering more natural width against a back three. Ghezzal and Genesio have seemed at odds at times this season, but the Algerian’s surprise start looked a stroke of genius in the first leg, and looks a good bet to repay his manager’s belief once more.
Mohamed Salah, AS Roma
Scorer of a fine goal on the counter in the first leg, the Egyptian hasn’t quite kept pace with the form that saw him score fifteen goals in all competitions last season, but he has become a more creative player. Used alternately as a second striker or wide on the right, Salah has generally been afforded a much freer role, and his nine assists in all competitions show a player whose creativity has blossomed considerably this campaign.
Alexandre Lacazette, Olympique Lyonnais
Memphis Depay may have caught the eye at the weekend, but there is still no question that Lacazette is this team’s heartbeat. He gave his all in an imperious performance at the Parc OL last Thursday, completing an incredible 100% of his passes, and recording a goal and an assist. That latter statistic is not often recorded next to Lacazette’s name, but his improving willingness to trust in, and involve, his teammates has made all the difference in Lyon’s improved recent form.
AS Roma 2-1 Olympique Lyonnais