Lyon welcome Roma to the Parc OL this evening in decent, if not superb form. The hosts could only draw against Bordeaux on Friday, but have been in decent form of late, with only one defeat in their last seven matches.
The calibre of opposition needs to be considered before praising Lyon too heavily, though; of their five wins in that spell, all were against lower-half league opposition and the bafflingly poor AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League. Still, though, Lyon’s attack will have gained confidence from those comprehensive displays, particularly Nabil Fekir, who has been inconsistent throughout the season, but has lately started to show improved form, recording five goals and three assist in that span.
Roma haven’t been quite as free-scoring, as they have been faced with a considerably more challenging set of opponents. Inter Milan and Napoli in the league, Lazio in the Coppa Italia and Villarreal in the previous round, the quality of opponents for the Giallorossi of late has been of a markedly high level, especially when compared to that of their opponents.
Denied a point by a sterling Pepe Reina save at the weekend, Roma may feel they have an axe to grind; Champions’ League qualification via this competition is a much more difficult task than it is in Serie A, even with city rivals Lazio just four points back. However, all but eliminated from the Coppa Italia and eight points back of Juventus in the league, the Europa League represents, more than direct entry into the Champions’ League, a real chance at silverware that has proved elusive over the past decade.
Roma project as a typically dour Italian outfit, having allowed just 25 goals in their 27 league matches to date, but to label them simply as practitioners of catenaccio would be to do them a disservice, as a 4-0 win at Villarreal would attest, the Spanish side themselves one of the best defences in La Liga. They system they used in that match, a 3-4-2-1, was making its maiden appearance in European competition, but, having been the foundation of much of the team’s recent good form in the league, will likely be deployed again at the Parc OL.
Lacking the suspended Antonio Rudiger and the injured Thomas Vermaelen, manager Luciano Spalletti looks set to deploy converted left back Juan Jesus alongside Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas. Kevin Strootman and Daniele de Rossi will play as a double pivot, with Emerson and Bruno Peres as wingbacks.
The real key to the visitors’ formation, though, will be in attack. Radja Nainggolan, whose reputation has been forged in the image of a combative central midfielder, has been pushed further forward, and has been in great form as a result. With five goals and three assists in all competitions since the beginning of February, it is only the even more impressive form of Edin Dzeko that has prevented the Belgian from receiving more plaudits.
Ably supported by the Belgian and Mohamed Salah, Dzeko’s hat trick against Villarreal was his second in the competition this season, and took his total to eight goals in less than 400 minutes of play. Few strikers in Europe are in better form, and the Bosnian’s physical approach will do much to test the limits of Lyon’s young centre backs.
The one thing that may play into Lyon’s hands, however, is a modicum of fatigue on the part of Roma, whose most recent matches have seen the team unable to rotate players, while Lyon used Mathieu Valbuena only from the bench against Bordeaux. Christophe Jallet was similarly rested but given the performacnce turned in by Rafael, the veteran may find it hard going to earn back his place in the starting eleven.
There have been some suggestions that Bruno Genesio could play the Brazilian at left back in place of Jérémy Morel, as he did in the second leg against Alkmaar, but that was down to a last minute injury on the part of the former Marseille player, not a planned decision.
With Emanuel Mammana and Mouctar Diakhaby playing between the two fullbacks, the defence is fairly set, but further forward there remains some intrigue, most notably around the form of Maxime Gonalons. Team captain and a former French international, Gonalons has struggled of late, and Genesio was forced this week to aver that the midfielder would indeed start, although doubts remain about how Lyon will line up around him.
The team played a 4-3-1-2 with Lucas Tousart and Corentin Tolisso in central midfield against Alkmaar, but the absence of Mathieu Valbuena was more of a factor than anything else; a 4-3-3 with Valbuena on the left and Maxwel Cornet or Nabil Fekir on either side of Alexandre Lacazette looks more likely, especially with Rachid Ghezzal having been played with the reserves at the weekend after lashing out at Genesio following his being substituted against Alkmaar.
Given the stakes, as this also their last shot at silverware, or even a return to the Champions’ League, Lyon will likely try to keep this a low-scoring affair. If Roma fail to score and Lyon can record a narrow win, they will be in good shape for next Thursday.
That said, Lyon have struggled badly to keep a clean sheet of late, even if things did look slightly better against an in-form Bordeaux on Friday. A score draw or perhaps a 2-1 win would be best-case scenarios for the hosts, but given how leggy Roma are likely to be, there is also the suggestion that Lyon should approach this fixture with more attacking conviction, potentially running up the score against weary opposition.
Mathieu Valbuena, Olympique Lyonnais
Valbuena was missing through injury against AZ Alkmaar, having come off against Nancy in early February, but two goals and an assist in his last eighty minute on the pitch underlines his importance to Lyon. Nabil Fekir has impressed in flashes, but there are no such concerns regarding the consistency of Valbuena, whose introduction dramatically turned Friday’s match against Bordeaux.
Edin Dzeko, AS Roma
An easy pick here, the hulking Bosnian has been one of Europe’s top performers this season, with thirty goals for club and country. A hat trick against Villarreal in the Round of 32 first leg represents a high point, but even after an ineffective pair of outings against Lazio last midweek, and Napoli on Saturday, he remains a potent threat.
Olympique Lyonnais 1-1 AS Roma