Given Monaco’s thrilling win in Dortmund, to say nothing of the events that surrounded it, one could be forgiven if Lyon’s Europa League quarterfinal against Besiktas slipped the mind. Les Gones have displayed indifferent form in the league of late, failing to win against ten-man Rennes and losing to relegation scrappers Lorient, but their followers will be in a rather more forgiving mood if they can continue their European adventure.
Tonight’s opponents, Besiktas aren’t quite on the level of Roma, but have displayed their potential, albeit in flashes this season. They top the Turkish league, and a win at Napoli in the Champions’ League group stage should serve ample notice of their ability. Discipline has been an issue, as a draw against bottom side Dynamo Kiev would have seen them progress to the knockout stages, but they finished with nine men in a 6-0 loss.
It is that discipline which will leave Besiktas slightly blunted in this first leg, as Vincent Aboubakar, formerly of Lorient and the team’s leading scorer in Europe, will miss out after being sent off against Olympiakos in the round of 16. Cenk Tosun, with 17 goals in the league, is no slouch as an alternative to the Porto loanee, though, and also provides a more physical alternative to Aboubakar.
The Cameroonian will be joined on the sidelines by Ricardo Quaresma, the veteran Portuguese winger who has been the creative fulcrum for Senol Günes’ side. Forced off with a back issue against Trabzonspor at the weekend, his place will likely be taken by former Liverpool man Ryan Babel, who arrived from Deportivo La Coruna in January.
In the rest of Günes’ 4-2-3-1, the team picks itself to a large degree. Benfica loanee Anderson Talisca plays off the striker, making up for Tosun’s relative lack of height with a 6′ 3″ frame and pace to burn, while former Barcelona man Adriano will be pushed forward on the left, with Babel, normally deployed on that side, switching flanks. In central midfield, the veteran Atiba Hutchinson and Oguzhan Ozyakup make an assured pairing, rarely joining the attack (1 goal and 1 assist between them in Europe) but providing the attackers a solid base.
In defence, the veteran Serbian centre back Dusko Tosic will likely shift to left back to allow Adriano to play on the wing. Another winter signing, the Croatian youngster Matej Mitrovic, will partner the Brazilian Marcelo in central defence, giving Besiktas a physically imposing, but not especially quick back line. Turkish international Gökhan Gönül will line up at right back, with Fabricio, impressive in his first season in Turkey, getting the start in goal.
Lyon will also enter this match with a handful of absences; Memphis Depay is cup-tied, and Maxime Gonalons is suspended. Jérémy Morel remains a doubt, but is in the matchday squad, with Rafael potentially ready to play at left back if the veteran is unavailable. If Morel does pass fit, Rafael is the favourite to start ahead of Christophe Jallet at right back, with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa partnering Mouctar Diakhaby in central defence as Emanuel Mammana continues to recover from a thigh strain, having looked off the pace at the weekend. Even with Morel a doubt, the defence was always fairly simple to predict for Bruno Génésio, but how he aligns the rest of the team remains to be seen.
The smart money is on a 4-2-3-1, with Corentin Tolisso lining up alongside youngster Lucas Tousart in midfield, but a 4-3-3 with Tousart at its base and Jordan Ferri or Sergi Darder in central midfield remains a distinct possibility, not least for the freedom it would afford Tolisso.
If Génésio does opt for the 4-3-3, Mathieu Valbuena and Alexandre Lacazette would start, with Nabil Fékir or Maxwel Cornet on the right. In a 4-2-3-1, Fékir would play off Lacazette, with Cornet or possibly Rachid Ghezzal on the right. Mindful of a tricky trip to Bastia on Sunday afternoon, Génésio might be tempted to rest Fékir, but with third place no longer in the realm of possibility, this competition must take priority as Lyon’s potential route to a Champions’ League return.
Alexandre Lacazette, Olympique Lyonnais
The striker, likely to be named captain in Gonalons’ absence, has a massive opportunity to prove his value as a leader. He was imperious in the home leg against Roma, scoring a stunning goal and working hard to will his team to a 4-2 victory after twice falling behind, suggesting he may be on his way to rebutting claims that he is poor in big matches. A strong performance here will go a long way towards not only burnishing his reputation but also potentially raising his transfer fee, should he, as expected, depart in the summer.
Anderson Talisca, Besiktas
The lanky attacking midfielder doesn’t boast the most eye-popping statistics, with ten goals and five assists in 25 matches, but absent Vincent Aboubakar and Ricardo Quaresma, the Brazilian will have to influence the match if the Turkish side are to have any hope of progressing. He has gained some level of notoriety with his free kick delivery, but he’s no slouch in open play, either, having scored several impressive goals from a mix of headers and long-range efforts.
Prediction: Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Besiktas JK