Lyon at home on Thursday is the first of many tough games in this competition between now and May 15 if we’re going to get anywhere near Amsterdam. In a wider context it’s the first of many tough games between now and the end of the season full stop as beginning with Woolwich in less than three weeks, we take on each of the teams around us in the race for Champions League wedge.
Back to Europe. Lyon are currently second in the French league, six points behind petro dollar fuelled PSG. They qualified impressively out of Group I, finishing top by winning five and drawing one of their games. Players of note (and I’m no expert on French football) include Gomis, Lopez, Yoann Gourcuff and of course former Spur and 2008 Carling Cup winner Steed Malbranque. Hugo Lloris should be able to provide a bit more of an insight into the Lyon personnel than I can, you sort of get the impression that it might need thumbscrews to get it out of him though. Before the draw Villas-Boas may have earmarked Friedel as the man between the sticks for this game, it’ll be surprising if Hugo doesn’t feature though.
Playing against a French side, assuming you don’t count last Saturday or any number of games against Wenger’s petit merdes over the years is something of a novelty for us, you have to go back to the early seventies when we played Nantes for the last occasion. In contrast Lyon have caught the cross-channel ferry on regularly since the formation of the Champions League though not since they won at Anfield in 2009.
Playing at home first in a two-legged tie is a tricky affair. Balancing the enticing prospect of blowing the opposition away thus making the second game a formality against not conceding an away goal is a delicate act. AVB is experienced in this sort of thing of course from his time at Porto. His first attempt in the knockout round at Chelski though was the 3-1 defeat at Napoli that lead to a ‘Mr Abramovich would like to see you in his office’ call so maybe he’s still got something to learn.
We will put out the strongest side we can I’m sure. Kaboul, Sandro and Defoe are unavailable of course and Dembélé limped off on Saturday but otherwise (apart from Huddlestone) we’re ok I think. This assumes that Adebayor is back with the programme and not planning another maverick episode designed to distract from his three goals so far this campaign. Vertonghen will probably start I’d guess, who will be alongside him though I’m not sure. We know that AVB likes Gallas but he’s unlikely to be match fit. Dawson seems the obvious choice but he’s been Vertonghen’s partner lately when the Belgian has looked out of sorts. If Dembélé hasn’t recovered from Cabaye’s hack then Holtby will probably feature alongside Parker with Livermore looking on longingly from the sidelines.
A clean sheet and a few goals would be ideal, but whatever happens it’s a game that has the whiff of something special about it.
The officials are from Portugal. COYS.
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