CL Preview: Lyon vs. The Greatest Cypriot Team EVERBy: Inara | February 13th, 2012
I’m told they prefer to go by Î‘Î ÎźÎ•Î› and not TGCTE. But you can just call them APOEL.
Before I jump into the match preview…HEY GUYS! Sorry to have dropped off the face of the
earth internet, but grad school was taking up all my time, and I had to cut out all distractions so I could finish my dissertation. Now that I have, I’m back to my bad habits of spending way too much doing nothing (which is the best way to spend time). I also want to give a special shout out to Megame and Nikhil, who have kept things going so well during my absence.
Smells like team spirit
Tuesday, February 13, 2012
Stade de Gerland, Lyon
2:45 PM ET (20:45 CET, 19:45 GMT)
A History Lesson
Do you remember the days when other clubs were scared of Lyon? It wasn’t for very long, but there was a brief period in time when Lyon was considered more than a match for any of the other big clubs. I think I still have an article bookmarked somewhere that quotes Lionel Messi saying that he doesn’t want Barca to face Lyon in the knockout rounds.
That was back during the 2006/2007 season. And when it turned out that Roma were going to be Lyon’s opponents, everyone – and by everyone, I mean everyone except Francesco Totti – brushed it off as an easy win for the French. After all, they had Juninho, Florent Malouda, Eric Abidal, Tiago, and a Cris who not yet 30. Jeremy Toulalan had exploded in midfield (I still miss him!), and while Lyon had no fancy big name striker, they were still deadly in front of the net.
It was Lyon’s time. The players were ready, the club was ready, the fans were ready, and well, Aulas was born ready. After spending the last few years on the verge of greatness, it was seemingly within Lyon’s grasp. All they had to do was reach out and grasp it. Except they didn’t. Obviously. Instead, the ego of Italian football fans grew exponentially (though I still maintain that Lyon played really poorly and Roma really awesomely). For me, this was the game that started Lyon’s fall from the top. They would still go on to win domestic titles (including the double in 2008), but that sparkle was gone.
As other defeats followed in later years, people would blame it on the fact that Lyon are cursed in the Champions League, that they don’t know how to go for the kill and finish a game, that they don’t have a winner’s mentality, that Aulas pushed too hard, that the managers didn’t push hard enough, that Bernard Tapie has a voodoo doll called Lyonnais, or that the players ought to be playing indoor soccer in a local rec league instead.
Aulas has tried to fix the problem in various ways. He’s poured so much money into OL that even a Russian billionaire would be embarrassed. And every year, at about this time in mid-February, we fans ask ourselves, “Is it finally the year?”
Probably not. But I’m a blind, illogical fan who loves her football club more than I do most living people, so my answer is “HELL YEAH BITCH!”
Truth be told, I don’t know much about APOEL besides what I’ve read in other match previews. A quick glance at their domestic table reveals that they are in 2nd place with 43 points. With thirteen wins, four losses, and three draws, they’ve scored 31 goals while conceding 9. Granted, it’s the Cypriot League, but what it tells us is they like getting goals a lot more than they like giving them away, and they score 75% of their goals in the second half. Their top scorers in the league are midfielder Constandinos Charalambides and Argentine striker Esteban Solari, each with 7 goals. They’ve only won four out of their last eight games. In Europe, they’ve been slightly more impressive. They beat out Zenit, Porto, and Shakhtar to top their group, with two wins, three draws, and one loss, scoring 6 goals and conceding 6. Their top scorer for the group stage is AĂlton (who looks a little bit like Ederson but not as cute), who has scored 3.
While they are just a little team from a little league in a little country, they seem to enjoy kicking the asses of supposedly stronger teams, and Lyon is just as likely a target as any. APOEL made is this far – further than anyone could ever have dreamed – and they got the best draw possible. Lyon is among the weaker teams in the knockout rounds, and they know it. They aren’t coming to the Gerland to lose. They also have the advantage of knowing more about Lyon than Lyon do about them, and after watching Caen walk away with three points over the weekend, they’re going to want the same.
Aulas found him on the bargain rack in Lyon’s basement.
On the Lyon side of things, the situation is different than in previous years. In his first year as coach, Remi Garde is doing a fantastic job as he revitalizes a team that’s been stepped in ennui. He’s hit road bumps along the way, but for the most part, Lyon’s looked lively and awake. Better yet, his players actually like him. It’s nice to see a team that isn’t passively aggressively hating on their coach. It also helps that Garde isn’t an outsider. He’s been with the club longer than any of the players, has trained and recruited several of them, and probably went out for beer with them on the weekends. He isn’t bringing in a whole new system or way of doing things. He’s changing things around, slowly but surely, but he isn’t rushing a la Claude Puel or do things too slowly, like Alain Perrin. People will often say (sometimes mockingly) that Garde is a poor man’s Guardiola. But that’s okay with me. Just because I can’t shop at Neiman Marcus doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Macy’s.
So let’s look at the numbers. Things look a little bit grim at first, second, and third glance. People used to complain all the time that Ligue 1 was a one team race, and now there’s too many to keep track of. With 39 points, OL are hanging onto 4th place, with twelve wins, three losses, and eight draws. They’ve scored 37 goals but have conceded 27. Bafetimbi Gomis has scored nine league goals while Lisandro has scored seven. Lyon are eleven points behind league leaders PSG and ten points behind Montpellier. Marseille is just behind Lyon, but they have an extra game in hand. Barring a drastic slump in form for PSG, it looks like the real race is going to be for third place, the last Champions League berth. Lyon, Lille, and Marseille look to be the top contenders for that spot. Things are going to get very interesting now that Lille is finally showing some ambition (as opposed to being Lyon’s satellite club).
In Europe, Lyon’s performance in the group stages was more embarrassing than anything else. I can honestly say that this was their worst ever group stage campaign since 2002. They ended up in second place, having won two games, lost two games, and drawn two games, with nine goals scored and seven conceded. Five of those goals came from Bafetimbi Gomis. It doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that seven of those nine were scored in a single game. Which means that they only scored two goals in their other five games. It kills me to say it, but the ONLY reason that Lyon qualified this year was because of the merits and failings of their fellow group members. Lyon themselves almost had nothing to do with it. But because Real Madrid kicked everyone’s ass, because Dinamo Zagreb sucked, and because Ajax had the worst luck EVER (really really bad luck), Lyon qualified. Not that I want to take away from their crazy 7-1 win over Zagreb. Which, FYI, was not a fixed match.
This is why it’s really hard to predict just what’s going to happen tomorrow. APOEL could do a lot of damage. Caen wasn’t even trying to win last weekend, and somehow they did on Lyon’s home soil. Naturally, APOEL will want more. It also doesn’t help that Lyon periodically lose concentration midway through the game, as if the players forget for a moment they’re playing football. If their attention wanders for even a second, APOEL will be waiting to punish them. That being said, if Lyon play with the same fire and spirit as they did against Zagreb (in the second half. I think they were sleeping in the first), it’s possible they may even qualify for the quarter-finals tomorrow. It’s a long shot, but you never really know with Lyon.
Only Dejan Lovren is out injured, which is unfortunate because he was really stepping up this season and looking to be the future of Lyon’s back four. Sidy Kone and John Mensah are currently playing in the African Cup of Nations for Mali and Ghana, respectively.
Le groupe lyonnais: Lloris, Vercoutre – Dabo, RĂ©veillĂ¨re, Cissokho, Umtiti, B.KonĂ©, Cris – Fofana, Gonalons, KĂ¤llstrĂ¶m, Grenier, Gourcuff, Pied, Bastos, Ederson – Lacazette, Briand, Lisandro, B.Gomis
There is a lot of youth in tomorrow’s group, but Alexander Lacazette, Samuel Umtiti, Guida Fofana, and Clement Grenier have especially shined this season. Maxime Gonalons is now a permanent starter and has played in more games than his older and more experienced midfield partners.
I tried to find APOEL’s list of players, but after half an hour of searching through Greek sports websites, I gave up. I can’t read Greek, plus let’s be real – it’s not like I even know who the players are anyway.
Garde has tinkered with Lyon’s old 4-3-3 for a 4-2-3-1 or less frequently, a 4-4-2. I think we can expect to see something like this:
Reveillere – Kone – Umtiti – Cissokho
Gonalons – Kallstrom
Briand – Lisandro – Bastos
It’s a little weird seeing Cris on the bench when he’s been such a permanent fixture of the team, but Samuel Umtiti has done pretty well, especially considering that he was nobody on the youth team last season. He’s started seven of the last eight games, so he looks to be a good bet to start, at least until Dejan Lovren gets back. In midfield, I expect Maxime Gonalons and Kim Kallstrom to start. Yoann Gourcuff looked like he was showing flashes of awesomeness against Bordeaux, but I don’t know if it was enough for him to start tomorrow.
Up front, I think the attacking four look to be it, unless for whatever reason Garde wants to start Alexander Lacazette instead. But I think we’ll see him as a second half sub instead.
So…given my year long hiatus from watching football, I’ve come back to discover all of my favorite streaming sites are shutdown. If you guys know any links, discreetly let me know. If you’re one of the five people who have Fox Soccer Plus, you’re in luck because they’re broadcasting the match live. You can also chuck out $10 and watch the game on UEFA.com.
If you’re into twitter and want minute by minute updates, you can follow @LyonOffside for news and my somewhat more colorful reactions.
I’m thinking it will be a 2-1 Lyon victory. I don’t think Lyon can keep a clean sheet, but I do think we have better attacking options.