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Champions League PREVIEW | Lyon vs Dynamo Zagreb (14/09/16)

Given Lyon’s stuttering form and lengthy injury list, a visit from Dinamo Zagreb, ostensibly the weakest team in their Champions’ League group alongside Sevilla and Juventus might seem like the ideal tonic.

However, given how closely contested the battle for qualification is likely to be among Les Gones and the Spanish side, three points are imperative, a fact which will only serve to ratchet up the pressure on the team.

Zagreb, managed by (father of Niko) Zlatko Kranjcar, have their own issues, as their constant churn of players may have reached a breaking point.

The club have one of central Europe’s most highly rated academies, but the constant outflow of players has left the team reliant not on Croatian prospects, but foreign internationals.

While less than ideal, these players have allowed Dinamo to maintain a sustained level of success in the league. As Arsenal found out last season, the team can be a dangerous proposition, and should be eager to inflict a defeat upon their hosts, esepcially given Lyon’s injury situation.

Team News and Tactics:

Nabil Fekir is still recovering from an arthroscopic procedure prior to the international break, Christophe Jallet is yet to feature owingto a back issue, while Alexandre Lacazette is set to miss a month with a hamstring issue.

The team did well to navigate the loss of Fekir last year, while Rafael has always been seen as Jallet’s long-term replacement. The absence of Lacazette, though, will be more difficult to absorb.

Routinely the captain in the absence of Maxime Gonalons, the academy product has not only provided goals at a prodigious rate, but also leadership, his example and effort integral to the aggressive press Lyon prefer to employ.

Even in the absence of Lacazette and company, manager Bruno Genesio should persist with his trademark 4-3-3, despite speculation he could play a 3-5-1-1. Anthony Lopes returned from injury at the weekend and will retain his place in goal, with Rafael, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Nicolas N’Koulou and Maciej Rybus in the back four.

The Cameroonian international was rested at the weekend, but given his vast experience in this competition from his time at Marseille, should regain his place in the starting eleven.

Yanga-Mbiwa has looked poor in the early stages of the season, and the weekend’s loss to Bordeaux did little to change that perception, but Genesio would be hard pressed to include young Emmanuel Mammana or Mouctar Diakhaby in a match of this magnitude, even if both are in the group of players selected.

There is a chance that Jeremy Morel could come in to partner Yanga-Mbiwa at centre back, having played the position in the past, but more likely he will offer versatility from the bench.

Midfield picks itself, with Maxime Gonalons the anchor behind Corentin Tolisso and Sergi Darder. Gonalons is normally a reliable presence in front of the back four, but he will be eager to atone for a calamitous tackle at the weekend.

Tolisso has grown into the team’s most underrated player, and should be full of confidence after netting a brace against Iceland in an Under-21 match for France a week ago. Darder has been far from trustworthy on the right side, but this is the sort of match where he could prove his worth, being a much more fluent presence going forward than tracking back.

Lyon should look to have much of the ball, with Tolisso and Darder hoping to run into space with the ball at their feet. Maxwell Cornet, Aldo Kalulu and Rachid Ghezzal will be the front three, their edict to stretch play as they can.

There is a bit of doubt as to whether Cornet or Kalulu will lead the line; Kalulu is a more natural centre forward, but at just 5′ 5″, he may be ceding too much physically.

That said, Cornet is habitually deployed on the left, with Ghezzal on the opposite flank, and Genesio, in the interest of continuity, may simply opt to replace Lacazette with Kalulu, placing more of a focus on playing balls on the ground.

Dinamo, then are also suffering a bit in terms of personnel, reeling from a window that saw many of their most important players depart. The club did well to get a fee of €23M for Marko Pjaca, the youngster always a certainty to depart.

It is elsewhere in the team where things are a bit unsettled, though, as the late departure of Eduardo to Chelsea left a void in goal. This, combined with the departure of Jeremy Taravel to Gent and Ivo Pinto to Norwich City have left Dinamo with a back line in a state of flux.

Eighteen year-old Adrian Semper has started the team’s three matches in the absence of Eduardo, and the defence in front of him has the potential to be equally callow. Right back is usually the province of the experienced Romanian Alexandru Matu, but he is expected to miss the match with a groin injury, with Petar Stojanovic coming in as his replacement.

In central defence, Croatian international Gordon Schildenfeld has enjoyed his return to Dinamo after two years in Greece, and his experience will be important as Kranjcar decides between Leonardo Sigali or 19 year-old Filip Benkovic, with Josip Pivaric at left back.

Kranjcar has hewed fairly closely to a 4-2-3-1 and Flamengo loanee Jonas will partner Paulo Machado with Domagoj Antolic a miss due to a knee issue.

The Brazilian is an aggressive, energetic player, and his presence should allow the more elegant Machado, who French football fans may recall from his time with Toulouse to dictate play.

Further forward, the attacking quartet is well established, with young playmaker Anté Coric flanked by El Arabi Hillel Soudani on the right and Junior Fernandes on the left. Angelo Henriquez will start at centre forward after playing just eight minutes at the weekend, and Lyon will need to be wary of all four, bringing as they do a fine blend of pace and physicality.

Danger Men: 

Rachid Ghezzal, Olympique Lyonnais

The youngster was vastly improved under Bruno Genesio in the second half of last season, but has thus far struggled for fitness. With Fekir, Valbuena and Lacazette all absent, the 24 year-old becomes the veteran figure in attack.

Scorer of seven goals and six assists in the half-season under Genesio, his potential is obvious, and if he can find the form of six months ago, he could easily torment Zagreb.

El Arbi Hillel Soudani, Dinamo Zagreb

A highly experienced right winger for Algeria, Soudani has already notched two goals and two assists in helping Dinamo qualify for the group stages of the Champions’ League.

A series of niggling injuries had derailed his form last season, but two seasons ago, he led the Croatian league in assists, adding eleven goals. If Soudani is in the mood, he could readily spell danger, giving Maciej Rybus a rude introduction to the Champions’ League.

Prediction: 

Olympique Lyonnais 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb


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