Mired in the midst of an injury crisis, Lyon failed to weather the storm as best as they would’ve hoped.
A gritty draw at Marseille was followed by a decisive win over ten-man Montpellier in mid-week, and there was even some suggestion that Bruno Genesio could persist with the experimental 3-5-2 that was initially a forced change against Dinamo Zagreb.
Then, a poor loss at Lorient (admittedly in no small part due to the heroic of Benjamin Lecomte) followed, and Les Gones now enter this match in a state of uncertainty.
Sevilla, in former Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli’s debut season, have been similarly frustrating as they have likewise changed their thrust. Whereas Unai Emery preferred a high energy, counter-attacking 4-2-3-1, Sampaoli has opted for a more resolute 4-3-3. The effect is more possession-oriented, but with three orthodox defensive midfielders, the team, so effervescent last season, can be more blunted in attack.
That said, this style also lends itself well to big matches, and a scoreless draw at Juventus on Matchday One was a fine start to the Champions’ League after their group stage exit last season.
After a disappointing loss to Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, Sevilla will see Lyon’s visit as a real opportunity to steal a march on advancing, especially with their next two matches against Dinamo Zagreb.
Lyon’s loss to Lorient was disheartening as far as the Ligue 1 table was concerned, but a more serious issue was the loss of Rafael. The former Manchester United man, shorn of much of his defensive responsibilities, has been hugely impressive in the new system, but the thigh issue which forced him off on Saturday sees him join Alexandre Lacazette, Christophe Jallet and the suspended Aldo Kalulu on the sidelines.
Lyon should persist with the 3-5-2, though, with youngster Olivier Kemen or Jordy Gaspar set to take his place at right wing-back. Kemen came in at the weekend and performed admirably, but Gaspar is a more natural fit for the position. Corentin Tolisso has played there in the past, but given his importance to the team in midfield, Genesio is unlikely to make that shift.
Central defence should see Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and summer signing Emmanuel Mammana retain their places, while Jeremy Morel, at fault for Jimmy Cabot’s winner on Saturday, could drop out for Nicolas N’Koulou, the Cameroonian not having made the trip to Brittany at the weekend.
Maciej Rybus will line up opposite one of Kemen or Gaspar, with central midfield patrolled by Tolisso, Maxime Gonalons and Jordan Ferri, who has impressed since returning to the starting eleven.
Sergi Darder is a contender to start in place of Ferri, but with Lyon likely taking a more defensive approach, the more combative academy product should get the nod.
Up top, without Lacazette, Maxwel Cornet and Nabil Fekir should start, with Fekir behind Cornet. The younger player’s movement has been key to the 3-5-2’s success, his pace and energy stretching play to provide space for Fekir and the advancing Tolisso.
The two should play as more of a partnership than when Tolisso played behind Cornet, with either readily able to play in a more advanced position. Mathieu Valbuena had a decent match at the weekend, but after playing 90 minutes in his first start of the season, he isn’t a candidate to start on short rest.
For Sevilla, Salvatore Sirigu has been a smart signing, but youngster Sergi Rico will likely get the nod in goal.
In a back four, former Lyon player (one of seven Sevilla players with Ligue 1 connections) Timothée Kolodziejczak is a possibility to start against his former club, but Nico Parejo and Gabriel Mercado have generally been preferred in central defence in the absences of Dani Carrico and Adil Rami.
At left back, attack-minded Sergio Escudero has been one of Sevilla’s better players this season, while former Bordeaux man Mariano should give Sampaoli more of the same on the right.
In midfield, if the Chilean opts for three central midfielders, Steven N’Zonzi and Vicente Iborra are certain to start, with Matías Kranevitter alongside them. There has been some suggestion that Sampaoli could play a 4-2-3-1 as the team did at San Mamés this weekend, and against Betis midweek, hoping for more impetus in attack.
If that is the case, as is likely with Sevilla desperatelyneeding three points, Kranevitter would drop to the bench. Ahead of N’Zonzi and Iborra, Vitolo, Franco Vázquez and one of Samir Nasri or Wissam Ben Yedder would be the creative trio behind Luciano Vietto.
Lyon will be happy for Sevilla to have possession, as playing on the counter has been a key element of the 3-5-2’s success. The match will likely be won or lost, though, on the performance of Lyon’s back three.
Mammana has done well enough since making his debut, but this match, provided he is selected, will be his first experience beyond Ligue 1, and Sevilla will offer a marked difference in quality to the likes of Lorient and Montpellier.
If the youngster and Yanga-Mbiwa can hold their nerve, Lyon have a fine chance of nicking a point and putting themselves in a good position ahead of their two clashes with Juventus.
However, if the former Roma man has one of the occasional poor matches to which he is prone, it could be a very long evening for Lyon.
Franco Vázquez, Sevilla
The former Palermo player has had an inconsistent start to his time in Spain. He sparkled against Espanyol in a thrilling 6-4 win, but has been inconsistent in the time since. Even so, his record for a poor Palermo team (18 goals and 17 assists over the last two seasons) stands as firm evidence of his potential.
Corentin Tolisso, Olympique Lyonnais
With three goals and an assist in his last three matches, Tolisso has been a reliable performer for Lyon during a difficult stretch. With Fekir still finding full fitness and Valbuena showing the same lack of sharpness as last season, if Lyon are to have any joy at the Pizjuán, the academy product will be integral to it.
Sevilla 1-1 Olympique Lyonnais