After Juventus sealed their Champions’ League semifinal over Monaco with a 2-1 win in Turin on Tuesday, it is up to Lyon to continue to carry the banner for Ligue 1 in Europe. After a 4-1 loss in Amsterdam last Wednesday and another difficult evening, at least defensively, against Nantes on Sunday, Les Gones’ confidence is sure to be wobbly. That said, they did force Ajax ‘keeper André Onana into a handful of fine saves, showing that there may yet be a way back into this tie, especially with a number of key players back to full fitness
Lyon’s away goal will give Bruno Genesio’s side the faintest of hopes, but the team’s issues in defence, particularly at centre back look no closer to being solved. Emanuel Mammana featured on Sunday but hasn’t made the squad for this encounter. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa continues to recover from an injury, which means that Genesio is forced to field the same pairing, Mouctar Diakhaby and Nicolas Nkoulou, that were at the heart of so much of Lyon’s problems last week. There may have been something of the occasion for Diakhaby, but Nkoulou has no such excuses, and merely looked like continuing on the uneven form he has shown all season.
The centre backs aren’t the only players deserving of some level of excoriation; Maxime Gonalons and Lucas Tousart were similarly poor in central midfield, and the captain continued on his poor form at the weekend, losing Nantes’ Guillaume Gillet at a set piece. He will need to step up and play as the assured presence he has been for most of the season, giving Tousart, another player who can perhaps be excused by dint of his youth some much-needed confidence.
Ahead of those two, Genesio will be able to call on Corentin Tolisso, likely playing off of Alexandre Lacazette. Tolisso looked to struggle badly in the first leg, while Lacazette made only a cameo appearance as he continues his comeback from a knee injury. With the two fighting fit and Mathieu Valbuena and Rachid Ghezzal on the wings, Lyon undoubtedly have the firepower needed to turn the tie around. There is a small chance that Genesio opts to bring in Nabil Fekir, who was good against Nantes, either on the right or played off Lacazette with Tolisso dropping into midfield. Genesio has been known to reward form players, but Tolisso’s physical presence in the box makes him perhaps too important to be played in a midfield two.
As for Ajax, Peter Bosz looks set to play a similar side to last week, tactically and in terms of personnel. The only exceptions are at fullback, where Nick Viergever and Joël Veltman should start on the left and right, respectively. Daley Sinkgraven will miss out through injury, but other than the former Heerenveen man, Bosz’s squad has a clean bill of health. There has been some suggestion that there could be minor rotations with Ajax still having a slim chance to win the Eredivisie after Feyenoord stumbled at the weekend, but Bosz knows that a European final is a more attractive prize than another league, especially as it would require a further slip from the leaders.
Alexandre Lacazette, Olympique Lyonnais
In Lyon’s 4-2 win over Roma in the round of sixteen, Lacazette was imperious. In addition to a stunning goal, his link-up was excellent, and his defensive workrate was top-notch as well. In what is likely to be his final European match at the Parc OL, Lacazette will need to turn in another performance on that level, if the hosts are to have any hope of progression.
Hakim Ziyech, Ajax
The former Twente man didn’t catch the eye as much as Bertrand Traoré, but his range of passing was key in unlocking Lyon’s struggling back line. He is unlikely to record three assists again, but with he and Davy Klaasen providing so much attacking intent from central midfield, Ajax remain ready to cut Lyon open on a moment’s notice.
Prediction: Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Ajax Amsterdam