After a decisive 4-1 victory in Alkmaar, there is little suspense in Lyon’s Round of 32 Europa tie, the suggestion being that Bruno Genesio may rest some of first team players with an eye towards the league and the Round of 16 fixtures, which start in just two weeks’ time.
However, with Lyon’s defensive woes having come to the fore of late, with only one clean sheet in nine matches in all competitions, the under-fire manager may be better served using this match as a way to re-focus their efforts defensively. Lyon have found the net in every match since a scoreless draw with Sevilla in early December, but have remained in fourth place owing to a inconsistent defence. Injuries to Emanuel Mammana and Mouctar Diakhaby have played their parts, but a clean sheet here could do wonders for the team’s confidence.
Their opponents, AZ Alkmaar, looked rather hapless last week, and don’t appear to be set to put much effort into this match, as a draw at the weekend with struggling Willem II saw them slip behind FC Utrecht in a tight battle for European football. Manager John van den Brom remarked after the first leg, harbouring no illusions of progression, “They beat us in defence and attack, so our situation is now pretty hopeless.”
With so many young players available to the former Vitesse Arnhem stalwart, he may want to opt to give some of them a first taste of European football, offering up, if not a white flag, then considerably less resistance than had been on show at the AFAS Stadion last Thursday.
With Mattias Johansson suspended and Ron Vlaar injured in the first leg of this, tie, AZ were forced to play a makeshift midfield, with normal holding midfielder Derrick Luckassen shifted to right back. In van den Brom’s 4-3-3, none of Mats Seuntjens, Ben Rienstra and Iliass Bel Hassani are defensively inclined, and with Lyon countering with the rather rambunctious trio of Lucas Tousart, Maxime Gonalons and Corentin Tolisso, the hosts’ being overrun in midfield was the decisive factor in their loss.
With Johansson available once more, the Swede should slot in at right back, with Luckassen used in front of the back four, which could contain Ron Vlaar for the first time in more than two months. The former Aston Villa man will likely partner Rens van Eijden if he does pass fit, but the Belgian Stijn Wuytens is also an option. On the opposite flank, look for Ridgeciano Haps to keep his place at left back.
Alongside Luckassen in midfield, Rienstra and Seuntjens should be retained, although youngster Joris van Overeem is in contention as well, having started three times in this competition this season. The impressive Alireza Jahanbaksh, rested at the weekend, keeps his place on the right wing, while Levi Garcia, impressive in a substitute’s role last week, could be included from the off here in place of Muamer Tankovic. Lanky striker Wout Weghorst faces little competition, and is unlikely to be dropped, unless van den Brom goes all-in on rotating his eleven.
For Lyon, Rafael is once again available for selection, but after a rather lengthy injury layoff, he may not start, as a booking would seem him miss Lyon’s next European match. Christophe Jallet should keep his place at right back, then, with Jérémy Morel on the opposite flank, Maciej Rybus.
At centre back, Mouctar Diakhaby has impressed since returning from injury, and with Emanuel Mammana less than impressive both at the weekend and in the first leg, the youngster should be joined by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Anthony Lopes will make his return in goal after serving a one-match ban against Dijon at the weekend, but there could be changes afoot in midfield.
In the first leg, Lyon played a 4-3-1-2, with Maxime Gonalons centrally and Lucas Tousart and Corentin Tolisso playing the box-to-box roles. Sergi Darder played off a strike partnership of Nabil Fékir and Alexandre Lacazette, but failed to impress. The Spaniard and Gonalons are, like Rafael, suspension risks, so Bruno Genesio may opt to bring in Jordan Ferri, with Tousart dropping deeper or playing alongside Ferri in a 4-2-3-1.
Nabil Fékir was rested at the weekend, only appearing from the bench, and he looks likely to come into the side behind the striker, with Maxwel Cornet and Rachid Ghezzal on the flanks. Mathieu Valbuena remains a miss, and hasn’t been included in the squad for this evening’s encounter. Alexandre Lacazette might have been rested here, but Genesio hasn’t named another orthodox striker in his squad; look for Lacazette to start but be removed as soon as the tie is no longer in doubt, perhaps at the interval or on the hour.
Nabil Fékir, Olympique Lyonnais
After only recording a disappointing half in the derby loss to Saint-Étienne, Fékir’s form has been much improved in his last four matches. He scored at the weekend against Dijon, and set up Lucas Tousart in the first leg. Knowing his place is still under threat upon Valbuena’s return, he will be eager to seize every opportunity to make a positive impression on Genesio.
Alireza Jahanbaksh, AZ Alkmaar
While his goal in the first leg was from a penalty, the speedy right winger has been the team’s catalyst all season, and after being rested in Sunday’s league encounter, should be well-rested enough to trouble Lyon once again.
Olympique Lyonnais 1-0 AZ Alkmaar