Champions League Preview: Olympique Lyonnais – Real Madrid

Los Blancos have something of a jinx against les Gones, but the Spanish club’s form is far superior to that of their French counterparts...
Kick Off: Tuesday, February 16, 2010. 20:45 CET
Stade Gerland, Lyon


Stumbling Along


Habitual French champions throughout the middle part of the last decade, there were just signs that Olympique Lyonnais were coming to the end of an era last season. Under Claude Puel, les Gones failed to win the league title for the first time since 2001 and look unlikely to reclaim their crown this time around, despite massive summer investment.

Placed fourth in Le Championnat, OL are presently a daunting eight points back from leaders Girondins de Bordeaux. In addition, they have been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions. Unsurprisingly, the fans are starting to turn on Puel, who is perceived to play too defensive a brand of football for a team with the offensive arsenal Lyon boast.

Against Toulouse in Ligue 1 less than a fortnight ago, OL failed to muster a shot on target. On Saturday evening Lyon were little better against mid-table Racing Club de Lens, who were only broken late on as the Rhone Valley giants struck through Cesar Delgado to ensure a 1-0 victory.

If recent form is against OL, at least history favours them. Les Gones, a relatively young team at this level, boast a terrific record against los Merengues, particularly at Stade Gerland, where the sides have met twice previously in the group stages. On both occasions Lyon have won, while the games at the Bernabeu have both ended level.

Instantly recognisable captain Cris is certainly confident, explaining to UEFA’s official website: “[Real Madrid] are a good draw though. They are an attacking team, rebuilt this season, and bear in mind that we could have drawn Barcelona or Chelsea.”

Such confidence doesn’t seem especially merited on the French club’s part, but they are sure to raise their game for such an occasion.

Not Great Yet


Real Madrid may be hunting Barcelona hard in La Primera Division, but the Champions League is the competition that los Blancos really want to win. Boasting nine European Cup crowns in the vast Santiago Bernabeu trophy room, they are aiming for a perfect tenth.

The scene is set perfectly for the second coming of the Galacticos to repeat the feats of the great sides who have gone before. With the final scheduled to be played at their home on May 22, everything seems ready for the investment of president Florentino Perez to be rewarded with the ultimate prize.

Los Merengues famously spent lavishly last summer, heaping pressure on coach Manuel Pellegrini to succeed both domestically and on the continent. The Chilean has handled the unique pressure burdened upon his shoulders relatively well, forging a side that has kept good pace with Barca in La Liga.

Of course, not all has been perfect at the White House. There have been obvious disappointments – the crushing Copa del Rey defeat to minnows Alcorcon and a brace of Champions League losses to Milan – while the style of play los Blancos are currently employing is not as captivating as one might hope.

It is proving to be a winning formula, even if the manner of Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Primera Division whipping boys Xerez was not quite as emphatic as the full-time result suggested. For periods of the weekend’s game the bottom club looked capable of scoring, while it required a trio of goals in the final half hour of the game to unhinge los Xerecistas.

Better is therefore needed from European football’s most successful ever club, but if there is a group of players equipped to go up a level when the need arises, this is surely it.

FORM GUIDE

Lyon


WON 1-0 (h) Racing Club de Lens (Ligue 1, February 13)

DREW 0-0 (a) Toulouse (Ligue 1, February 7)

WON 2-1 (h) Paris Saint-Germain (Ligue 1, January 31)

LOST 1-0 (a) Lorient (Coupe de la Ligue, January 27)

LOST 2-1 (a) Monaco (Coupe de France, January 24)

Real Madrid


WON 3-0 (a) Xerez (Liga, February 13)

WON 3-0 (h) Espanyol (Liga, February 6)

WON 3-1 (a) Deportivo La Coruna (Liga, January 31)

WON 2-0 (h) Malaga (Liga, January 24)

LOST 1-0 (a) Athletic Bilbao (Liga, January 16)

TEAM NEWS

Lyon


Claude Puel has already expressed his concern at the stomach bug that forced Anthony Reveillere to pull out of Saturday’s fixture against Racing Club de Lens. Puel fears that the bug could spread in the camp before kick-off.

Otherwise, Francois Clerc, Mathieu Bodmer and Cleber Anderson are all ruled out with injuries, though none of these figures is a first team regular.

Jean II Makoun comes into contention after a weekend suspension, while Lisandro Lopez should feature from the outset after being benched on Saturday.

Probable Starting XI:
Lloris; Reveillere, Cris, Boumsong, Cissokho; Toulalan, Kallstrom; Govou, Pjanic, Delgado; Lisandro

Real Madrid


The headlines news remains the fitness of former Lyon striker Karim Benzema, who has been declared ready for the trip to his hometown.

Manuel Pelegrini has named a 19-man pool to travel to the Rhone Valley, though his list is depleted by injuries to Jerzy Dudek, Christoph Metzelder, Guti, Rafael van der Vaart and Pepe

Probable Starting XI:
Casillas; Ramos, Albiol, Garay, Arbeloa; Granero, L. Diarra, X. Alonso; Kaka, Ronaldo; Higuain

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lyon


It may well be that Jeremy Toulalan is OL’s pivotal player in this fixture. Les Gones have been struggling to defend effectively all season, with the combination of Cris and Jean-Alain Boumsong ineffective in the heart of the defence, so it’s essential for the tenacious holding midfielder to prevent a flow of supply to los Blancos’ forward players. Expect a few crunching tackles from the France international, who is surely one of the favourites to pick up a booking in this fixture.

Real Madrid


Though the headline grabbers remain Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, who combined well for two of los Blancos’ goals at the weekend, arguably Gonzalo Higuain has been their most effective player this term. The French-born player has top scored for the club in league play and will now want to enhance his reputation on the continental scene. Due to Benzema’s recent injury worries, he is likely to start and will want to improve his record of two goals in the competition to date.

PREDICTION


Given the mediocre form of Lyon and the relentless winning streak that Real are on, the visitors will certainly start as favourites. Los Blancos also showed that they can break a curse this season, recently winning at Deportivo La Coruna, where they have historically been awful. Having already won in France this term, beating Olympique de Marseille, expect an affirming win for the Spaniards.

Olympique Lyonnais 0-2 Real Madrid