If someone scores a goal, and there is no one around to cheer, did it really happen?
This is the kind of existential question that will be answered tomorrow when Lyon welcome Shakhtar Donetsk for their first home Champions League game of the season…to be played in an empty stadium.
UEFA’s punishment is still standing, with Lyon being taken to task for the behavior of some of their fans. Read about the whole sorry mess here. Not only will no one be allowed inside, but the club will suffer a loss of €6m in ticketing and other matchday revenue. The squad has rarely played in empty stadiums and are prepared to soldier on, but both sides will struggle at the silence.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018
Parc OL, Lyon
3 PM EST (21:00 CET, 20:00 UST)
Shakhtar is flying high at the moment. Winners of the Ukrainian Premier League for the last two seasons, they’re currently at the top of their league table, with 9 wins and 1 loss, 29 goals scored and only 5 conceded. In Europe, they drew 2-2 to Hoffenheim at home.
They are an attacking side who enjoy possession football. Genesio likened them to Barcelona, though their manager, Paulo Fonseca, was quick to downplay the comparison. However, he did indicate that they would continue to play as they usually do. To his credit, he also expressed regret that the stadium would be empty (even though it is an advantage for Shakhtar), saying that football should always be played in front of fans – even if they’re French.
Unlike their Ukrainian friends, Lyon are having a more turbulent season. They started their season playing poorly, then had an amazing seven days, and then they went back to playing like crap. Canal+ published statistics showing Lyon’s abysmal results against clubs in the bottom half of the table, and what was once a joke is now regrettably reality.
The question here is, do Lyon players perceive Shakhtar as a big or small team?
The stakes are big – it doesn’t get bigger than the Champions League, and the club busted their collective asses in order to qualify. So realistically, they’d treat all games like the challenges they are. Psychologically is a different story, as the players raise their game and then have mental breakdowns three days later.
Because of this, the match is hard to call. Shakhtar has a great season start and are banging in goals left and right. But that was also the case with Manchester United and Marseille, who had great domestic forms. Lyon, on the other hand, was awful domestically and looked to be in for a series of spankings.
The game against Nantes proved that whatever malaise affecting Lyon is still there. Against Shakhtar, the squad might wake up again and have the game of their lives. Or not.
Shakhtar squad: Schevchenko, Pyatov. Kudryk – Butko, Kryvtsov, Khocholava, Matviienko, Ismaily, Rakits’kyy, Danchenko – Stepanenko, Taison, Marlos, Patrick, W. Nem, Maycon, Cipriano, Totovytskyi, Bolbat, Kovalenko, Fernando – Kayode, Moraes
Shakhtar’s squad has a heavy Brazilian presence. While they recently sold Fred to Manchester United for a cool €60m, they’ve replaced accordingly. Overall, their squad might be less “valuable” than Lyon’s, but we all know real value is in how they play together.
Shakhtar and Lyon have never faced each other in European competition, but the Ukrainians have played just about every other French team. Their record against them is pretty good too, with 7 wins, 2 draws, and 4 losses.
There’s been a lot of media, fan, and player backlash over Lyon’s draw with Nantes. Genesio and his players all admitted they were poor (great!) and promised to fix it. Unfortunately, Lyon face more pressure than ever as they have to get a result against Shakhtar, if only to live up to their own hype of being giant-slayers.
A win tomorrow also means they are one step closer to qualifying for the knockout rounds. Three points tomorrow plus at least one win against Hoffenheim all but guarantees them a place. However, a draw or a loss will make things very complicated, as it’s not easy to win away from home, and Lyon historically have horrible results against German teams.
Le groupe lyonnais: Lopes, Gorgelin – Rafael, Dubois, Morel, Denayer, Marcelo, Marçal – Mendy, Aouar, Ferri, Ndombele, Diop, Tousart – Cornet, Depay, Traoré, Fekir, Dembélé
Martin Terrier is still nursing a sprained ankle while Kenny Tete was injured during practice (was he really? skeptical). Ferland Mendy, rested against Dijon and Nantes, is fully fit.
According to L’Equipe, Genesio will be going back to the 4-4-1-1 that he used against Manchester City.
Rafael – Marcelo – Denayer – Mendy
Cornet – Tousart – Ndombele – Aouar
Maxwel Cornet makes his way back into the starting 11. Lucas Tousart takes over from Pape Cheikh, so it looks like Genesio has restored confidence in him. Tanguy Ndombele should be well rested but Houssem Aouar must be on his last legs.
Moussa Dembele will be preferred to Betrand Traore and Memphis Depay. Tough call, as all 3 looked awful against Nantes, but I guess Dembele looked least awful? Nabil Fekir will support him from behind.
Genesio is also aware that Lyon have a game against PSG this weekend, but he is probably thinking what everyone else is – OL have no chance there, so better to focus their attention and energy against Shakhtar.
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