It’s no secret. France is England’s favorite hunting ground. From Alexandre Lacazette to Rachid Ghezzal, many players have given in to the temptation and crossed the English Channel. It’s just so easy – you can wrap Clinton Njie in a ribbon and call him the new Samuel Eto’o, and they just snap him up.
But this time, Manchester City do not come hunting for players. The Citizens are coming for all three points.
Tuesday, November 27th, 2018
Parc OL, Lyon
3 PM EST (21:00 CET, 20:00 UST)
Manchester City won last season’s Premier League with a record 100 points, and they haven’t looked back since. Their 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United last weekend is emblematic of a team that has been obliterating opposition all season long.
The Citizens are leading the Premier League with 35 points. After just 13 games, Manchester City is still unbeaten in the league, racking up 11 victories and 2 draws in the process. The underlying statistics are even more impressive. Or terrifying, since you’re reading this blog.
Pep Guardiola has exploited the infernal offensive armada that includes the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané. In the first 13 games of the Premier League campaign, the Mancunians have hit the back of the net 40 times.
Moreover, the joint-best English defense has conceded just five goals so far this season. In terms that any Lyonnais would understand, that’s exactly how many goals you’d expect to concede in a single game against PSG.
In the Champions League, Manchester City retain a firm grip on the first place. Following a 6-0 victory against Shakhtar Donetsk, they can make top spot definitively their own with a victory on Tuesday.
Lyon do have one thing going for them, though. Manchester City’s only loss in the group stage – and in the 2018/19 campaign so far – came in the European competition against Lyon, in a 2-1 defeat on the very first matchday.
The Mancunians do not only have great names on the pitch, but on the sidelines as well. The Battle of the Peps™ comes to town with the backdrop of the Groupama Stadium for the first time. In the first leg, a suspended Pep Guardiola made way for Mikel Arteta. This time round there is neither running nor hiding from Bruno ‘Pep’ Genesio.
The Mancunian Pep travels to Lyon with several players missing. Claudio Bravo and Eliaquim Mangala have been sidelined with injuries for some time. Bernardo Silva missed the West Ham game and will stay behind with İlkay Gündoğan.
An already-tattered midfield will be without Kevin De Bruyne again. Like Benjamin Mendy, the Belgian missed the first meeting between Lyon and Manchester City due to injury. Since then, both players featured for their club, but succumbed to injuries once more.
De Bruyne’s absence will likely blunt Manchester City’s creative edge. Although the English team has no shortage of playmakers Guardiola will have to deal with a dreary midfield. Just three central midfielders make the trip – Phil Foden, David Silva and Fernandinho.
More trouble awaits Guardiola up front. Gabriel Jesus drops out of contention, leaving the Citizens with one pure striker – Agüero. And still, that’s one striker too many for Lyon.
Manchester City’s Group: Ederson, Muric, Grimshaw – Walker, Danilo, Kompany, Stones, Laporte, Otamendi, Zinchenko – Sterling, Delph, Sané, David Silva, Fernandinho, Mahrez, Foden, Diaz – Agüero
Lyon Team News
The mammoth Champions League clash could not have come at a better time for Lyon. Fresh off a 1-0 victory in the Derby against AS Saint-Étienne, les Gones should be in prime mental state to face off against the English champions.
From the outset, the game against Manchester City looks like an insurmountable challenge, but it is not all grim for Lyon. Often turning up for the big nights, les Gones have been the only team capable of defeating Manchester City this campaign. Furthermore, the three goals that the Mancunians conceded in the Champions League came from current or past OL players – Nabil Fekir, Maxwel Cornet and Ishak Belfodil.
Since that fateful September night that saw Lyon dismantle Manchester City, the Rhône club went on to lose just a single match in all competitions – a defeat that came against Paris Saint-Germain. At home too, Lyon are reclaiming their fortress, with just one defeat all season after imposing their dismal play. So many streaks to break on Tuesday night!
The record against Hoffenheim gives Lyon some breathing space as the Germans cannot overtake them with equal points. Therefore Lyon is assured of holding on to second place this week, regardless of what happens on Tuesday.
In the unlikely possibility that Lyon somehow manage to replicate September’s exploit, they would qualify automatically and be in prime position to win the group.
A draw – or even a defeat – would not be cataclysmic, and would leave the French club in contention for qualification. However, Lyon would do well to get something out of it. In the next matchday, they make a perilous journey to cold Ukraine for a final showdown against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Lyon’s results are not the only positive aspect. Long-term absentee Amine Gouiri is joined by Léo Dubois in the infirmary, but the rest of the squad is available. Fekir, who was substituted out at half-time against Saint-Étienne is not suffering from any injury by his own admission.
The captain and playmaker will likely start on Tuesday, but will be on thin ice. One more yellow card spells a suspension for what is likely to be a decisive trip to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Lyon’s Group: Lopes, Gorgelin – Rafael, Tete, Morel, Denayer, Marcelo, Mendy, Marçal, – Aouar, Ndombele, Cheikh, Tousart – Memphis, Dembélé, Terrier, Cornet, Fekir, Traoré
Genesio’s most pressing question is what formation to use. The 3-5-2 that Lyon has gotten accustomed to and that has brought a certain balance to the team is the most likely possibility. In practice, though, Genesio is unlikely to let Sané and Mahrez charge directly at the snail-paced Marcelo. Instead, we will likely be treated to a more defensive 5-3-2.
Genesio could also be tempted to innovate like he did in the first leg. He seemingly ruled out the 4-4-1-1 in the press conference, but the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 offer enough width to be viable alternatives. After living through the unlikely experience of four formations in a single match, a more appropriate question is – what can’t Genesio do?
In Dubois’ absence, Rafael is likely to start ahead of Kenny Tete; resting won’t be on the Brazilian’s mind since he will be suspended against Lille for trying to equal Michael Jordan’s hang time in the Derby. On the opposite flank, Ferland Mendy has made the position his own.
In spite of Fernando Marçal‘s inspiring performance last weekend, Genesio will likely prefer Jeremy Morel‘s experience. The new Madagascar international forms a defensive trio that includes Jason Denayer and Marcelo.
Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele have cemented their place in midfield. A more defensive Lucas Tousart – or even Pape Cheikh Diop, if he’s still around – might be preferred to add some reassurance in the back.
The offensive situation is slightly less clear. Moussa Dembélé, who scored two of Celtic’s goals against Manchester City two season ago, will likely pay the price of a string of disappointing performances and yield his place.
Memphis could start either alongside Fekir or Cornet. Although the captain’s fitness leaves some doubts, it is unlikely that he would be benched in what could be the most important game of the season.
Denayer – Marcelo – Morel
Rafael – Ndombele – Tousart – Aouar – Mendy
Memphis – Fekir
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Lyon 0 – 2 Manchester City. One exploit is more than Lyon would have hoped for when the groups were drawn. Two would be unthinkable. If I had to put on my rose-tinted glasses and make a more optimistic predicti– nah, still a 0-2 defeat.