Champions League football is back in town. Almost ten years to the day since Lyon last welcomed Barcelona, the two meet again for the Round of 16. This time round, there will be no Juninho-esque saving grace, but 11 lions nonetheless.
Cover: Marc Atkins
Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
Parc OL, Lyon
3 PM EST (21:00 CET, 20:00 UST)
If there exists such a thing as a good time to meet Barcelona, then this is it. The Catalan giants are going through a slump – relatively-speaking, of course; although they have won just two of their last five matches, they sit comfortably atop the La Liga table with 54 points out of 24 matches.
Barcelona went into last weekend’s tie against Real Valladolid with a three-match winless run, though unbeaten in five. The Catalans dominated their opponents, but needed two penalties to snatch three points. Lionel Messi, the Argentinian Rayan Cherki, animated the match, scoring one of the penalties and missing another.
Ernesto Valverde‘s priorities were evident from the get-go as he rested the likes of Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho, Nélson Semedo and Clément Lenglet. As these things usually go, the onus to carry the team fell to a frenzied Messi, who had attempted 12 out of Barcelona’s 20 shots by the end of the match.
Although recent matches have exposed cracks in Valverde’s outfit, Barça remains a beast to be feared. Defeat has arrived just four times to Barcelona’s doorstep this season, none of which in the Champions League. In La Liga alone, Barcelona has scored 61 goals, conceding just 23.
Unsurprisingly, Messi is Barcelona’s frontman, scoring 30 goals and assisting 17 others in just 30 appearances, but he’s not the only one pulling the strings. Coutinho, Suarez and Ousmane Dembélé are responsible for 37 other goals, and with 14 assists, fullback Jordi Alba seems to be the Spanish response to Ferland Mendy.
Barcelona travel to Lyon with an almost-complete squad, but Jasper Cillessen, Rafinha and, more importantly, Arthur are ruled out with injuries. Ex-Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti has made it into the group after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, but it could still be too early to see him back in action.
Perhaps the only consolation is that Barcelona struggles away from home in the Champions League. In the past three years, the Spanish club has won just one Champions League match away from home in the knockout stage. One more streak for Lyon break.
Barcelona’s Group: Ter Stegen, Peña, Ezkieta – Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Murillo, Alba, Roberto, Umtiti, Wagué – Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal, Aleñá – Coutinho, Suárez, Messi, Dembélé, Malcom, Boateng
Lyon Team News
Like Barcelona, Lyon’s faults have come out in the past few matches. First, Lyon dropped another three points against Nice. Then, just last weekend, Anthony Lopes and the crossbar were all that saved a victory against Guingamp. The drop in form came after an impressive victory against PSG even though the club issued no collectors mugs this time.
Lyon end the weekend sitting comfortably in third place, four points off second-placed Lille. 25 matches into the season and despite a wealth of attacking talent, Lyon sports an unflattering goal difference, thanks no little to disappointing performances against smaller teams.
It’s all very characteristic of a Lyon side that has no problem butting heads with Manchester City and PSG, but falters at the sight of a relegation candidate. Les Gones supporters will be hoping that the trend continues against on Tuesday evening.
This will be the first time that Lyon has qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2012. Like Barcelona, they have yet to taste defeat during the current Champions League campaign. Nevertheless, they nabbed a single victory in the group stage – a 2-1 win against Manchester City.
Whereas Barcelona’s away streak in Champions League is fragile, Lyon’s record against Spanish clubs, and Barcelona in particular, is far from encouraging. Lyon met Barcelona six times in total, drawing two and losing the other four.
Lyon will be looking to minimize the number of conceded away goals to Barcelona. To this end, the defense will likely survive the scare of losing Jason Denayer to injury after the Belgian trained with the rest of the team on Tuesday evening.
In midfield, Tanguy Ndombele too has recovered from an ankle injury and looks set to retain his place in the first-team. Bruno Genesio also gets Rafael back in the group after a lengthy injury spell. On the other hand, Lyon captain Nabil Fekir will miss the first leg due to suspension.
Lyon’s Group: Lopes, Gorgelin – Marçal, Dubois, Denayer, Marcelo, Solet, Rafael, Mendy, Tete – Aouar, Ndombele, Cheikh, Tousart – Cornet, Memphis, Dembélé, Traoré, Terrier
A Bruno Genesio specialty awaits Barcelona in Lyon – the 4-2-3-1 is expected to continue its comeback after the 3-5-2 overstayed its welcome. The 4-2-3-1 will give Lyon some much-needed comfort at the back, and width going forward.
Lyon will be looking Anthony Lopes to pull an umpteenth miracle, this time in an invaluable competition. Coming off a string of promising performances – both offensively and defensively – Léo Dubois is touted to start at right back, with Ferland Mendy complementing him on the left. Marcelo will likely start alongside Denayer.
In the middle, Ndombele and Houssem Aouar have cemented their place and will play the role of the double-pivot. More importantly, Genesio will have to contend with Fekir’s absence, and could move Memphis into his more habitual playmaking role.
Martin Terrier could replace Memphis on the left wing. On the other side, Bertrand Traoré will likely lose his place to Maxwel Cornet, who defends better and actually has a general ability to use his feet. The two will supply Moussa Dembélé, the lone striker.
Dubois – Marcelo – Denayer – Mendy
Ndombele – Aouar
Cornet – Memphis – Terrier
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Lyon 1-2 Barcelona. Beating Barcelona is never easy. I cannot see Lyon taking a win unless Bruno Genesio convinces the Spaniards that the French siesta is at 21:00.