Stade de Gerland, Lyon
April 3rd, 2014
Juventus travel to the State De Gerland to take on Lyon in what will be the first meeting between these two sides in a competitive fixture. Juventus will start as favorites against a very young Lyon team unbeaten at home in the Europa League this year. We must keep in mind that this is not the same Lyon led by Paul Le Guen who won an incredible seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles in the period of 2001 to 2008. To sanction the construction of a new stadium, budget has been very tight and the team now comprises of promising academy graduates rather than the likes of as Sonny Anderson, Juninho Pernambucano , Karim Benzema , Fred , Michel Bastos, Lisandro Lopez , Michael Essien , Florent Malouda , Eric Abidal , Diarra Mahmadou, Hatem Ben Arfa. Under the stewardship of former Arsenal midfielder Remi Garde, the squad has few experienced names which include Bafatembi Gomis, the talented but very inconsistent Yoann Gourcuff and Steed Malbranque ,a youth academy alumnus who has returned to his former club to finish his career. Les Gones – which fittingly means ‘the Kids’ in the local dialect of Arpitan, have some exciting talents which include the very impressive Clement Grenier, Alexandre Lacazette and Samuel Umtiti. Centre Tola Vologe has produced top-level players at a volume only Barcelona and Real Madrid can match in recent seasons, with stars such as Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Loic Remy, Sidney Govou and Ludovic Guily.
Juventus, as history suggests, have performed well against French clubs and they would be looking to grab a positive result here after the setback in Naples on Sunday. Antonio Conte himself has been pretty vocal about respecting the Europa League and his players will look to carry on their momentum of good domestic form in Europe as well. Except the historic 6-1 victory against PSG in 1996, Juventus have struggled on French soil so they would look to improve this record. This clash also sees the youngest side (Lyon-average age 24.3 yrs) in Europa league take on the oldest (Juventus- average age 29.4 yrs).
Team News and Tactical Brief
Lyon have switched between the 5-3-2 and 4-1-2-1-2 formations this season with Remi Garde preferring a more pragmatic approach away from home. They come into this clash in the midst of an injury crisis. In goal they have the very impressive Portuguese Anthony Lopes, who at age of 23 has already displaced the experienced Remi Vercoutre and is seriously challenging to be Portugal’s No.1 goalkeeper at World Cup 2014. Samuel Umtiti has grabbed headlines with commanding displays at the heart of the defence. Excellent positional sense, good physique and a great left foot are his best qualities. But he is nursing an injury and looks doubtful to start this game. If he fails to recover in time, then Maxime Gonalons is expected to take his place as a makeshift defender. He will be partnered by Burkina Faso international Bakary Kone who will take the place of injured Milan Bisevac. The full back positions are taken by Henri Bedimo and the inexperienced Mehdi Zeffane, who replaces the Portuguese Miguel Lopes also out with an injury.
In front of the defence Lyon have the captain and midfield anchorman Maxime Gonalons who might as well drop back to cover the central defence if Umtiti does not pass the late fitness test. Jordan Ferri has proven himself to be a viable option in midfield and will take the place of Gueida Fofana who misses out with an injury. Lyon will have to make do without their dynamic young prospect Clement Grenier, so Steed Malbranque and Arnold Mvuemba will lineup in midfield. The former AC Milan player Yoann Gourcuff is also absent in this game and if Gonalons does have to start in defence, then experinced Frenchman Gael Danic will start in midfield.
The forward line will have Bafatembi Gomis who has been in good form this season notching up 11 goals already. He will be partnered by rising star and one of the brightest sparks of this season for Lyon: Alexandre Lacazette. He has already netted 19 times in all competitions and will hope to make a mark against Juventus as well. Another promising talent for the future is the 19yr old striker of Algerian origin Benzia Yassine but he will not make the bench for this game due to an injury.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-1-2-1-2): Lopes(GK); Bedimo, Kone, Umtiti, Zeffane; Gonalons, Ferri, Mvuemba; Malbranque,Lacazette, Gomis.
Juventus travel to France with a weakened defensive lineup as long term absentees Ogbonna Barzagli and Peluso continue to remain on the sidelines. Buffon will lead a three man defence of Bonucci, Cheillini and Caceres. This will be the sixth consecutive game in eighteen days for the same trio in defence highlighting the lack of options Antonio Conte has due to the injuries.
Arturo Vidal is suspended for this game so Claudio Marchisio is expected to start after his injury layoff and partner Paul Pogba in what promises to be an interesting duel with Gonalons and Ferri. Pogba has looked well below par in the last month as the congested fixture list seems to take a toll on the entire squad. Andrea Pirlo will look to continue his good form in Europe after scoring the winner in the last round vicotry against Fiorentina. Mauricio Isla will look to impress in a rare starting role as the right fullback. Kwado Asamoah has shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks but will start on the left side as there are no alternatives for him at this moment.
Upfront Juventus will be glad to see the return of Carlos Tevez who was absent against Napoli in which the Juventus forward line offered very little in an insipid display. Mirko Vucinic made a cameo appearance on Sunday after almost three months and will make his first start since 6th Dec, 2013 when Juventus traveled to face Bologna. The two looked promising as a front pair at the beginning of the season,particularly in the Supercoppa Italiana and the league game against Lazio, and Conte will be hoping that they quickly rediscover that understanding.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon(GK);Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba, Asamoah; Tevez, Vucinic.
Players to Watch Out For
Carlos Tevez (Juventus)
Few eyebrows were raised in the summer when Juventus handed the iconic number 10 jersey to new arrival Carlos Tevez. Eight months into the season and those doubts have been pretty much put to rest by the Argentine who has exceeded all expectations in his debut season to register 18 goals. Apart from his goals, Tevez has also become the crowd favorite with his relentless running and bullying of opposition defence, carving out chances for his teammates and sacrificing himself for the team’s cause. It seems Tevez can do no wrong but quite astonishingly he has failed to find the back of the net in Europe since 2009. Having scored the match winners in his previous two matches against Catania and Parma, this might just be the tie where he breaks his European duck.
Maxime Gonalons, the captain of Lyon, has had to show maturity and calmness beyond his 24 years as Lyon struggle through a period of transition. Gonalons has been with Lyon for over 14 years now and since making his professional debut back in 2009 has grown to become one of their most reliable players in the period following their dominance in France. His versatility to be both the classic defensive midfielder protecting the back line, but also to combine that with lung-busting box-to-box runs means he is usually the first name on the team-sheet for Lyon, and since early 2013 he was handed the captain’s armband of his beloved hometown club. Gonalons has remained a consistent leader on and off the pitch and even though he will never be a midfielder who will score buckets of goals; his real skills lie in his intelligence and ability to assess situations almost instantly. His 6’1 frame means he is a threat from set pieces. His performances over the last couple of years has led Gonalons to be linked with a number of Europe’s leading clubs from Arsenal to Napoli, the latter being a highly possible move as rumors of recent meetings with senior staff at the Italian club refuse to go away.
Lyon 1–3 Juventus
Lyon have an inexperienced but talented squad of players who have performed admirably in the Europa League this year. But they are severely paralysed by injuries to key players all over the pitch for this game. Juventus might be an obstacle too formidable for them to dispatch. Expect Lyon to put up a good fight but clearly they start as second favorite in this fixture.
Blast From the Past
This will be the first meeting in European stage for these two teams. They previously met in a friendly in 2010.