Lyon’s run to be tested by Belgians
Lyon must overcome Belgian heavyweights Anderlecht if they are to take their place in the UEFA Champions League group stages for the tenth consecutive season.
The deposed French champions host the side from Brussels in Wednesday's first leg of the play-offs missing midfielder Sidney Govou. The France international picked up a thigh problem in the 1-0 league win over Valenciennes at the weekend when he had to be replaced by Brazilian Ederson.
Lyon coach Claude Puel, while relieved to have avoided the likes of Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, has no illusions about the task ahead if his side are to earn one of the ten remaining group stage berths. "I came across Anderlecht in the Champions League group round when I was manager of Lille. Last season they knocked Bordeaux out of the UEFA Cup, they have to be taken very seriously," he said when the draw was announced ahead of what will be Lyon's 155th European fixture.
He added: "We have to be in a position to get a small advantage at the Stade Gerland because their stadium is very 'football' with the stands very close to the pitch." After Saturday's narrow win in the league Puel reflected: "Wednesday's game will be an altogether different story against a team that is physically strong and aggressive with quick and mobile strikers.
"It's going to be very quick. We'll have to be more efficient than against Valenciennes and we'll have to remain vigilant right to the final whistle as it only takes two or three moves to lose any benefit from our performance."
Anderlecht manager Herman Van Holsbeeck nevertheless nominated the French club as favourites to win the play-off with the second leg on Tuesday week. "It's a tough draw, Lyon are a high class side and used to playing in the Champions League," he said before making out a case for an upset.
"Games between French and Belgian sides are often very close, yet we dominated Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup last season. And their best player, (Karim) Benzema, has left them during the close season, so perhaps it's the best time to come across them, at the beginning of the season."
Van Holsbeeck, who reckons home advantage for the return leg can count in their favour, added: "We're happy to have avoided Arsenal, but Lyon were the second strongest side in the draw."
Also turning out on Wednesday's play-off programme are Atletico Madrid, who are away to Panathinaikos, both teams having reached the first knockout round last campaign, and Israeli side Maccabi Haifa, in Austria to face Salzburg.
FK Ventspils, who host FC Zurich, meanwhile are bidding to become the first club from Latvia to make it into the group stages. The domestic champions will hope last week's change of personnel, with Italian Nunzio Zavettieri replacing Roman Grigorchuk as manager, pays off as they approach one of the biggest games in the club's history.
While the winners make it into the Champions League proper the losers move on to the inaugural edition of the Europa League. The remainder of the fixtures will be played today highlighted by Celtic's blockbuster with British rivals Arsenal.