Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Match Preview: Lyon vs Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s attempt to break their Champions League last-16 hoodoo takes them back to a ground they have never won at to play opponents they have never beaten before this evening.
On the face of it they should be fearful. Without a victory in a Champions League knockout tie in six years, up against the team that dumped them out at this stage last year and one that has an impressive record in Europe’s premier club competition in recent times.
Yet fear is not the Real Madrid way. Even more so, it is not the Jose Mourinho way.
This is the competition Mourinho was brought to Madrid to succeed in. It is the one that defines Real Madrid and, despite the desperation amongst some in the Madrid press to usurp Barcelona in the domestic stakes, it is the one they really want back.
To this point the Portuguese coach has been steady if not spectacular. This time last season Manuel Pellegrini’s side had 59 points and trailed Barcelona by one point, having lost to them narrowly in the Nou Camp 1-0. Currently Mourinho’s Madrid have 60 points and lie five points adrift, having been hammered in Barcelona. Many will point to Mourinho’s success in the Copa Del Rey where they will meet their rivals in the final compared to Pellegrini’s nightmare against Alcorcon last year but the domestic cup is merely a sideshow to this main event. If Mourinho is to live up to his billing as the first Galactico coach he must win the Champions League. Even if he is not to win it this year he must go beyond this round to be given a second chance.
So how will the self-titled ‘special one’ approach the game in a stadium where Real have lost on all three of their visits in the past five years?
He is expected to tinker slightly from his favoured 4-2-3-1 with Angel Di Maria dropping out for the security of an extra holding midfielder in the form of Lassana Diarra in a 4-3-3 – the system most used by Mourinho in his success with Inter in this competition last season.
Left-back Marcelo, who has been impressive in recent weeks, is also likely to be replaced by the more defensively sound Alvaro Arbeloa.
The more cautious 4-3-3 has been used by the Portuguese consistently in tough away fixtures since that defeat in the Camp Nou, most notably in the Copa Del Rey semi-final against Sevilla, and has generally met with success.
The only question mark may be on how aggressive the visitors will be in looking for the away goal. In last season’s encounters with Lyon, Pellegrini was criticised for being too passive, firstly, in not going for the away goal in the 1-0 defeat at the Stade Gerland and then for not changing things when events started to turn against his side in the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.
Mourinho will not be so passive; his ability to react is one of his most fabled characteristics. Yet, despite their progress to the semi-finals last season, this is not the Lyon team of 2004-05 with the likes of Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Juninho Pernambucano and Eric Abidal. Their main threat should come from the gyle of Yohann Gourcuff in the playmaker role and the pace of Michel Bastos on the left but defensively they can be exposed, despite the excellent Hugo Lloris in goal. Real’s best form of defence will be to attack and get at least one goal away from home.
As they learned to their cost last year, without it things can get extremely tricky.
Lyon (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Cissokho, Cris, Lovren, Reveillere; Kallstrom, Toulalan; Bastos, Gourcuff, Briand; Gomis
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Carvalho, Ramos; Khedira, Alonso, Diarra; Ozil, Adebayor, Ronaldo