Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Preview: Barcelona vs Lyon

Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona

Olympique Lyon step into the cauldron that is the Nou Camp tomorrow night and the Benzema transfer speculation is likely to hit the ceiling as contact with Barcelona club officials is inevitable. The home-away format is not one that generally encourages attacking play but Barca have the lead and Lyon know from experience that Barca’s vulnerability is best exposed by sustained offensive pressure.

Nevertheless, it is most likely that Lyon will look to play on the counter, few teams having imposed their will at the Camp Nou to date. Lyon played their weekend league fixture against Lille at the Stade de France before an audience of 78 000 and lost 2-0. More comfortable in their smaller Stade de Gerland which usually seats about 35 000 per game Lyon will have to face up to the mini-Catalunya that is the Camp Nou where an audience of 75 000 attended the Athletic match.

The run of results for both teams since the first leg of this encounter tells two different stories. Lyon have experienced a gradual slip in form since then with a 1-1, 2-3 and 0-2 run of results. Both losses came away from home against Lille, the first resulting in their elimination from the Cup. Barca on the other hand initially lost ground with the enthralling 3-4 defeat to Atletico and then recovered slightly with the 1-1 draw away at Mallorca before rediscovering form back at home against Athletic in a 2-0 result that could very easily have ended 5-0 or 6-0. In a way it is probably a good thing that the match ended only 2-0 as it restored the confidence of the team but the fact that they missed chances they used to put away earlier should keep them on their toes.

With both teams suffering injury problems while also regaining a few injured players since the first leg a recap of the same might be useful. Barca have lost Puyol but have Iniesta returning from injury. A possible replacement for Puyol in the form of Gabi Milito is yet to be named in the squad list. So that makes it Puyol, Abidal and Milito out for Barca. All three being defenders Guardiola has named Botia as cover.

Lyon have a major problem in the right-back position. Mensah, a center-back who has been doing a good job with both Revelliere and Clerc injured, is now out with injury himself. Clerc made a comeback from a long lay-off in the last match against Lille but it is still uncertain if he will be risked so soon after returning, in the Champions League. Center-back Boumsong is doubtful after complaining of a hamstring twinge while Bodmer made his return on the weekend. Sidney Govou has a ruptured Achilles tendon and is out of action. Delgado returned after aggravating a right abductor muscle injury during his substitute appearance against Barcelona in the first leg. First choice keeper Lloris also missed the Lille weekend game nursing a bruised calf and a cold. Lastly, Karim Benzema missed the cup game with a hip injury and was substituted at half-time on Saturday.

Lets start at the back for Barcelona. Victor Valdes appeared a lot more confident and determined in the Athletic game although he wasn’t tested too often. While he may carry this forth into tomorrow’s game his confidence may yet come unhinged as he purveys Juninho lining up a free-kick. Shots from distance may be right be Valdes’ alley but in the pause before a set-piece is taken he will have time to contemplate the corners and angles Juninho could use to embarrass him yet again and thus his confidence undermined. The most immediate result of this would be hesitancy and Juninho could capitalize on this by swinging one into the box rather than going directly for goal.

The biggest culprits when it comes to conceding free-kicks in dangerous positions, for me, are Alves, Busquets and the left-back which may be Caceres or Sylvinho. Alves will be back after some rest over the weekend and hopefully refreshed. His defending has been rather childish and petulant in recent matches with a habit of climbing all over his marker in an attempt to steal the ball when all he is required to do is cover the attacker’s movement. Nothing is ever likely to induce any circumspection in his forages forward however, so the defense will be heavily dependent on Yaya to divert or slow down any penetration by Ederson on that flank. It should also be interesting to see Grosso and Alves chasing each other up and down that flank as is bound to happen at some point in the game.

The only first choice center-backs remaining are Marquez and Pique with Botia on standby in the incident of another injury, to either of the two. Marquez was phenomenal in the last game cutting balls out before they could reach Benzema. It is unclear how serious Benzema’s hip injury but I don’t think there is any chance he will miss this game.

The left-back position presents a conundrum though for Guardiola as the two pretenders Caceres and Sylvinho are almost equally untrustworthy to meet the formidable challenge of Keita Abdul. Caceres for me is slightly riskier with his propensity for diving in. He seems more likely to give away free-kicks and also when he is beaten there will be lesser time for Pique or Marquez to provide cover. Sylvinho on the other hand with his experience should be less liable to being beaten, rather with some concentration succeed in pushing Keita into a corner from where his crosses are likely to be ineffectual. The difficulty lies in convincing him that he is 34yrs old and every time he does his rolling stone act, rollicking forward; he is unable to get back and draws one of the center-backs out to cover for him.

For the defensive midfield I would go with Yaya rather than Busquets simply because he is more effective and reliable and should be able to cover both Juninho and Ederson though he will need some support if Makoun decides to join the attack.

The Left Midfield presents another interesting question. Although Iniesta looked great dribbling through from midfield I would prefer him at Left Wing and Keita in midfield. Keita’s defensive contribution will prove handy and with his runs into the box he is likely to give the Lyon midfield something to think about. Lyon will be expecting an Iniesta midfield, Henry left wing formation. Also Henry on the bench provides us with a game changing option on the bench with Bojan on longer being relied upon and possibly a fresh striker for the weekend’s Liga match. Iniesta will also be better at penetrating and putting in crosses that Eto’o is finally showing an inclination to attack at the near post.

Lyon have cover in midfield in the form of Kallstrom but are short for the right back position leading Toulalan to offer to play there. Gassama who Lyon bought in September has 9 starts this season and could be the other option for Puel at right back. Last time round Makoun stuck to Xavi like a leech but was still available to provide cover when Messi started his diagonal runs. Iniesta in the wing will give Xavi more space to operate in midfield and consequentially reduce the cover on Messi as well.

In defense, Claude Puel faces the uncertainty of Boumsong’s fitness though the returning Bodmer there presents less of a risk than Clerc at right back. Cris will be the lynchpin of the defense. Grosso faces upto Messi who can either isolate him by going outside on the right or suck him in to the center and thus create space for Alves.

Eto’o showed considerable intent but failed to score against Athletic but he has the frustrating habit of not turning up at all in some games. Hopefully the auspices of his birthday the day before will have him revved up for this one. Lyon have the more attacking options on the bench in the form of Delgado, Pjanic and Piquionne.

Marquez and Busquets are one yellow card away from a suspension while for Lyon; Grosso, Toulalan and Cris are in a similar situation. This will be Victor Valdes’ 50th Champions League encounter while it is also Marquez’s 50th in UEFA club competition.

Pep will be looking for the team to dominate the match from the starting whistle and the energetic defending we saw from the front earlier in the season. An early lead will ease the nerves but Barca will have to be wary as they cannot ever afford to sit back against a potent Lyon line-up. We may have regained form but this game will be no walk in the park.

Prediction : FC Barcelona 2-1 Lyon

kamikaze kontiki


Anonymous said...

Henry 2, Eto 1, Marques 1, Messi 2.

Anonymous said...

hop that happens noubarca........

Anonymous said...

We cannot affor to lose this one. You can go out against Man united but not against Lyon. I'm confident though, the team looks solid. Come on!

JR said...

I thought both Caceres and Alves are suspended for this match?

pep said...

No they are not, JR. They were for the last league game against Athletic on Saturday. The only three players who are not available are Puyol, Milito and Abidal, all because of injuries.

Anonymous said...

Little bit wierd having three players injured and all of them Defenders isn't it!

Anyway lets hope for a good game tonight.

Anonymous said...

Good rundown Kamikaze.

I have to comment on Iniesta as I am still not sure were we need to play him for the best effect.
Your reasoning for playing him of the left wing are valid. We would gain a lot by having a solid dribbler challenging there and Iniesta is our best choise. Henry, bless him, will not as you say free up the same amount of space for Messi (and to some degree Xavi.

That said, I do belive the key to this game will be to dominate possession. The central midfield has to control Lyon. Having Iniesta beside Xavi will give us solid pass completion. Playing Guddy or Keita there does not offer the same quality. With Guddy however, we gain lethal forward runs.

Still torn... Guardiola will do the best of the situation Im sure.
But with our defence in some dissaray with Puyol and Abidal gone, it is up to the central midfield to win this game. If we loose the centre, we loose the game. Domination there, through swift preasure, a flowing passing game and good movement will be crutial.

kamikaze kontiki said...

It is a complicated question Fred. You are right though that having Iniesta in midfield would help because Firstly it will give Xavi a ready outlet to keep possession. Secondly, Iniesta's direct dribble-through-the-centre method is very successful although his finishing isn't.

I think even the Caceres or Sylvinho choice may affect Pep's final decision. With Keita the advantage is an extra man in the box because Henry's crosses are usually wasted with just Eto'o and also a more stable midfield while defending. The key is to attack Lyon's weakened right flank while also protecting our own weak left.

For me, the deciding factor was the thought that if it is 1-1 after 90 mins we have no options on the bench to bring on.

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