Andrew Flint –
Olympique Lyon vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Tuesday, September 17, 17:55 BST/18:55 CEST – OL Stadium, Decines – France
A decade ago, Olympique Lyon were so dominant in France that there was little concept of a challenge to their authority. Qatar Sports Investment have since ensured that such imbalance is never likely to happen again – at least not away from Paris – but there is a measured assurance to the new-look outfit guided by club legend Juninho. His measured touch in the transfer market is almost as unerring as his laser-guided set pieces; allowing Nicholas Pépé, Ferland Mendy, Nabil Fekir and Tanguy Ndombélé to leave any club would have been seen as a sign of madness, and yet each vacated position has been filled without a great deal of disruption, not to mention the €100 million operating profit generated.
Far from becoming a selling club, Olympique Lyon have simply shown real confidence in their own judgment. Youssouf Koné is arguably one of the bargains of the summer transfer window after his €10 million love from Lille. More importantly, he represents an astute solution to help adapt to the deep pockets of Real Madrid. While Manchester United spent most of the summer haggling over Harry Maguire’s price tag with Leicester City, L’OL quietly snapped up one of Europe’s most gifted ball-playing physical centre-backs for almost a quarter of the price.
Gentle revolutions such as Olympique Lyon’s take years to bear full fruit. Even still, there will be expectations to fulfill before long, especially given the lack of real challenge for silverware in recent years. It has been over a decade since their last title triumph and three years since they finished in the top two. A couple of European semifinals in the last decade are meager returns in one sense when one considers the phenomenal array of talent nurtured at the club. To contemplate mirroring that achievement would take all of the self-confidence that the Brazilian dream team in charge possess.
Sergey Semak has been given a mild boost for his playing squad with the transfer window arrivals of Vyacheslav Karavaev and Yordon Osorio. While neither are starters, they do offer much-needed competition for places in defence. Branislav Ivanovic recently played his 100th match for the club but is not getting any younger; his lack of pace will eventually get exposed in the Champions League of his positioning and formation are not carefully managed. Malcom arrived as the joint-highest Russian transfer fee but has already been reduced to more time on the treatment table than the pitch.
One problem with Zenit is that they rarely make life easy for themselves. Last summer they were forced to pull off the most dramatic of second-leg recoveries to see off Dinamo Minsk, while their common catastrophic calamity is to collapse like an overcooked blancmange come springtime after usually confident group stages before winter. Nevertheless, a desperately needed return to the top table is finally here. Injuries are largely sparing them, almost all the deadwood has been moved on, even Yuriy Zhirkov has discovered a new lease of life further forward.
Olympique Lyon and RB Leipzig offer one of the more challenging groups around, so to progress to the knockout stages would represent an enormous success. Sardar Azmoun‘s temperamental strop at being substituted at the weekend will be a concern – his captain, Artem Dzyuba, had to literally heave the frustrated Iranian away from trouble – when cast in light of his strange impotence in front of goal so far this season. He practically carried an exhausted Dzyuba back to form last season, and his propensity to save his best for the biggest stages is no secret. There will be no room for passengers on this campaign though.
Olympique Lyon vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Players to watch
Joachim Andersen #3 – Olympique Lyon
A new arrival at Lyon this summer, Andersen has shone in Serie A over the last two seasons since his low-key move from his homeland. It is a shock to most that despite impressing consistently at club level with his dominant displays with the ball at his feet and in the air, he is yet to receive his full Denmark cap at the age of 23. The attacking talents that Lyon can boast are considerable, although it would be naive in the extreme to overlook the creative impetus that Andersen offers. Of all centre-backs in Ligue 1 this season to have played every minute, none have completed as many accurate long passes. Artem Dzyuba’s task will be considerable if he is to occupy the great Dane.
Magomed Ozdoev #27 – Zenit St. Petersburg
The return to form of Ozdoev has been such that he is comfortably the first choice to slot in alongside Wilmar Barrios, and is arguably even outperforming his big-money teammate. His arrival in St. Petersburg didn’t go smoothly at first as he struggled with fitness and chances to prove himself. Showing generous determination, he has driven any doubts over his level out of most people’s minds. Only three central midfielders in the Russian Premier League have registered more accurate long passes than him, and none who have also played at least eight league games. His job will be to help Barrios out when Zenit are inevitably under intense pressure, but without his distribution, there will be precious little his teammates up the pitch will be able to do.
Olympique Lyon vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Match Stats
- Olympique Lyon have faced Zenit once before, four years ago, losing both home and away with Artem Dzyuba scoring in France and in Russia
- During last season’s Champions League campaign Olympique Lyon drew 2-2 in all three of their home matches
- They have only won once in their last five meetings with Russian opposition
- Although this is Zenit’s 12th successive European campaign, it is their first in the Champions League for four seasons
- Zenit haven’t won any of their last nine away European matches (D2, L7)
- In six matches against other French sides away from home, Zenit have lost four (W1, D1)
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Olympique Lyon vs Zenit St. Petersburg: 2-1
Olympique Lyon vs Zenit St. Petersburg – Possible Lineups
Lopes – Dubois, Andersen, Denayer, Koné – Mendes, Tousart, Aouar – Memphis, Dembélé, Traoré
Zenit St. Petersburg
Lunev – Smolnikov, Ivanovic, Rakitskiy, Santos – Ozdoev, Kuzyaev, Barrios – Driussi, Dzyuba, Erokhin
Manager: Sergey Semak
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.