Puel under pressure as Lyon travels to Tel Aviv
Lyon travels to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Champions League on Wednesday with coach Claude Puel under intense pressure after Saturday’s loss to Saint-Etienne plunged the seven-time former champion into the domestic relegation zone.
It’s an entirely different mood at Schalke, which approaches its Group B game at home to Benfica with renewed optimism after ending its losing run in the Bundesliga.
Puel has the backing of president Jean-Michel Aulas – for now – but there are reports that several players no longer want to play under him and another defeat will seriously weaken his position.
"I am still the right man for the job. I don’t ask myself any questions about resigning," Puel said.
Lyon is still without Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez, who has a thigh injury, so Bafetimbi Gomis is likely to start up front with star playmaker Yoann Gourcuff pushing forward to support him. Gourcuff has so far failed to shine since signing a deal that could rise to ?26.5 million ($22.5 million).
Puel will also be without holding midfielder Jean II Makoun and winger Cesar Delgado. With Brazilian defender Cris still out injured, Pape Diakhate and Dejan Lovren is likely to continue at center half.
"We’ve had no luck since the start of the season," Lyon midfielder Jeremy Toulalan said. "We just have to keep going, it’s only through perseverance that we’ll get there. We have to keep working hard."
Like Lyon, Hapoel Tel Aviv has experienced a difficult start to its domestic league season, winning only one of its first four games, and lost its Champions League opener 2-0 against Benfica.
On Saturday, the Israeli domestic champion was defeated for the second time this term, losing 4-2 at home to newly promoted Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.
However, there is still a degree of optimism in the Tel Aviv camp ahead of its home debut in the Champions League. Wednesday’s match will be the first time a Champions League group stage game has been played at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel coach Eli Guttman is expected to make one significant change to the starting lineup, with experienced Israel international Walid Badir getting the nod over disappointing South African center back Bevan Fransman.
Lyon beat Schalke 1-0 in its first Group B game, but since then Felix Magath’s side has posted its first Bundesliga victory of the season at Freiburg after four straight losses and followed that by recovering from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.
That game featured goals by big-name acquisitions Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul, who scored for the first time in seven Bundesliga and Champions League matches.
"I am really happy about finally scoring, but it’s too bad that we didn’t win the game," Raul said. "But as a team, we played a strong second half and can build upon that."
With Raul off the mark and Huntelaar having collected three goals and an assist in his last three domestic games, Magath does not really need to worry about the attack too much, but the defense is another story.
With Benedikt Hoewedes suspended for the Benfica encounter after his red card against Lyon, Magath had been expected to pair Christoph Metzelder and Nicolas Plestan in central defense.
But Plestan has struggled in the league, getting sent off against Dortmund and then being subbed at halftime against Gladbach.
"We still have to keep working," Magath said about Plestan’s chances of playing against Benfica.
Like Schalke, reigning Portuguese champion Benfica has regained its form domestically, and beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-0 to begin its Champions League campaign.
Jorge Jesus’ Benfica is fifth in the Liga Sagres with nine points from six rounds. The team has won three of its last four league games including the 1-0 win at Maritimo Funchal.
Despite the improvement in results, Jesus was not totally satisfied with the performance against Maritimo.
"We missed too many chances. That cannot happen against Schalke," the coach said.
Jesus hopes Oscar Cardozo can continue his fine recent form. He went scoreless in three of the first four games of the season – all losses – but scored once against Hapoel and twice in the next match, a 2-0 home win over Sporting Lisbon.
Playmaker Pablo Aimar has been struggling with a knee problem. Should Aimar fail a fitness test, Jesus is likely to replace him with Nicolas Gaitan.
Even though Benfica has twice been European champion in 1961 and 1962, the Portuguese side has never won in Germany in 17 attempts, with six draws and 11 losses.
Most recently, Benfica drew 1-1 at Hertha Berlin in last season’s Europa League round of 32 on its way to the quarterfinals.