Lyon looking to shake off Champions League troubles
LYON, France (AP) Returning to the Champions League after a three-year hiatus was expected to be a challenge for Lyon. Yet things weren't expected to go this badly for the seven-time French champions.
With just one point from three matches, Lyon is last in Group H going into Wednesday night's home game against leader Zenit St. Petersburg at the Stade Gerland. Hubert Fournier's side will be eliminated if it can't beat the Russian side and Valencia wins against Gent in the group's other match.
Following a superb season marked by Alexandre Lacazette's emergence as a top striker, Lyon has been struggling this term. The players hired during the summer have yet to gel with the rest of the squad, Lacazette is going through a confidence crisis and Fournier has been dealing with a spate of injuries. As a result, Lyon is lagging 10 points behind Paris Saint-Germain in the league with its future on the European stage in tatters.
Here are some things to know about Wednesday's matches:
MISFIRING ZENIT ON GOOD RUN IN EUROPE
With just two wins from its last eight domestic league games, Zenit's chances of retaining the Russian title are slipping away. But the side has a knack of hitting good form at just the right time in Europe.
Top of Group H with three wins from three games, Zenit will advance to the knockout stages with another victory against Lyon on Wednesday. Even a draw would be enough if Valencia beats Gent in the other fixture.
Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas was left frustrated on Saturday after his team wasted a series of good chances in a 0-0 draw with lowly Mordovia Saransk.
''I feel a little bit sorry because of our lack of efficiency in front of goal,'' the Portuguese coach said.
INJURIES GALORE FOR GENT
Even after Ghent moved to the top of the Belgian league with a 2-0 win at OH Leuven over the weekend, there are few smiles going into Wednesday's Champions League clash against Valencia because of a slew of injuries.
Belgian international Laurent Depoitre has been undergoing scans on the ankle he twisted during the game and is still uncertain for Wednesday's home game. And so are regular starters Danijel Milicevic and Brecht Dejaegere, leaving coach Hein Vanhaezebroeck with a headache trying to assemble his starting 11.
The Belgian side still has a realistic chance of moving into the Europa League by finishing third in the group and is counting for at least a draw on Wednesday.
''We need to learn to kill off a game,'' Vanhaezebroeck said. ''If we want to reap in the Champions League, we should not squander opportunities.''
RELYING ON STATS
Although its immediate future in the competition looks bleak, Lyon can take comfort in the Champions League's statistics.
Since the introduction of the current format in 2003-04, nine teams have managed to reach the knockout round despite not winning any of their first three games. Like Lyon, six of those had just one point halfway through the group stage. Two teams even managed to win their group after picking just one point in their first three games: Panathinaikos (2008-09) and Arsenal (2003-2004).
Valencia, which needs a win to qualify for the next round, has been studying match statistics too.
The club says it has concluded - after analysis - that the players to mark are midfielder Sven Kums and Belgium striker Laurent Depoitre.
According to Valencia, Kums has participated in 45 percent of Ghent's goals, with Depoitre just four points behind. Valencia is confident that its good score-rate in the European competition will hold, having scored against all its last 16 opponents, except Chelsea.
Valencia has won three and drawn one of its four matches against Ghent. It is coming off a 3-0 victory over Levante in the Spanish league, where it is seventh in the standings.
BEDIMO BACK WITH LYON
While midfielder Nabil Fekir is still deeply missed with a knee injury, Lyon left-back Henri Bedimo returned to action over the weekend after a month-long layoff and could be given a start in place of Jeremy Morel. Lacazette picked up a slight ankle injury but is expected to be fit.