Lyon struggling ahead of Champions League opener
After a poor start in the French league, Lyon is looking to get things going in the Champions league on Tuesday when the team hosts German club Schalke.
Lyon, which lost to Bayern Munich in last year's Champions League semifinals, has earned only five points from five games in the French league and is languishing in 16th place in the standings.
"To reach the knockout phase of the competition, we need a good start," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said after Saturday's disappointing 1-1 draw with Valenciennes. "It's more important to start with a good result in the Champions League than in the league, even if a win against Valenciennes would have boosted our morale."
Schalke got off to an even worse start than Lyon this season, losing all three games in the Bundesliga.
Lyon, the best French team over the last decade, is playing in the Champions League for the 11th consecutive season and has reached the knockout phase in each of the last seven seasons.
"I trust my staff and my players. I have an enormous trust in this group and our goals remain the same: to win the league and go as far as possible in the Champions League" Aulas said. "Don't count on me to turn my back on them. I'm the one who should be blamed."
Lyon thought the signing of France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff would help the team improve, but the former Bordeaux player didn't immediately live up to the high expectations raised by his pedigree.
Against Valenciennes, Gourcuff showed he could team up well with striker Lisandro Lopez, who won back a starting spot upfront, but the former AC Milan player is still lacking stamina.
"He needs more rhythm," Lyon coach Claude Puel said. "He's doing well, but he needs to improve physically."
Lyon's struggles also coincided with France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan problems. Toulalan, who recently returned to his favored position as a holding midfielder after being used in the back four, was suspended for a match from the France's national team for his role in the players' strike at the World Cup and he admitted he is struggling to recover from that trauma.
"It's more psychological than physical," Toulalan said.
Left back Aly Cissokho, the third Lyon player to injure a hamstring this season, is likely to be sidelined for the Schalke game despite his claims he is fit again.
"I feel good both mentally and physically," Cissokho said. "I'm ready to play. I want to show what I can do but I've been told I won't be part of the group. It's hard to understand, because I have the feeling I'm 100 percent right now."
Schalke goes to Lyon without defender Christoph Metzelder because of a groin injury and Atsuto Uchida, who has a broken toe.
"We should not get into a panic now," Schalke coach Felix Magath said. "It's a different competition and we have a good chance of doing something there."
Defender Nicolas Plestan, recently signed from Lille, has a bruised nose but will be available.
In Group B's other game, Benfica hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv, which won the Israeli title for the first time last season and is part of the six Champions League newcomers.
Portuguese champion Benfica has made its worst start ever in the domestic league, recording three defeats in four games. And returning to the Champions League for the first time in five years, the team will be without Argentine winger Eduardo Salvio and Brazilian forward Alan Kardec.