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Despite his team's impressive away form in Ligue 1, Olympique Lyonnais coach Paul Le Guen believes Tuesday's UEFA Champions League game at AC Sparta Praha will be anything but a formality.
The French champions have won three matches and drawn one on the road this season, and Le Guen will hope for more of the same in European competition. Lyon go into their second Group D game on the back of a home stalemate with AS Monaco FC on Saturday, which leaves them one point behind the principality club in third place.
That result continued the Stade Gerland side's unbeaten start to the campaign which includes a 2-2 home draw against Manchester United FC on Matchday 1 - although Le Guen might consider that a missed opportunity after losing a two-goal lead. However, the coach is wary of a Sparta team he believes deserved more than a 1-0 reverse in their group opener at Fenerbahçe SK. "Sparta were definitely better there," Le Guen said. "They controlled the game but weren't as productive in front of goal as they've been in the league."
Le Guen's counterpart, František Straka, hopes a morale-boosting result will raise his players following the disappointment of defeat in Istanbul. "I'm hoping we can pick up our first points, which would lift the team's spirits," he said. "It would also be good to score our first goal." But the Sparta coach is under no illusions about the calibre of the opposition at the Letná stadium. "Lyon are very flexible," he said. "Their biggest strength is in midfield, but the attack also poses a threat - particularly the French international [Sylvain] Wiltord."
'Using the flanks'
Notwithstanding the quality within the Lyon ranks, Straka is confident that Sparta can win if they play to their own strengths. "We want to win so we'll have two up front and try to force our style of play on them - putting them under pressure and using the flanks, where I see our best chance of breaking them down," he said.
The return to action of Karel Poborský is a major boost after the Sparta captain missed the Fenerbahçe match with a back injury. The right-sided midfielder was in sublime form on Friday night when he inspired Sparta to a 4-2 win against FK Marila Príbram. The 32-year-old scored one and was involved in all three other goals, as Sparta continued their unbeaten opening to the domestic season and moved four points clear at the top of the Czech league.
However, Le Guen dismisses suggestions that Tuesday's opponents are a one-man band. "
Sparta have certainly improved in the last few games, but that's not just because of Poborský coming back," he said. "Everything usually centres around him but they are capable of playing more as a team unit and we must be alert."
Lyon's caution entering Matchday 2 is no doubt informed by their only previous appearance in the Czech Republic, in the fourth round of the 2001/02 UEFA Cup. On that occasion they fell to a 4-1 defeat by FC Slovan Liberec and were eliminated from the competition, but goalkeeper Grégory Coupet said Lyon would not be haunted by the loss. "It was a totally different situation," he stressed. "We're a much better team now."
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