Ajax travel to Lyon for their UEFA Europa League semi-final decider holding a 4-1 lead. A formality? Anything but, says UEFA.com reporter Derek Brookman, after watching the sides' meeting in Amsterdam.
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With a three-goal cushion from the semi-final first leg, the odds of reaching the final seem to be stacked in Ajax's favour, but there could still be reasons for optimism in the Lyon camp.
First, the bad news for the Ligue 1 team: Ajax have had the most attempts on goal and shots on target of any side in this season's UEFA Europa League. In their 13 matches so far they have scored in 12; the 0-0 at Legia Warszawa was the only time they drew a blank. Striker Bertrand Traoré, who bagged two and set up another in Amsterdam despite not being 100% fit, will probably be even sharper come Thursday. And first-choice defenders Nick Viergever and Joël Veltman will be available after suspension.
Solid start in Amsterdam
All that being said, it's certainly not a lost cause that Bruno Génésio’s men will be chasing at the Stade de Lyon. For a start, they were not outplayed for 90 minutes last Wednesday. Their game plan at the Amsterdam ArenA initially appeared sound. They were closing down spaces, disrupting Ajax's passing routines and working the ball forward with purpose. In fact, if Andre Onana had not somewhat fortuitously blocked Maxwel Cornet's effort with the contest still scoreless, the evening might have taken a completely different trajectory.
The Alexandre Lacazette factor
Another plus is that the prolific Alexandre Lacazette should be fit enough to start, which would give Les Gones a major boost. The 25-year-old has been involved in 35 of the 71 goals that OL have scored with him on the pitch this term, netting 31 himself and providing four assists. His link play with Corentin Tolisso is particularly crucial to Lyon's success. If these two gifted Frenchmen can weave their magic then Onana and his defence will have to be in absolutely top form to keep them out.
Patience is the key
Lyon can also take comfort from the fact Ajax completely outclassed Schalke in the quarter-final first leg, yet then struggled to establish their normal fluency during the Gelsenkirchen return. At one point, the 33-time Dutch champions were trailing 3-0 – exactly the scoreline that would take Lyon to Stockholm. Above all, the French side will need to be patient. Overcommitting to attack, or taking too many risks in trying to force an early opener, will leave them vulnerable to counters. A goal every half an hour would be fine – assuming they can keep a clean sheet.
One thing is certain: if the second leg is anywhere near as exciting as the first in Amsterdam, we are in for a treat. As Ajax trainer Peter Bosz commented last week, it could conceivably have finished 9-4 or even 12-6. Seldom will you see a match at this stage of a European competition with so many chances at both ends. And now, with Lyon having to score at least three to progress, and Ajax always capable of banging in one or two themselves, another spectacle is on the cards.