Coach Alain Perrin is urging his Olympique Lyonnais side to forget their domestic troubles and rise to the "formidable challenge" of facing Manchester United FC.
Article top media content
Olympique Lyonnais coach Alain Perrin is urging his players to put their domestic troubles behind them and rise to the "formidable challenge" of playing Manchester United FC in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round.
The two sides experienced vastly contrasting fortunes at the weekend, with the English champions winning 4-0 against Arsenal FC in the FA Cup fifth round and Lyon slumping to a sixth league defeat at Le Mans UC 72. The French title-holders stay top, although Saturday's result allowed FC Girondins de Bordeaux to cut their lead to one point and prompted strong words from club president Jean-Michel Aulas. Perrin acknowledges that Lyon must improve but denies that the criticism has placed his players under increased pressure. "We're under pressure because we're playing quality opponents, not because we lost our last match," he said. "Everybody at the club wants us to reach the quarter-finals and this is an ideal opportunity to produce a positive reaction."
United, however, boast a fine record on French soil having lost just twice in ten visits and having drawn 2-2 at Stade de Gerland three years ago, leaving Perrin under no illusions as to the size of the task. "They're one of the best teams in Europe," the former Portsmouth FC manager said. "They like to control proceedings and dominate their opponents. It'll be up to us to try to unsettle them from the start."
Ligue 1's 16-goal top scorer Karim Benzema will be looking to unnerve United's rearguard, although Perrin stresses that Lyon's ability to remain solid at the back will be equally important. "We need to be vigilant," the 51-year-old warned. "A goalless draw would not be a bad result." Captain Cris is in the squad for the first time since tearing knee ligaments in August, but is not yet match fit, and with centre-backs Anderson and Patrick Müller injured, Jean-Alain Boumsong partners Sébastien Squillaci in the heart of Lyon's defence.
The toughest decisions facing United manager Sir Alex Ferguson concern which players to leave out. Gary Neville is still sidelined, but Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez are all pushing for returns having been rested against Arsenal. The Scot has hinted at starting roles for Scholes and Giggs, with the latter poised to join an élite band of seven other players who have appeared in 100 UEFA Champions League matches. "Only a few players reach that milestone," Ferguson said. "Ryan has been an absolute model during his time with us. Ambitious players always want to play in the biggest competitions and he has often saved his best performances for the big occasions."
United will be hoping for another vintage display from the 34-year-old Welshman against a Lyon side Sir Alex refuses to take lightly. "I saw parts of their game with Le Mans and I know it was a disappointing result for them," he said. "This is a big match and a difficult match for both teams. There will be a good atmosphere, the pitch is good and I think it will be a really good match."