Olympique Lyonnais coach Claude Puel has warned his players to expect a backlash from FC Steaua Bucureşti following the French side's dramatic 5-3 win in Romania and Dorinel Munteanu's appointment by the visitors.
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Olympique Lyonnais coach Claude Puel has warned his players to expect a backlash from FC Steaua Bucureşti following the French side's dramatic 5-3 triumph in Romania.
Steaua surged into a two-goal lead a fortnight ago and were 3-2 ahead at the break before a stunning revival clinched Lyon's first UEFA Champions League victory in five attempts, propelling them to second place in Group F. The result left Steaua with one point from three games and prompted the resignation of their coach Marius Lăcătuş. Replacement Dorinel Munteanu enjoyed a promising start with a useful 1-1 draw at Liga 1 leaders FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti on Saturday.
While the stalemate extended Steaua's winless run to eight matches, Puel is wary that the Munteanu effect may be about to kick in – and he may also note that in 2006/07, Lyon won 3-0 in Steaua but only drew 1-1 at home. "The arrival of a new coach often brings freshness, with players starting from scratch and trying to impress," Puel said. "Steaua looked extremely determined and motivated against Dinamo and they should probably have won. We'll need to be careful. Just because we did something remarkable over there doesn't automatically mean we'll be superior at home."
Puel will be especially keen for his team to begin well after conceding early goals against both ACF Fiorentina and Steaua. He is considering a change from OL's traditional 4-3-3 formation. "It's possible to employ any system if you have the right players," mused the 47-year-old, who is still missing Sidney Govou, Mathieu Bodmer and François Clerc through respective ankle, groin and knee injuries. "We showed in the second half against Fiorentina and Steaua that [4-4-2] can work."
Given that Fred and Karim Benzema have scored six times in the last three meetings with Steaua, including the two group games in 2006/07, the temptation to accommodate the pair in a 4-4-2 is considerable. Benzema is in particularly fine form, having netted his eighth Ligue 1 goal of the campaign on Sunday as Lyon defeated Le Mans UC 72 2-0 to move four points clear at the top. Munteanu is only too aware of the France striker's ability, saying: "Benzema's one of the best players in the world. We've given a lot of thought to how to neutralise him, but if he's in top form I'm not sure how we will stop him."
Munteanu had a prestigious playing career, winning a Romanian record 134 caps, yet he admits to nerves ahead of his UEFA Champions League coaching debut. "It's normal to feel nervous, especially before a big European match," said the ex-Steaua midfielder, who was in charge of second-flight CFM Universaitatea Cluj before succeeding Lăcătuş. "I may not have much experience but we have a lot of experienced players and they're all ready to rise to the challenge."
Munteanu, who is without injured defender Petre Marin, watched the Matchday 3 encounter on television and, despite the scoreline, is certain that he saw chinks in Lyon's armour: "They're strong but they have weaknesses. I've watched the game again very carefully, especially the moments when Steaua were on top, and I've prepared my players extremely well."