Despite struggling with injuries and domestic form, Olympique Lyonnais coach Claude Puel says the UEFA Champions League will bring out the best in his team as they play FC Bayern München for top spot in Group F.
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Olympique Lyonnais will be without several key players for the visit of FC Bayern München and are also experiencing a poor run of domestic form, yet their coach Claude Puel is convinced a return to UEFA Champions League action will stir his charges as the two Group F pacesetters vie for top spot.
Safely through to the last 16 along with Bayern, Lyon's excellent European showing has not been matched on the home front recently with three defeats in their last five outings, including Saturday's 2-1 reverse at lowly FC Nantes Atlantique. To compound matters, Cris and Juninho Pernambucano are suspended for the section decider, while injuries to François Clerc, Anthony Réveillère, John Mensah and Mathieu Bodmer have struck the defence. Indeed, if Mensah fails to return from a calf injury, Puel admits he will need to "innovate a little" in picking his back line.
Forward Karim Benzema is fit, however, and Puel has total faith in those available. "I'm not sure you can say it'll be a weakened side," the 47-year-old argued. "We'll have some new faces and maybe we'll play slightly differently but it'll be a good, competitive team." Lyon's ability to raise their standard in the big matches has been a feature of their campaign, and Puel added: "My players are always ready to perform in the Champions League. We're capable of switching from one competition to another and I know they'll deliver. Bayern will be strong but so will we."
Both clubs are unbeaten with eleven points from five Matchdays, although the French double-winners have a slender advantage courtesy of their goal in the 1-1 stalemate in Munich. A score draw or an away win would see the visitors leapfrog their opponents, thus securing what coach Jürgen Klinsmann sees as "an important advantage". The former Germany trainer explained: "The statistics prove it's better to win the group so that's our objective. We want to give ourselves the best opportunity in the next round, which is why the best players will play and play with complete focus."
Despite injuries to Lucio, Zé Roberto, Lukas Podolski and Christian Lell, the four-time European champions are high on confidence thanks to an unbeaten run that was extended to 14 games with the 2-1 triumph over Bundesliga leaders TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Friday. Bayern's upturn has coincided with Franck Ribéry's return to fitness, and Klinsmann hopes for another virtuoso display from the winger in his homeland. "It's no coincidence that our results have improved dramatically since Franck has come back," said the former Bayern striker. "He's very important because he has an infectious personality and his hunger rubs off on everyone."
Klinsmann is another restored to familiar surroundings having played for AS Monaco FC in the early 1990s, in the same side as former midfielder Puel. "I'm delighted to be back in France and taking on Claude's team," the 44-year-old said. "I played with him for two years under Arsène Wenger. I remember a very hard-working, ambitious player, and I'm not surprised to see him doing well."