Olympique Lyonnais coach Gérard Houllier is calling on his younger players to "show their great potential" against Rosenborg BK.
With Lyon assured of top spot in UEFA Champions League Group F following the draw with Real Madrid CF a fortnight ago, Houllier is set to rest several first-team regulars ahead of Saturday's derby at AS Saint-Etienne. Midfield pair Juninho Pernambucano and Florent Malouda both have minor injuries and will not feature, while Tiago, Claudio Caçapa and Grégory Coupet are given breaks.
Among the youngsters poised to start are midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, 18, and striker Karim Benzema, 17. Both have impressed for France at youth level, and Houllier, who was reluctant to send them on loan last summer, is expecting great things. "They're very talented and I want them to continue their development here," he said. "This is an opportunity for them to show off their great potential, and to prove to me that I've been wrong by not playing them every week."
'Entertain the fans'
A youthful Lyon side demolished AC Sparta Praha 5-0 at the same stage last season, and Houllier is hoping for a similar scenario. "The stadium will be full," he said. "My players have a responsibility to play good football, to entertain the fans and to get a result. It could be the first time the club have finished the group stage unbeaten."
A positive result would also extend Lyon's unbeaten record to 25 matches in all competitions. They continued their march towards a fifth consecutive French title on Saturday by beating Paris Saint-Germain FC 2-0, but Houllier is calling for focus. "In the Champions League you always have to raise your level," he warned. "This match may be sandwiched by two big league games, but right now all that matters is Rosenborg."
'A big future'
The former France boss will give his team an experienced spine by including Brazilian international Cris, Norway's John Carew and veteran Frenchman Sylvain Wiltord. Carew, who has four UEFA Champions League goals this term, is looking forward to playing with the youngsters. "They've really impressed me in training," said the ex-Rosenborg striker. "They have a big future and I'll do my best to help them."
UEFA Cup preparations
Rosenborg coach Per-Mathias Høgmo will pick his strongest available XI as they begin preparations for a UEFA Cup campaign having secured third spot in the section. "It's important to give a good account of ourselves and to gain confidence playing at this level," Høgmo said.
Rosenborg, however, are lacking match practice after playing just two games since the Norwegian season finished in October. To make matters worse, they take on Lyon without injured midfield trio Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Jan Gunnar Solli and Ørjan Berg. Høgmo is keeping his expectations realistic. "We've had a long break but my players are ready," he said. "Our aim will be to create five or six chances and to try to score at least one goal against a very solid Lyon side."
'A positive note'
Happily for the visitors, experienced captain Roar Strand has recovered from a thigh strain. The 35-year-old, who played 51 consecutive UEFA Champions League matches for Rosenborg between 1995 and 2002, could be appearing in the competition for the last time. "I have one more year on my contract and Rosenborg haven't qualified for next season," the midfielder explained. "This will probably be my last game and I hope to finish on a positive note."