The Catalans are enjoying a successful campaign but cracks in their set-up have regularly been exposed this season and Les Gones – with the tools at their disposal – will be hoping to pull off an upset at the Groupama Stadium.
Following a narrow 1-0 home win over Real Valladolid, Ernesto Valverde would’ve wondered how his side failed to register more goals. It seemed like every member of the Catalans’ attack missed gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal. To the away side’s credit, they limited their illustrious hosts remarkably in the first half but came under increasing pressure in the second.
Barca peppered Valladolid’s goal with 20 attempts. Ousmane Dembele saw a couple of chances go begging while new signing Kevin-Prince Boateng managed to squander a glorious one-on-one opportunity to cap off another disappointing display. His eventual replacement, Luis Suarez, didn’t cover himself in glory either when he came off the bench and completely miscued an effort from close range.
Lionel Messi bagged the decisive goal from the spot and created several opportunities but even the great Argentine was out of sorts. When Philippe Coutinho won a second penalty later in the encounter, former Barca keeper Josip Masip was able to deny Messi. La Liga’s leading goal-scorer had enough chances to add to his tally but he struggled to find the target.
Messi had a total of 12 attempts on the night – the most by a player during a single game across Europe’s top five leagues this season. Valladolid didn’t boast the quality to punish the league leaders for failing to put the game to bed but Lyon certainly do. Barca’s inefficiency in front of goal against the White and Violets was inexplicable but they need to put it behind them in a hurry.
LYON LACK EXPERIENCE
Bruno Genesio’s Lyon outfit can be extremely dangerous and proved as much during their opening group game of this edition when they beat a high-flying Manchester City 2-1. With the likes of Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore and Moussa Dembele leading the line, they boast plenty of attacking potential even in the absence of the suspended Nabil Fekir.
However, they go into this encounter as underdogs and with good reason. Apart from their opening victory over Pep Guardiola’s side, they could only manage draws in their remaining five group games. Not only are Barcelona the stronger side on paper, they also have within their ranks enough experience to guide them into the next round.
Lyon are sorely lacking in that department. In fact, this is the first time in seven seasons that they’ve reached the knockout stages of the Champions League. Also, five of their last six last-16 ties have ended in defeat.
Samuel Umtiti has been included in the squad but barring an injury crisis in defence, it’s unlikely that the centre-back will be risked on his return to Lyon.
The France international is recovering from a long spell on the sidelines and hasn’t played a game since November. Though he’s been back in training this week, throwing him into a Champions League knockout game would be a questionable move from Valverde.
Maybe an emotional run-out in the final moments for the defender who came through the ranks at Lyon can’t be ruled out.
There’s more of a case for Carles Alena to be drafted into the line-up on the other hand. The 21-year-old impressed during the 75 minutes he spent on the pitch against Valladolid.
The Spaniard proved to be a creative force, making two key passes and completing three dribbles. He was outstanding in possession as well, second only to Gerard Pique (83) with 80 passes despite being substituted 15 minutes early while also completing 90 per cent of them.
With Arthur out injured while Coutinho and Arturo Vidal continue to disappoint, Valverde may be tempted to field the youngster.
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