Juninho believes Islam Slimani is just what Olympique Lyonnais needed as they look to stay ahead in the title race in the second half of the season, starting at home to FC Metz on Sunday.
Olympique Lyonnais - FC Metz Sunday at 21:00 CET (2000 GMT)
Slimani, 32, has signed for Lyon on an 18-month contract after being released from the remainder of his deal at Leicester City and is the attacking reinforcement OL had sought after Moussa Dembélé departed to join Atlético Madrid on loan.
The form of Memphis Depay, Karl Toko-Ekambi and Tino Kadewere restricted the regularly off-colour Dembélé’s contribution but Slimani offers something new and different to the first-choice trio, not to mention his recent track record in Ligue 1. While the Algerian international only appeared once this season for Leicester, he impressed on loan last season at AS Monaco, with nine goals and seven assists in 18 league appearances.
“We have spoken with Islam a lot since the beginning of the season. He is someone we admire a lot, for his commitment and his talent. He has a formidable mindset and lots of experience to bring to our young squad,” said Juninho, Lyon’s sporting director.
Watch: Depay rescues OL at Rennes
“He is a goal-scorer and he will also have an impact at set-pieces. I liked how keen he was to join us. He is lacking a bit of rhythm but he has good physique and he won’t need long to get in shape. I am convinced he’ll be a success for us.”
Autumn champions unbeaten in 16...
It remains to be seen what kind of role Slimani will have to play in Lyon’s upcoming matches as Rudi Garcia’s side defend the narrow, one-point lead over nearest rivals Paris Saint-Germain and LOSC that allowed them to take the symbolic title of autumn champions.
Lyon welcome Metz to the Groupama Stadium on an unbeaten run of 16 games, their longest streak without losing in Ligue 1 since 2005. That is after they battled back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Stade Rennais FC last time out. They have won 10 of their last 13 matches and have triumphed in their last eight league meetings with Metz, including a 3-1 victory in the reverse fixture at the Stade Saint-Symphorien in early December.
Watch: Metz draw with Nice
Guimarães back, Metz with pressure off
Not that Metz are having a bad season. Far from it. Les Grenats are safely in mid-table having lost just one of their last six outings, although they needed a messy, late John Boye equaliser to draw 1-1 with OGC Nice last weekend. They have won only twice in their last 10 matches but they head to the banks of the Rhône with the pressure off.
Snow in eastern France has not helped Frédéric Antonetti’s team in their preparations for this game as they continue to search for a goal-scoring threat to replace Ibrahima Niane, their six-goal top scorer out long-term with a knee injury. Lyon were this week boosted by the sight of midfielder Bruno Guimarães returning to the training ground - the Brazilian was forced to stay in his home country and observe a period of isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 just before his scheduled return to France at the end of a short Christmas break. Léo Dubois will hope to return to the OL line-up having been left on the bench in Rennes following his withdrawal in the previous game, the 3-2 home win over RC Lens.
Lyon: Lopes; De Sciglio (or Dubois), Marcelo, Denayer, Cornet; Paqueta, Mendes, Aouar; Kadewere, Depay (c), Toko-Ekambi
Metz: Oukidja; Centonze, Boye, Bronn, Kouyaté, Delaine; Maïga, Angban; Gueye, Maziz, Leya-Iseka