Lyon Lacazette Henrique pre-season celebration
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Lyon look to old head Lacazette for fresh start

Lyon look to old head Lacazette for fresh start

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Publish on 08/03 at 19:28 - A. SCOTT

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Olympique Lyonnais have the same coach on the bench and have brought back two familiar old faces, but the seven-time champions are hoping for a fresh start in this Ligue 1 Uber Eats season, which kicks off when AC Ajaccio visit the Groupama Stadium on Friday.

Olympique Lyonnais – AC Ajaccio Friday at 21:00 CET (1900 GMT)

>> LIVE SCORING, STATS AND COMMENTARY

Lyon come into this campaign desperate to challenge at the top of the table once again after a deeply disappointing eighth-place finish last season saw them miss out on European qualification. That is not good enough for a club of OL’s stature and means, and it was Lyon’s lowest league finish in a quarter of a century.

Such a poor showing piled the pressure on coach Peter Bosz, but the Dutchman has retained his job, with president Jean-Michel Aulas perhaps hoping the lack of European distractions will focus minds for a push for a top-three finish and Champions League qualification.

To improve their chances Lyon have welcomed back two players who came through the ranks at the club before being sold on for big money. Alexandre Lacazette has returned to the banks of the Rhône as a free agent, five years after being sold to Arsenal for more than €50 million. World Cup-winning midfielder Corentin Tolisso has also returned on a free from Bayern Munich, having gone to Bavaria in 2017 for a fee of over €40 million.

OL have also recruited Argentine international left-back Nicolás Tagliafico from Ajax and youngster Johann Lepenant from SM Caen to boost their midfield options. With Brazilian winger Tetê rejoining on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, Bosz has no shortage of options, even if the likes of Jason Denayer and Léo Dubois have moved on. The coach has confirmed that Lacazette will wear the captain’s armband.

Captain's armband

“He has come in from a big club in a massive league and that will help us. It gives us a lot more experience and that is why he will be the captain this season. He will help the young players with the five years’ experience he has of playing abroad,” said Bosz this week.

“We waited until the end of pre-season to choose our captain. We have gone with Alexandre Lacazette because of his experience. He is not afraid to speak his mind. He is a natural leader. That is why we have chosen him.”

Lacazette, who scored in the last two pre-season outings away to Feyenoord and against Inter Milan in Italy, struggled for goals in his last season in the English Premier League but he says he is targeting matching his tally from his last campaign in Ligue 1, in 2016-17.

“I am here to help the team win and take us back into Europe next season. Good individual performances will help but if I don’t score and the team qualifies for the Champions League that will do fine. You need to be ambitious and have objectives, so I am targeting scoring 28 goals this season,” said the 31-year-old, who won the last of his 16 caps for France in November 2017.

Ajaccio add experience

Lyon – who have seen American businessman John Textor arrive in a deal to become the future owner, taking over from Jean-Michel Aulas - have had mixed results in pre-season, notably losing heavily away to Anderlecht in Belgium and to Willem II in the Netherlands, but they are hoping to take advantage of a favourable run of fixtures to start the league campaign strongly.

August will see Bosz’s side take on FC Lorient, ESTAC Troyes, Stade de Reims and AJ Auxerre, but first up is a newly-promoted Ajaccio side, with the Corsicans returning to the top flight for the first time since 2014 after coming a surprise second in Ligue 2 last season.

Ajaccio, under veteran coach Olivier Pantaloni, come into their opening game with the pressure very much off. However, they have added a couple of players with vast experience of Ligue 1 in midfielder Thomas Mangani and forward Romain Hamouma, both aged 35. Mangani has signed a two-year deal after leaving Angers SCO, while Hamouma has penned a contract for one season after departing AS Saint-Etienne following their relegation.

Maxence Caqueret, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde and Romain Faivre are all on the sidelines for Lyon, but Bosz said he was hopeful Tolisso would be fit to feature having returned to full training with the rest of the squad last week.

Possible teams

Lyon: Lopes; Malo Gusto, Thiago Mendes, Lukeba, Tagliafico; Aouar, Paqueta, Lepenant; Tête, Lacazette (c), Toko-Ekambi.

Ajaccio: Leroy; Alphonse, Gonzalez, Vidal, Diallo; Bayala, Mangani, Marchetti, Spadanuda; Hamouma, Courtet (c)

>> FOCUS: Balogun, Cherki and this season's potential breakout stars

* Headline picture courtesy of OL.fr