OM, OL look to bounce back, fly the flag for France
In the wake of PSG's unceremonious European exit, Marseille and Lyon will be out to do France proud - and correct some wayward league form - against Athletic Bilbao and CSKA Moscow respectively in the round of 16.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
UEFA Europa League, Round of 16 1st leg
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Olympique de Marseille - Athletic Bilbao
With Paris Saint-Germain now off the European stage for the season, Marseille have a chance to shine where their arch-rivals failed to do so, and coach Rudi Garcia is looking make the most of their opportunity.
"We know that Europe is important for OM," explained Garcia, doubtless keenly aware of how a strong European run could validate owner Franck McCourt's ambitious OM Champions project and attract fresh talent come the next transfer window. "We're just focusing on ourselves, on Olympique de Marseille, which is a club that should figure in Europe every season, and in the biggest of the cup competitions as soon as possible I hope."
Full steam ahead
To do all that, OM will have to get past Spanish side Athletic Bilbao, and Garcia is tipped to go with a near-full strength line-up for the occasion. The only notable change should be youngster Maxime Lopez slotting in alongside Luiz Gustavo - as he often does in the Europa League - at the expense of Frank Zambo Anguissa.
Captain Dimitri Payet should assume his customary playmaking role behind striker Valère Germain and flanked by red-hot winger Florian Thauvin and the lightning-fast Lucas Ocampos. Meanwhile, Athletic will be without the services of winter signing Inigo Martinez, the Spain defender ineligible after turning out for Real Sociedad in the competition earlier on in the season.
Olympique de Marseille: Mandanda; Sakai, Rami, Rolando, Amavi; M. Lopez, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Payet (c), Ocampos; Germain
Athletic Bilbao: Herrerin; De Marcos, Etxeita, Y. Alvarez, Saborit; San José, Benat; Susaeta (c), Raul Garcia, Cordoba; Aduriz
VEB Arena, Moscow
CSKA Moscow - Olympique Lyonnais
Like OM, Olympique Lyonnais have been struggling for results of late, and like OM, Lyon have their hearts set on going all the way to the UEFA Europa League final - which will be played at their Groupama Stadium.
However, unlike OM, Lyon have their talismanic captain and playmaker - Nabil Fekir - out of action with a knee injury sustained in the 1-1 Rhône derby draw with Saint-Etienne in Week 27.
The uber-talented France international's absence will be felt - as it was in the 1-1 draw with Montpellier in Week 28 - but coach Bruno Genesio has a stacked squad. The OL boss is tipped to field a dangerous attacking line-up with Bertrand Traoré, Mariano Diaz and Memphis Depay as a front three ahead of a well balanced midfield trio of Lucas Tousart, Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar.
Meanwhile, CSKA have their share of absences to deal with - notably defenders Viktor Vasin, Mario Fernandes and Vasili Berezutski - but will have danger man Alan Dzagoev raring to go after scoring the goal that got the club through the round of 32.
CSKA Moscow: Akinfeev (c); A. Berezutski, Ignashevich, Wernbloom; Nababkin, Natcho, Kuchaev; Golovin, Dzagoev; Musa, Vitinho
Olympique Lyonnais: A. Lopes (c); Tete, Marcelo, Morel, F. Mendy; Tousart, Ndombele, Aouar; B. Traoré, Mariano, Depay