Lyon, Marseille and Nice return to UEFA Europa League duties on Thursday, playing their round of 32 first-leg fixtures at home to Villarreal, Braga and Lokomotiv Moscow respectively.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

UEFA Europa League, Round of 32

Groupama Stadium, Lyon

  Olympique Lyonnais – Villarreal CF 

>> Live scoring from 21:05 CET

Lyon’s excellent first half of the season has come off the rails somewhat in recent weeks – their three-match skid in Ligue 1 Conforama has seen them drop from second to fourth – and coach Bruno Genesio is tipped to make some changes as OL play host to Spanish side Villarreal on Thursday.

“You can’t have a good performance without rigour and effective defending. I think that’s what we lost sight of over our last few matches,” said Genesio, whose side claimed a sensational win over Ligue 1 Conforama leaders Paris Saint-Germain before defeats to Bordeaux, Monaco and Rennes. “All the players – and I mean all – have to be able to track back and defend. When one player stops doing that, we’re in big trouble. Fixing that problem was what got us out of a slump earlier in the season.”

Motivated

With this season’s UEFA Europa League final to be played at their Groupama Stadium, Lyon will be going all-out to make it all the way, but Genesio could ring the changes in a bid for freshness against The Yellow Submarine. All-action midfielder Tanguy Ndombele should get a rest, with teenage sensation Houssem Aouar slotting in alongside fellow OL Academy product Lucas Tousart in defensive midfield with Memphis Depay a chance to start on the left of attack.

Probable teams

Olympique Lyonnais: A. Lopes; Rafael, Marcelo, M. Diakhaby, Marçal; Tousart, Aouar; B. Traoré, Fékir (c), Depay; Mariano Diaz

Villarreal CF: Asenjo; M. Gaspar (c), Alvaro, Victor Ruiz, J. Costa; Rodri; Trigueros, Castillejo; Fornals; Bacca, Unal

Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

  Olympique de Marseille – SC Braga 

>> Live scoring from 21:05 CET

Marseille have been the from side in Ligue 1 Conforama in 2018 but losing ‘keeper Steve Mandanda to injury in the 2-2 draw with Saint-Etienne has left coach Rudi Garcia with no choice but to start Yohann Pelé – who struggled after replacing Mandanda in that match – as Portuguese side SC Braga come calling.

‘King of clean sheets’

“We have an excellent ‘keeper who will play for the next few weeks, we are sure of that,” Garcia said of the 35-year-old former Sochaux glovesman, who played the entirety of last season for OM, as he steps up to first-choice status with Mandanda out for two to three weeks with a thigh injury. “He’s an experienced lad, capable of analysing his own performances. He is the king of clean sheets and let’s hope he continue to be so!”

Other than this change between the sticks, Garcia is tipped to field a largely full-strength line-up but could hand starts to cup stopper Aymen Abdennour and emerging full-backs Bouna Sarr and Jordan Amavi. Dimitri Payet should assume playmaking duties between Lucas Ocampos and the red-hot Florian Thauvin in a 4-2-3-1 formation where Valère Germain assumes lone striker roles in the injury absence of Kostas Mitroglou.

Probable teams

Olympique de Marseille: Y. Pelé; B. Sarr, Rami, Abdennour, Amavi; M. Sanson, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Payet (c), Ocampos; Germain.

SC Braga: Matheus; D. Figueiras, Rosic, Viana, Sequeira; Esgaio, D. Barbosa, Vukcevic (c), J-C. Teixeira; D. Sousa, J. Paulinho

Allianz Riviera, Nice

  OGC Nice – FC Lokomotiv Moscow 

>> Live scoring from 21:05 CET

Like Lyon, OGC Nice find themselves coming off three Ligue 1 Conforama defeats in a row, and Lucien Favre’s men have a stiff test on their hands as Russian league leaders Lokomotiv Moscow head to the Côte d’Azur.

Nice have been hit by injuries of late – mainly in defence, with Christophe Jallet, Arnaud Souquet and Maxime Le Marchand all absent – but the good news for Favre is the return to fitness of uber-talented midfielder Wylan Cyprien, who should slot into a three-man midfield alongside Jean Michael Seri and Pierre Lees-Melou.

Up front, Favre also has Allan Saint-Maximin back to fitness and likely to make up the three-man front line with Mario Balotelli and Alassane Pléa.

Probable teams

OGC Nice: Benitez; Burner, Dante (c), M. Sarr, Coly; Lees-Melou, Cyprien, Seri; Saint-Maximin, Balotelli, Pléa

FC Lokomotiv Moscow: Guilherme; Ignatev, Pejcinovic, Kvirkvelia, V. Denisov; I. Denisov (c), An. Miranchuk; Al. Miranchuk, Farfan, Manuel Fernandes; Eder

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