Lyons are on song for Europe bid

Lopez has given French club flying start to season despite loss of star players

Competing in the Champions League for a 10th consecutive season, Lyons are hoping to maintain their excellent start to the season when they open their campaign against Fiorentina tonight in the same group as Liverpool, who host Hungary's Debrecen.

Lyons, who routed Anderlecht 8-2 on aggregate to qualify for the group stage, are hosting the Italian team at Stade Gerland for the second consecutive year. After falling two goals behind at home last season, the French club finally secured a 2-2 draw thanks to strikes from Frédéric Piquionne and Karim Benzema, who left the club during the summer – for Portsmouth and Real Madrid respectively – along with their set-piece expert Juninho.

Those departures were expected to derail the club's ambitions but Lyons coach, Claude Puel, cleverly reshuffled his team by signing the Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez from Porto and France forward Bafétimbi Gomis from rivals St Etienne, while recruiting the Lille midfielder Michel Bastos.

The three quickly adapted and are now considered as unquestionable starters in a team unbeaten in seven games so far this season. The powerful Lopez has already scored six times while Bastos has three goals in seven games. The Brazilian's late header gave Lyons a 1-0 win over Lorient last weekend.

"For some [players], last season was about learning," said Puel, who was criticised for his defensive style of play after the club missed out on an eighth consecutive French League title. "Today, we have become more fluid and our offensive potential is better."

Following the disappointment of their Champions League elimination to Barcelona in the first knockout round last season, Lyons failed to recover and were dethroned by Bordeaux in France, prompting the club president, Jean-Michel Aulas, to say that the League would be his team's priority this year.

But Lyons have reached the knockout round of the European Cup in each of their last six campaigns and anything else than that would be considered a failure. "The goal? It is to qualify for the knockout stages," Puel admitted. "No team plays this competition by claiming it will win it."

Puel will be without France and former Newcastle defender Jean-Alain Boumsong, who is out for a month with a groin injury. Lopez, who came back from his international duties with Argentina slightly injured, is expected to be back in the team along with defender Mathieu Bodmer, who has recovered from an ankle injury.

Fiorentina hope to get through the initial group stage of the tournament for the first time in 10 years. Unbeaten this season, the Italian team will again count on striker Alberto Gilardino, who scored three goals against Lyons last year. Still hampered by a thigh injury, the former Chelsea player Adrian Mutu is doubtful after being rested in Fiorentina's 1-0 win over Cagliari, while midfielder Cristiano Zanetti is suspended.

In Arsenal's group, Olympiakos go into their opener against AZ Alkmaar having sacked manager Temuri Ketsbaia as coach yesterday. The 41-year-old former Georgia international and Newcastle player was dismissed just four months after he was appointed and after just three league games of the new season. Olympiakos have yet to concede a goal in their opening three league fixtures and have taken seven points from a possible nine, but fan disquiet and reports of dressing-room disputes have been enough to earn Ketsbaia the sack. Ketsbaia had only been recruited in May after an impressive spell in charge of Anorthosis Famagusta, during which he masterminded the elimination of Olympiakos from the Champions League play-offs.

Bozidar Bandovic, who takes over and has been promoted from the youth team, will send his new charges out against an AZ Alkmaar side who edged out the Netherlands' big three of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord to win the Eredivisie title. However, that was under Louis van Gaal who has since been recruited by Bayern Munich, with Ronald Koeman, another Ajax old boy, stepping into his shoes.

Results have been mixed under Koeman and AZ go into the Group H opener on the back of a surprising 2-1 defeat to Den Haag.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada