Football

Lyon relying on Fekir to provide a flicker of hope

The return of Lyon captain Nabil Fekir is expected to provide a fillip for the French side as they seek to knock mighty Barcelona out of the Champions League.

The Frenchman, who scored 12 goals last season, was sorely missed in the first leg of their last-16 tie due to a suspension.

ROUND OF 16, 2ND LEG
BARCELONA LYON

But the 25-year-old will be back in his familiar attacking midfield role at the Nou Camp tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Fekir, who featured for France on their run to World Cup glory last year, is one for the big occasion.

He has already scored against English opposition in the Champions League, finding the winner in Lyon's 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the group stage. He also bagged the decisive goal against Shakhtar Donetsk that clinched their place in the last 16.

"When Nabil is on the field, we know what to expect, he's a great player who gives us reassurance," said teammate Martin Terrier.

"He has already shown his importance on the European scene."

But Fekir's teammates must keep Lionel Messi and Co quiet again, like they did in the first leg. The odds appear stacked against the French club, though.

It is nine years since they won a Champions League tie in the knockout stage, while Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 29 home games in the competition, winning 26 of those.

Bruno Genesio's team could also be without their influential Brazilian centre-back Marcelo after he pulled up injured on Saturday, when they drew 2-2 at Strasbourg.

Genesio rested key players such as Fekir and Memphis Depay, but the move backfired as Lyon surrendered a two-goal lead in the second half, loosening their grip on third spot.

Lyon's detractors see them as a side who can mix it with the best one week, only to go missing in games they are expected to win. They took four points from City in the group stage and beat Paris Saint-Germain last month before holding Barcelona in the first leg.

On the other hand, the Catalan side are on an 11-match unbeaten run in all competitions and have a seven-point cushion at the top of La Liga.

Messi starred in their 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano last Saturday, as Barca coach Ernesto Valverde started with Ousmane Dembele and Ivan Rakitic on the bench, but fielded an otherwise first-choice starting XI.

But Dembele could miss the Lyon match due to an injury, giving Philippe Coutinho another chance to silence his critics. - AFP

Football