Sparta Praha open their Europa League adventure with their toughest fixture of the group stage. An away trip to Lyon. The french outfit are regular Champions League participants, however, they will have to make do with the Europa League after finishing in just 4th position in Ligue 1 last season (and 18 points off champions Montpellier).
Remi Garde’s side have started the domestic season in fine form, reeling off four wins and a draw to hang onto the coat-tails of Marseille at the top of Ligue 1. Although, in fairness, Olympique Lyonnais are yet to face a team of significant strength in Ligue 1.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League meant cost cutting for Lyon. Experienced players (and high earners) like Hugo Lloris, Kim Kallstrom, Cris and Ally Cissokho were allowed to leave the club over the summer period, weakening the French side somewhat.
So far Lyon appear to have resolved their defensive frailties of last season, they conceded 51 goals in the league last year and kept just five clean sheets, despite the presence of French No.1 Hugo Lloris.
Nonetheless, Lyon’s strengths lie in attack, they retained the services of 29 year-old Argentine Lisandro Lopez and the dread-locked Bafetimbi Gomis. Both players can boast real quality and will be a level above anything Sparta have faced so far this season, especially the Argentine who has netted 50 goals in 92 appearances.
I would expect Lyon to line up in their familiar 4-2-3-1 system:
From a Sparta perspective, I would be worried about the pace the Lyon side possess. The leaden footed defender, Jiri Jarosik, will be in for a tough evening. The experienced Sparta Prague defender will not want to be caught in a footrace with Lisandro Lopez, or any of the three attacking midfielders.
Jarosiks biggest asset lies in his power and height, making him an ideal match for the lone striker Gomis.
Jozef Husbauer and Ondrej Svejdik will need to pay close attention to Lisandro Lopez ensuring that Jarosik does not get isolated with him or any of the pacey Lyon attackers, so he can concentrate on keeping Gomis queit, which, in reality is easier said than done.
I hope Vaclac Kadlec will start alongside (or just behind) Leonard Kweuke, the young Czech seems to flourish in European competition and deserves a place in the starting lineup. His brace in Rotterdam virtually assured his sides progress to the group stages. The second goal against Feyenoord was a wonderful strike.
Lyon will prove to be a stern test for this youthful Sparta side, a much tougher nut to crack than Feyenoord, who were woeful over the 180 minutes in qualification.
Vaclav Kadlec, Ladislav Krejci, Pavel Kaderabek and Jozef Husbauer are all 22 years old or younger and could be found wanting against a team with an abundance of European experience.
However, with the odds firmly stacked in Lyons favour, the Czechs can play without any pressure and hope that Kadlec and Kweuke can cause some problems of their own.