What: Champions League – Group D
Who: Real Madrid vs Lyon
When: Tuesday 18th October, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

New Rivalry

In a match that has developed into a sort of European rivalry in recent times, Real Madrid welcome Ligue 1 outfit Lyon for midweek continental Champions League action. In good form following a string of decent results, Jose Mourinho and his men will want to come away with maximum points and consolidate their domination of Group D.

Following an impressive away win at Espanyol a fortnight ago, Real Madrid picked up right where they left with an equally eye-catching victory over visitors Real Betis at the weekend. Having scored a hat-trick of goals against the Catalan club and away on international duty with Argentina, club hitman Gonzalo Higuain was the star of the show yet again with another three goals against Madrid’s Andalucian guests, a feat that was welcomed by Mourinho himself, who dismissed the idea of a conundrum concerning his attack options.

“[Karim] Benzema started the season very well and Higuain not so much because he missed pre-season, but now Higuain is back in form and it’s lucky for the team to have the two. I know that many people will say that to have two strikers in good shape is a problem, but I think anything but that. The problem is to have only one or none", explained the former Inter boss.

With Madrid grabbing good results, it will be hard for them to throw this game away. However, Lyon have proven to be their “black beast” in the past, beating them on several occasions in the 2006, 2007 and 2010 editions of the competition. Los Merengues will have to be extra careful approaching this one.

Getting Back on the Saddle

Seven consecutive league titles spanning from 2002 to 2009 established Lyon as the best French side of the first ten years of the new millennium. Since then however, Les Gones have lost their spot to the likes of Bordeaux, Marseille and Lille. Remi Garde’s team are not showing any signs of surrender though, and a win against Madrid at the Bernabeu would skyrocket their morale. After all, they are no strangers to victory at the White Castle, having won there on previous recent occasions.

Second-placed behind their opponents and just three points off Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon are in good shape. The return from injury of key men Yoann Gourcuff and club captain Cris will undoubtedly strengthen the side. Particularly, the 34-year-old stopper stepped on the pitch against Nancy after time on the sidelines, and will be keen to add his extra value to the team.

“I’m coming back with a huge desire to play. It’s difficult to go two months without playing”, commented the Brazilian. In his absence, the team has forged an admirable centre-half pairing of Dejan Lovren and Bakary Kone. Yet against a team of Real Madrid’s magnitude, Garde might go with experience ahead of form and start Cris in the centre of defence.

Lyon are aware that Mourinho’s Madrid are improving by the game, yet a win for the French is not an impossible task by any means. Still impervious at the Santiago Bernabeu this season, Les Gones will need to come up with something special however.

Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 3-0 Ajax Amsterdam (27/09; Champions League)
Espanyol 0-4 Real Madrid
(02/10; La Liga)
Real Madrid 4-1 Real Betis
(15/10; La Liga)

Lyon 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb
(27/09; Champions League)
Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 Lyon (02/10; Ligue 1)
Lyon 3-1 AS Nancy-Lorraine (15/10; Ligue 1)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Ricardo Carvalho (doubt); Nuri Sahin (doubt); Sami Khedira (doubt)

Lyon: Lisandro Lopez (doubt); Clement Grenier

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Gonzalo Higuain: The France-born striker is a hot commodity at the Bernabeu now, finding goals galore easy to come by. His record against Lyon remains a poor one, and he will have to answer a few critics come the occasion. Also, Karim Benzema meets his former side in an emotional game, and should Higuain fail to show up, he will be eager to pounce.

Lyon – Yoann Gourcuff: The former AC Milan playmaker is back after a spell on the sidelines. Gourcuff’s presence in the centre of the park will be a breath of fresh air for the team as they play this hard fixture away from home. Hugo Lloris is another man who has excelled whenever the two met, and the goalkeeper will make sure to keep Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain and Kaka at bay.

Match Prediction

At home at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid rarely fail to overwhelm their opponents. Had this clash come at another time, then maybe Lyon would have a clear chance. The French side will naturally pose a threat to Los Blancos, but after having been beaten at last year’s Round of 16 stage of the competition, the “curse” is finally broken. Real Madrid 2-0 Lyon.

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