History favours Lyon as they host illustrious Real Madrid

LYON: Lyon will have history on their side when they host Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie today.

The former French title-holders have never lost to their illustrious Spanish visitors, the nine-time kings of Europe coming unstuck on their previous two visits to the Stade Gerland, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively.

And Lyon grabbed a point on their two visits to the Santiago Bernabeu in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons to top their group with Real runners-up.

Aside from the historical baggage, today’s match offers an intriguing sub-plot in the return of former Lyon star Karim Benzema for the first time since last summer’s move to Madrid.

The France international striker, who helped Lyon to four French titles, is set to play after recovering from a groin problem that forced him to miss Real’s 3-0 league win over Xerez at the weekend.

He came through a Sunday morning training session unscathed.

Lyon coach Claude Puel told Spanish sports daily Marca: “For him it would be nice to return to Lyon and we would like to see him here. I think he is progressing. It was important for him to leave Lyon to continue to grow.

“He went to a place full of personalities and will have to fight for a place in the team. That is new for him.”

Ominously for Lyon, two of Real’s goals against Xerez came from Cristiano Ronaldo, back after a two-game suspension, but Spanish midfielder Guti misses the trip to the French capital of gastronomy after an ankle sprain.

Lyon for their part ground out a 1-0 weekend win over Lens to keep them in fourth place in the French league.

Cameroon international midfielder Jean II Makoun returns after a one-match ban.

Real have fallen at the last-16 stage for the past five seasons, and coach Manuel Pellegrini, who guided Villarreal to the semi-finals in 2005-06, is mindful of the scale of the task awaiting them.

“Lyon represent difficult opposition,” said the Chilean.

“The head-to-heads are of course important and need to be taken into account but they won’t be a determining factor. Lyon have been French champions many times in recent years while they have put in good displays in the Champions League.”

Lyon have failed to make it past the last 16 for the past three seasons, falling to eventual champions Barcelona last season, after a hat-trick of quarter-final appearances. — AFP

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