(photo credit: Associated Press)
Despite winning just a single match in all competitions over the past six weeks,
Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman believes his team is capable of claiming
historic points in the Champions League group stage when it hosts Olympique Lyon
at Bloomfield Stadium on Wednesday night.
Since beating Red Bull Salzburg
3-2 in Austria on August 18 in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs,
Hapoel has played four Premier League encounters, two matches in European
competition and one Toto Cup fixture, managing to win only one of those seven
Tel Aviv has claimed just one of its first four league matches,
with the 5-1 victory over Hapoel Ashkelon coming exactly a month ago.
drawing 1-1 at home against Salzburg and progressing to the group stage
European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the first time in
history, Hapoel dropped to a 2-0 loss to Benfica in Portugal in its
two weeks ago and enters Wednesday’s match on the back of a 4-2 league
defeat to Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Matters have been complicated further by
the power struggle between coowners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib, but coach
Gutman was confident on Tuesday that the match against Lyon is an ideal
opportunity for his side to finally recapture last season’s form.
is the favorite to win this group,” Gutman said. “We are going through a
difficult period, but I’m focusing on the full half of the glass and I
that in a match like this we will have the energy we lacked recently and
be able to display our true ability.”
Gutman knows there is only one way
in which Tel Aviv can end Wednesday night with its first Champions
“I have no doubt that we will have to be at our very best to
succeed,” he said. “Our only chance is if we play to the best of our
and I believe we can do that.”
Despite the recent off-field distractions,
Gutman is convinced everyone at the club has moved on.
“We have been
through a difficult week, but we are all pleased we have left it all
and are focusing on soccer,” he said. “You need to know how to overcome
kinds of periods. I’m certain the Lyon coach also told his players that a
goes through tough times as well as good ones and needs to know how to
Lyon coach Claude Puel is under intense pressure after
Saturday’s loss to Saint-Etienne plunged the seven-time former champion
domestic relegation zone.
Puel has the backing of president Jean- Michel
Aulas – for now – but there are reports that several players no longer
play under him and another defeat will seriously weaken his position.
draw is not good enough for us, we are here to win,” said Puel, who
failing to guide the team to a title since joining the club two years
it to the semifinals of the Champions League last season.
Hapoel, but we want to win every match. When we play in the Champions
put everything else aside.”
Lyon is still without Argentina striker
Lisandro Lopez, who has a thigh injury, so Bafetimbi Gomis is likely to
front with star playmaker Yoann Gourcuff pushing forward to support
Puel will also be without holding midfielder Jean Makoun and winger
Cesar Delgado, with Brazilian defender Cris still out injured.
a full-squad to pick from and is expected to make three changes to the
lost to Kiryat Shmona.
Vincent Enyeama will start yet again in goal, with
Walid Badier to return to the center of defense and team-up with Douglas
Silva. Danny Bondarv will replace Omri Kende on the right flank, with
Dayan to continue in the left-back position.
Hapoel’s midfield will once
more include Gili Vermut, Eran Zehavi and Avihai Yadin, with Romain
likely to replace Yossi Shivhon.
Despite not scoring since Hapoel’s win
over Salzburg, Ben Sahar will continue up-front alongside Itai Shechter
match that will be refereed by Englishman Howard Webb, who also
World Cup final and last season’s Champions League final.
Schalke, who lost 1-0 to Lyon when the team’s met in their first match
B, hosts Benfica.