Reds ready to turn corner on recent slump

Gutman confident Tel Aviv can find its form at home against Lyon in 2nd group game.

Gutman 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Gutman 311
(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 games.
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. After drawing 1-1 at home against Salzburg and progressing to the group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the first time in club history, Hapoel dropped to a 2-0 loss to Benfica in Portugal in its group opener two weeks ago and enters Wednesday’s match on the back of a 4-2 league home defeat to Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Matters have been complicated further by the power struggle between coowners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib, but coach Eli Gutman was confident on Tuesday that the match against Lyon is an ideal opportunity for his side to finally recapture last season’s form.
“Lyon 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 think that in a match like this we will have the energy we lacked recently and we will 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 League points.
“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 abilities 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 behind us and are focusing on soccer,” he said. “You need to know how to overcome these kinds of periods. I’m certain the Lyon coach also told his players that a team goes through tough times as well as good ones and needs to know how to come through them.”
Lyon coach Claude Puel is under intense pressure after Saturday’s loss to Saint-Etienne plunged the seven-time former champion into the domestic relegation zone.
Puel has the backing of president Jean- Michel Aulas – for now – but there are reports that several players no longer want to play under him and another defeat will seriously weaken his position.
“A draw is not good enough for us, we are here to win,” said Puel, who despite failing to guide the team to a title since joining the club two years ago, led it to the semifinals of the Champions League last season.
“We respect Hapoel, but we want to win every match. When we play in the Champions League we put everything else aside.”
Lyon is still without Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez, who has a thigh injury, so Bafetimbi Gomis is likely to start up front with star playmaker Yoann Gourcuff pushing forward to support him.
Puel will also be without holding midfielder Jean Makoun and winger Cesar Delgado, with Brazilian defender Cris still out injured.
Gutman has a full-squad to pick from and is expected to make three changes to the team that 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 da Silva. Danny Bondarv will replace Omri Kende on the right flank, with Dedi Ben- Dayan to continue in the left-back position.
Hapoel’s midfield will once more include Gili Vermut, Eran Zehavi and Avihai Yadin, with Romain Rocchi likely to replace Yossi Shivhon.
Despite not scoring since Hapoel’s win over Salzburg, Ben Sahar will continue up-front alongside Itai Shechter in a match that will be refereed by Englishman Howard Webb, who also officiated the World Cup final and last season’s Champions League final.
Also Wednesday, Schalke, who lost 1-0 to Lyon when the team’s met in their first match in Group B, hosts Benfica.