EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancy from Thursday's Europa League action.
Lyon v Ajax | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport 3
Anyone who witnessed last Wednesday’s thrilling Europa League duel between Ajax and Lyon will be buzzing about the return leg this week.
The Dutch giants were 4-1 winners and could easily have won by more thanks to a wonderfully fluent attacking performance. However, the youthful Amsterdam outfit could easily have been beaten on another day, such was their suspect defensive display.
There were 37 shots in the Amsterdam Arena – 21 to Ajax, 16 for Lyon – but the hosts’ fine finishing and excellent goalkeeping from Andre Onana ensured Peter Bosz’s boys were in the box-seat for a first European final in 21 years.
Ajax followed that fixture up by thumping rock-bottom Go Ahead Eagles for four at the weekend. That result, coupled with league leaders Feyenoord’s stunning implosion at Excelsior on Sunday, mean Thursday’s visitors are just one point adrift of top spot in the Eredivisie with just one game to play.
It’s been a fabulous campaign for Bosz considering the boss was under intense pressure early on following the club’s Champions League exit. His team is headlined by schemers Lasse Schone and Davy Klaassen in midfield plus a high-class forwardline of Kasper Dolberg, Amin Younes, Hakim Ziyech and Bertrand Traore.
However, if there’s one area to hurt the Dutch giants, it’s at the back. Nick Viergever and Jool Veltman are back from bans to bolster the defence but Ajax did appear vulnerable when losing away at both FC Copenhagen and Schalke in previous knockout rounds.
In fact, the team have rarely impressed on the road. In the Europa League Ajax are winless in five and across all competitions the visitors have W1-D2-L3. So could Lyon take advantage and seal a place in Stockholm? It appears unlikely.
Ajax haven't lost a UEFA away game by a three-goal margin since going down 3-0 to Spartak Moscow in 2010/11 and their ability to grab a goal should ensure their passage to the final.
The away side have scored 39 goals in their past 12 outings, have netted in 12 of their last 13 Europa League ties and in 10 of their past 12 games as guests. With the expectation for another high-energy, frenetic game, I’d be backing Ajax to get on the scoresheet.
Lyon hell-bent on overturning deficit
Lyon do have previous experience at coming from 4-1 behind to win in this tournament; Les Gones did so against Club Brugge in the UEFA Cup back in 2001/02 and with the club’s entire campaign hanging on this one game, you’d assume Bruno Genesio’s side will come out firing.
AZ Alkmaar, Roma and Besiktas have all been beaten at the Parc OL and the rip-roaring atmosphere contributed to Les Gones coming back from a goal down in the latter two matches. Indeed, Lyon are the Europa League’s highest scorers in terms of goals per-game so don’t expect them to go lightly.
Genesio rested a bunch of his big-hitters for the weekend’s narrow 3-2 victory at home to Nantes and the word is, Alex Lacazette will play and the French star should be capable of taking one of many opportunities that will no doubt arrive.
The betting angle
Lyon have won eight of their last 10 as hosts, scoring at least four goals in six of those triumphs. I’m going to back them to add to their winning tally here but their own frailties at the back mean I’m adding an Ajax goal into the mix so the 17/10 (BetStars) stands out.
Ultimately however, I don’t see a road back for the home side.
Lyon v Ajax – Lyon to win and Both Teams To Score (17/10 BetStars)