Lyon vs. APOEL FC: Despite Loss, APOEL Can Still Make Champions League Quarters
Despite their 1-0 loss away to Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA Champions League's first knockout round, APOEL Nicosia FC can still turn it around in the second leg at home.
While they only had one shot on goal all game and were completely dominated by Lyon, they're only one goal behind and are still very much in the tie.
The Cypriots didn't have much possession at the Stade de Gerland, but they played attractive football along the floor—the way it should be played—and showed many signs of encouragement.
Here's why, despite their 1-0 defeat in the first leg, APOEL Nicosia FC can still make the Champions League quarterfinals.
APOEL manager Ivan Jovanovic has set his team up with a perfect 4-2-3-1 formation.
Away from home—especially against technically superior opponents—the well-rehearsed formation and tactics that go with it allow Jovanovic's team to slow the tempo of the game, stop the opposition playing their game and hit them on the counter-attack.
The two holding midfielders who play a more defensive role away from home, Nuno Morais (formerly of Chelsea) and Helio Pinto, did a great job in slowing down Lyon's play, making nine interceptions between them.
But at the GSP Stadium, Jovanovic's men will play a more attacking style with a higher tempo.
Unlike in usual 4-2-3-1 formations where the full-backs go forward, the two holding midfielders will be encouraged to surge up-field with the ball, increasing the pace of the game, hitting Lyon's defence and flooding their final third with more options.
That sort of fast-paced unpredictability to their attack at home has tripped up many teams, including FC Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg.
Lyon aren't playing great football at the moment and aren't in the best of form, in attack and especially in defence.
So expect them to at least concede their all-important one goal advantage to start with in the return leg.
APOEL FC are pioneers on the pitch at times.
Given their financial constraints in comparison to their much more prestigious Champions League counterparts, everything says the Cypriots shouldn't play risky, on-the-floor football like Europe's big boys.
But they do, and their ability to keep the ball on the ground hides the technical flaws of most players in the team, i.e. lack of consistent close control, poor final-third aerial ability.
Instead of playing hopeful long-balls, APOEL keeps it on the floor and play to their strengths—pace, power, fitness, creativity and finishing ability.
Their FC Barcelona, Arsenal or Swansea City style of play hides the team's main weaknesses, and was the reason they managed to keep the score to just 1-0 against Lyon despite being clearly outplayed technically.
In the return leg, given their vociferous backing at home which will push Lyon back and allow the team to play a higher tempo with more attacking emphasis, expect little weaknesses to be shown by APOEL as they play fully to their strengths.
Vociferous Home Backing
The ultras in Ligue 1 or any Western Europe country in no way compare to their Eastern counterparts.
In Cyprus' capital Nicosia, APOEL are boosted by a backing that goes beyond fanatical at times, with the roar the fans give their team truly cacophonous—and often very intimidating.
The Champions League match at home to Lyon is a huge moment for the club—the most prestigious match they've ever played.
So to say APOEL's supporters will be "up for it" could be the understatement of the decade.
The support they'll receive at home will be the 12th man for APOEL, and combined with their inventive style of play and well-drilled formation and accompanying tactics, could be the decisive factor that'll see them through to an historic first-ever UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.