Tottenham Hotspur vs. Lyon: 5 Key Battles to Watch in Europa League Clash

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Lyon: 5 Key Battles to Watch in Europa League Clash

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    Thursday's meeting between Tottenham Hotspur and Olympique Lyonnais will not be the first time the two clubs have met in European competition.

    The second round of the 1967-68 European Cup Winners' Cup saw Lyon go through on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate draw. Tottenham lost 1-0 in a bad-tempered first-leg clash at the Stade de Gerland before blowing a 2-0 lead at home, winning 4-3 but conceding costly goals. Just over 45 years on, the modern versions of the two sides will compete in the Europa League.

    Both sets of players are chasing Champions League qualification at home, but they will relish the chance to compete and prove themselves against one another on the European stage.

    Between whom and whereabouts might the key battles take place at White Hart Lane? Read on to see five worth keeping an eye on..

Tottenham's Attacking Midfield vs. Gonalons

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    Maxime Gonalons will be the man tasked with combating the threat of whomever Tottenham Hotspur field in the attacking midfield position.

    The uncertainty of that player's identity relates to the differing options Andre Villas-Boas has to choose from right now. It may depend largely on whether Emmanuel Adebayor starts upfront, while Gareth Bale's goalscoring form in recent games has led to suggestions he should be deployed more centrally.

    It is likely, though, that it will be either Lewis Holtby or Clint Dempsey who starts here. Both players differ stylistically but each will give Gonalons plenty to contend with.

    Their movement especially will give Lyon's defensive midfielder pause for thought. Gonalons will not want to give them too much freedom to influence the game, but nor will he want to be dragged too far out of position. Especially when his defense will need him to help out in defending attacks from other players and positions.

    Gonalons will not be easy to negotiate past. Early on at least, Gonalons will not give Dempsey and Holtby much in the way of space. He is sure to be hot on their heels in an attempt to shift the balance of play in Lyon's favor.

    At 6' 2", his height ensures Dempsey will not have it all his own way in any aerial duels to win flick-ons deep into the Lyon half either.

Dembele vs. Malbranque

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    Two Belgian-born, ex-Fulham players, both Mousa Dembele and Steed Malbranque are pivotal at the heart of their current clubs' midfields.

    Malbranque, who of course also formerly played for Totteham, has flourished back at Lyon after his brief retirement. Though not as dynamic as Dembele, his team plays better when he sees plenty of the ball and is given the chance to dictate the flow of a game from around the center-circle.

    If Dembele (with the help of his midfield partner, probably Scott Parker) can close Malbranque down quickly and often, it will play a big part in denying Lyon the chance to play.

    Just as important in this respect will be the physicality and skill Dembele possesses in his runs forward. They are capable of putting his opposite number on the back-foot and that is something Tottenham need to set about doing from the off.

    Dembele has played a lot of football of late and cannot alone be expected to impose his will in such a way on Lyon. But a good shift early on could help his team to a comfortable lead, and perhaps allow Villas-Boas the chance to give him a breather ahead of the return leg next week.

Vertonghen and Dawson vs. Gomis

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    How exactly Lyon's forward line will be set up against Tottenham will not be clear until prior to kick-off. It seems likely Garde will restore Bafetimbi Gomis to the starting XI after he didn't start the Lille game. Lisandro Lopez could be deployed alongside him, or perhaps he will operate from one of the flanks.

    Regardless, Gomis is Lyon's top scorer and probably their most potent threat. Tottenham's likely central-defensive pairing of Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen will fancy their chances of stopping him, especially if he starts as a lone striker.

    However they cannot take him lightly. Presented with a chance Gomis is a good finisher, as well as a sprightly competitor who can slip away if not paid attention to.

    Tottenham will want to dominate possession to the extent that Gomis is not given much of a chance to make an impact. But even if the game should veer in that direction, Spurs' defense must make sure he is not given the opportunity to turn it with a goal out of nothing.

    Vertonghen is likely to be the man primarily tasked with tracking him. Having been rested for the Newcastle match the Belgian should be fresh and ready for the job and will certainly make Gomis work hard for his space.

Walker vs. Ghezzal

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    Rachid Ghezzal's performance was one of the few positives to come from Lyon's 3-1 defeat to Lille on Sunday. The 20-year-old, playing in left-midfield, was lively and one of his team's few sources of creativity in an otherwise impotent attacking showing.

    It may have given his manager Remi Garde pause for thought, had he been thinking about going for a more experienced option at left wing against Tottenham.

    Kyle Walker will face an intriguing test in the form of Ghezzal. Lyon have considerable other attacking outlets, which makes it all the more important Spurs' right-back does not shirk his responsibilities in regards to the French club's young wide man.

    Ghezzal is someone Walker is good enough to fend off, especially if he can turn him out wide and not allow him to cut inside.

    That is where Ghezzal has some joy, in those searching forays between defenders, and he could cause Spurs some problems if given too much space. Though he will hopeful of doing some damage here, Ghezzal will also have to be ready to help out his left-back and contend with Walker's own runs forward and the dual threat he poses with Aaron Lennon.

Assou-Ekotto vs. Reveillere

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    Lyon right-back Anthony Reveillere may have had a few sleepless nights at the prospect of coming up against Bale. The Welsh winger is in such tremendous form that just about any full-back in the world would have a tough time dealing with him.

    Bale might be Reveillere's chief concern, but an intriguing subplot exists in the form of the the Frenchman's dealings with Spurs' likely left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

    Although his team will perhaps look to do a job containing Tottenham in this away leg, the attack-minded Reveillere could offer some relief from their defensive duties with his runs forward. Should Lyon get him the ball with Bale and possibly Assou-Ekotto out of position, he could well cause problems for Spurs down this flank.

    Assou-Ekotto will hope that a situation does not arise where he is isolated against both Reveillere and whoever plays in right midfield (possibly Alexandre Lacazette). However the Cameroon international is just as likely to engineer a similar situation for Reveillere to deal with, in tandem with Bale.