Lyon and Valbuena in the last-chance saloon
ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 24, 2015 11:37 AM
Lyon's Mathieu Valbuena, center, challenges for the ball with Nice's Jean Michael Seri, left and Nice's Vincent Koziello during their French League One soccer match, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Mathieu Valbuena did not expect he would go through such a frustrating season when he signed a three-year deal with Lyon this summer following an exile to Russia.
With the European championships just seven months away, Valbuena was not called up by France coach Didier Deschamps for the games against Germany and England earlier this month. The former Marseille player has found himself at the heart of a sex-tape blackmail plot that saw France teammate Karim Benzema charged, and his club performances have been below par for most of the season.
In the French league, Lyon remains in the second place but has already given hope of challenging Paris Saint-Germain for the title, trailing the leaders by 13 points after 14 games following a humiliating 3-0 loss at Nice last Friday. Valbuena's display on the Riviera — a few hours after he appeared before a judge to testify — was lackluster and he was whistled off the pitch when substituted in the second half.
Valbuena, who returned to the French league after a successful season at Dynamo Moscow, has rarely convinced this season. He will have to step up his game on Tuesday night as Lyon needs to beat Gent in the Champions League to retain a chance of progressing to the knockout phase from Group H.
Winless after four games, Lyon sits bottom of the group, three points behind Gent. Already qualified, Leader Zenit has a perfect record ahead of the visit of second-placed Valencia.
Here are some things to know ahead of Tuesday's matches:
GENT FANS BANNED
With France under a state of emergency following the Paris attacks and Brussels staying on high alert over serious terror threat, French authorities have decided to ban Gent fans from traveling to Lyon.
Gent supporters already in Lyon have also been banned from entering the Gerland Stadium.
French authorities said any Gent supporter who travels to Lyon risks being arrested and recommended the Belgian fans do not gather in the local pubs to watch the match on television.
ZENIT CRUISING, NOT RELAXING
They may have already qualified with four wins from four games, but Zenit St. Petersburg's players aren't being allowed to relax just yet.
Needing to avoid defeat to secure top spot in Group H, Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas has been focusing his efforts on Tuesday's encounter, even resting talismanic striker Hulk on Saturday despite Zenit's poor start to the Russian domestic season.
In the end, it mattered little as Zenit wrapped up an easy 3-0 win over Ural Yekaterinburg, with Hulk playing only the last 23 minutes.
"We were being careful with (Hulk) for the game against Valencia," Villas-Boas said.
Zenit, which moved seven points behind league leader CSKA Moscow, had won just two of its previous nine league games.
Tuesday's game will take place amid heightened security at the Petrovsky stadium following the Paris attacks and a plane crash last month which killed 224 people, many of them from the St. Petersburg area. Russian authorities have said the plane was brought down by a bomb.
Zenit is without full-back Alexander Anyukov and midfielder Javi Garcia, who are suspended, plus the injured Viktor Faizulin.
Valencia's decisive game at Zenit comes after a disappointing 1-1 home draw against struggling Las Palmas in the Spanish league, a result that left fans loudly jeering the team and calling for the resignation of coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
"Hard work is the only thing we can do to fix this, and I am sure that things will become better with wins," the coach said. "The fans have been important to us and should remain so."
Valencia lost at Gent in its previous Champions League game, but it can move into good position to advance to the knockout stage with a win on Tuesday. The Spanish club is second to already qualified Zenit, two points ahead of Gent and five in front of last-place Lyon.
"We understand the anger everyone has," midfielder Sofiane Feghouli said. "We have another game on Tuesday, and we must move on. We'll face it with a lot of ambition, and I am sure we will react."