IT is very difficult to argue with Michael Beale’s assertion that Lyon may be the most formidable side that Rangers have had to face during the time that Steven Gerrard has been at Ibrox.

The French club have an impressive track record in Europe, a renowned manager and, even without Moussa Dembele and Xheredan Shaqiri, some world-class players.

They beat RB Leipzig, Benfica, Juventus and Manchester City en route to the rescheduled semi-finals of the 2019/20 Champions League last year. 

Then in the summer Lyon brought in Dutch coach Peter Bosz, previously of Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, to replace Rudi Garcia.

And Bosz has strengthened an already talented squad by signing former Champions League winners Jerome Boateng and Shaqiri from Bayern Munich and Liverpool respectively.

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The Scottish champions have squared up to Braga, Benfica, Feyenoord, Galatasaray, Leverkusen and Porto in continental competition during the last three seasons and invariably acquitted themselves well.

However, Rangers’ first group game of the 2021/22 Europa League in Glasgow tomorrow evening could well, as first team coach Beale contends, present their stiffest test under Gerrard to date. 

Lyon, though, have started slowly this term. They are currently sitting in seventh place in Ligue 1 after winning just two of their opening five fixtures and trail leaders Paris Saint-Germain by seven points. Are they the force they once were?

Herve Penot, who covers “Les Gones” for French sports newspaper L’Equipe, thinks not. He reveals that it is taking Bosz and his celebrated new recruits time to settle into their new surroundings.

He feels that Rangers, who topped their section last term and then reached the last 16 for the second season running, are more than capable of competing with visitors who look set to be missing Dembele and Shaqiri with 50,000 of their supporters roaring them on in Govan.  

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“It is not the same Lyon team that reached the Champions League semi-finals and it is not the same trainer,” he said as he looked ahead to the Group A match at Ibrox.

“Bosz is certainly a clever guy and an interesting coach who has a clear philosophy of how he wants football to be played. He was heavily influenced by Johan Cruyff. He likes how Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa coach their teams at Manchester City and Leeds United. He thinks that football is entertainment and he wants his players to please the crowd.

“But the coach is finding it difficult to implement exactly how he wants the team to play at the moment. Bosz likes his players to press, to try to get back on the ball within five seconds if they have lost it, to attack the opposition team up front when they are out of possession.

“But Lyon’s players have never done that before. They are still trying to adapt to Bosz’s tactics and they can’t do it 100 per cent yet. Right now, it is a team that has to improve in a lot of respects.

“They beat Strasbourg 3-1 on Sunday. But in the first-half they were very bad and their opponents had some chances which they didn’t score. The result could have been a little bit different.

“Since the beginning of the season I would say they have only played the way the coach has wanted them to play for 45 minutes. They were good in the first-half of the 3-3 draw with Clermont last month. But so far we haven’t seen it for the full 90 minutes. You need physical strength to be able to play that way for the full game.”

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That, Penot believes, is also an issue. There was great excitement among Lyon supporters about the arrival of German centre half Boateng and Swiss winger Shaqiri at the Groupama Stadium. But fans are still waiting for their marquee signings to establish themselves in the first team. 

“Boateng only came in two weeks ago,” he said. “He is big, he is strong and he has great experience. But he is out of shape. He only played for around half an hour on Sunday. He needs game time. Shaqiri started his first game at the weekend and he was quite good. But he also needs time to get up to speed as well.”

Emerson, the on-loan Chelsea left back who helped Italy to win Euro 2020 in the summer, is a proven performer at the highest level. So, too, is Jason Denayer, the Belgian centre half who spent a season on loan at Celtic when he was at Manchester City.

Still, Penot has sensed a vulnerability in Lyon at the back in recent weeks and suspects the absence of captain Leo Dubois may prove problematic for them. 

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“The defence has changed,” he said. “Right now, Dubois, the skipper and the right wing back, has a calf injury so he probably won’t play. Malo Gusto, who will come in for him, is only 18 and has only started twice in Ligue 1. If Gusto gets injured Lyon will be in trouble because they don’t have any back-up in that position.

“Denayer was very good for Lyon two seasons ago, but last season he didn’t do very well at all. He is quite a gifted and intelligent defender on his day, but he has struggled to perform at his best. He can be a really important player, but he has to upgrade his performances. 

“Lyon may be able to rise to the occasion. Perhaps playing Rangers in Glasgow in front of a big crowd will help them to concentrate and do what the trainer wants. Perhaps they will, perhaps they won’t.

“But if Rangers have some quick players in attack who can stretch the game and get in behind the Lyon defence it is possible to make them cry. I think it will be an open match.”

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Having Brazilian duo Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta and Zimbabwean forward Tino Kadewere – who have been granted permission to enter the United Kingdom after having been in red list countries during the international break - available is a huge boost for Bosz. “Pacqueta is the master of the Lyon team just now,” said Penot.

Dembele, the former Celtic striker who is currently the joint top scorer in Ligue 1 after netting four times in five games, will be a huge loss if reports suggesting he has a minor injury and will not travel prove to be true. 

The absence of Memphis Depay, the Netherlands forward who moved to Barcelona on a free transfer in the summer, is still being keenly felt in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes. “He was a big player for Lyon,” said Penot. “He wasn’t always good, but he was able to make big differences in games at the top level when he was.”

There is also considerable pressure on the French club to perform well on their visit to Scotland after their owner Jean-Michel Aulus publicly targeted victory in the competition at the start of the season.

“The Lyon president stated that the main objective for Lyon was to win the Europa League,” said Penot. “For the players and for the manager, it is a very important tournament and this is a very important game.”

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