Why Rangers coach Michael Beale could be right in saying Lyon are Steven Gerrard's toughest opponent to date

Rangers coach Michael Beale has stated Lyon could arguably be the strongest team Steven Gerrard has faced since becoming the club’s manager.

Lyon forward Moussa Dembele used to star for Rangers' arch-rivals Celtic. Picture: Getty

In terms of the Uefa club rankings, Lyon currently sit in 24th place of all clubs across the continent. That is nine places below Porto, who Steven Gerrard previously faced off against in the Europa League group stages and, impressively, remained undefeated across two games. That said, Lyon have dropped down from 19th place at the outset of this campaign as Thursday’s game will be their first European match this season.

It also depends on which aspect of the club’s bizarre 2019/20 season an observer would want to put the most stock in. Was reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League a truer reflection of their abilities? Or was it the seventh-place finish which saw them miss out on Europe entirely last term?

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The one player on everybody’s lips going into the game is ex-Celtic striker Moussa Dembele, a man who had a knack of inflicting pain on the Rangers support during his two seasons in Glasgow before a £20 million move to Ligue 1.

After two seasons of averaging better than a goal every second game, Dembele suffered a rough 2020/21 campaign that was impacted by an early-season loss of form followed by injury. However, he appears to be getting back to his best this term, netting four goals in his first five matches. From his social media accounts we’ve also seen that he keeps a keen eye on matches between his former club and Rangers, so he’ll be determined more than most European adversaries to stick the ball beyond Allan McGregor.

With last season’s top goalscorer Memphis Depay departing for Barcelona, Xherdan Shaqiri was brought in to bolster the Lyon attack this summer following three frustrating years at Liverpool. Things may not have worked out as well at the Reds as the former Stoke City hero may have expected, but it was clear from his endeavours for Switzerland at this summer’s Euros that he still has more than enough quality to be a destructive attacker at the highest level.

Jerome Boateng, at the age of 33, may no longer be looked upon as good enough for Bayern Munich’s annual aspirations but there’s no doubt the 76-cap German international, World Cup winner and two-time Champions League winner is still a huge presence in defence. He’ll be aided by the likes of Emerson, who won the Europa League with Chelsea in 2019, and another former Celtic favourite in the form of Belgian international Jason Denayer.

And these aren’t even any of the players Beale mentioned when talking about Lyon’s immense talent.

The Ibrox coach picked out Lucas Paquetà, a Brazilian creative midfielder who finished in the top 10 for key passes in Ligue 1 last term, similarly inventive third-captain Houssem Aouar, and defensive midfielder Bruno Guimarães, who is equally excellent at dictating play from deeper in the midfield area as he is at breaking it up.

Beale also reserved praise for Thiago Mendes, another midfielder, whom he worked with during their time together with Sao Paulo. All in all, the French side have an embarrassment of riches and, though he would prefer otherwise, could well prove the Rangers man right on Thursday evening.

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