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Lyon relishing Real challenge

LYON, February 21- Lyon's Stade Gerland has become a familiar venue for Real Madrid in recent years but, ahead of Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first leg, it has not been a happy hunting ground.

In six encounters between the sides since 2005, Real have failed to win and the nine-time European champions’ record at Lyon reads: played three, lost three, scored none, conceded six.

Lyon won 1-0 on home turf when the sides met at the same stage of last season’s competition, before Miralem Pjanic’s 75th-minute equaliser in the away leg secured a 1-1 draw that sent Real crashing out.

The French side went on to reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history and president Jean-Michel Aulas is relishing the prospect of Jose Mourinho bringing his expensive squad to town.

"Even though the draw wasn’t kind, I hope to beat Real Madrid over two games for the fourth time in a row," Aulas told French sport daily L’Equipe.

"Mourinho’s head and his credibility are on the line, and it’s the same for the president, (Florentino) Perez, but we’ll do everything to beat them."

Lyon won 4-0 at home to Nancy on Friday to keep their Ligue 1 title challenge on course, although coach Claude Puel knows Real — currently second in the Spanish top flight — are a very different prospect.

"We’re preparing for this European encounter with lots more calmness but Real will be a completely different calibre of opponent," he said.

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"We’ll have to be capable of raising the level of our play again. We know it. It’ll be a very tough match on Tuesday."

Lyon will be without Argentine forward Lisandro Lopez after he sustained a thigh injury in training and Puel admits he has a "head-ache" over how to replace him.

Jimmy Briand scored a spectacular bicycle kick to seal the win over Nancy but Argentine forward Cesar Delgado produced an impressive performance as well and was also one of the stand-out performers in the tie with Real last year.

"The matches from last year are unforgettable for me, the club and the supporters," said Delgado, who has struggled with injuries this season.

"I hope that we can re-write history in the same way but Real are very different to the one we faced a year ago.

"Their style has changed since Jose Mourinho arrived and Real are stronger mentally."

Real won 2-0 at home to Levante on Saturday with Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, and Emmanuel Adebayor on the bench and Mourinho confirmed that his big-name players would be restored to the starting XI in France.

"We gave a rest to Ozil and Xabi," said the Portuguese.

"Everyone knows they will play against Lyon, who have had 24 hours more rest than us."

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Having led Inter Milan to Champions League glory for the first time in 45 years last season, Mourinho was brought to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with a brief to end Real’s nine-year wait for a 10th Champions League crown.

The Spanish giants have fallen at the last-16 stage for the last six seasons in succession and Mourinho believes that his side must get over this mental hurdle if they are to prevail against Puel’s men.

"There are two barriers we have to overcome: getting into the quarter-finals and overcoming a Lyon team that eliminated us the last time we met," Mourinho said.

"I am not losing any sleep. Since the day the draw was made, I have worked with my team to find out all the details about Lyon."

Lyon old boy Karim Benzema scored Real’s opener against Levante and will hope to feature at his old stomping ground but he has slipped behind Adebayor in the strikers’ pecking order since the latter arrived on loan from Manchester City in January.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas will return after missing the Levante game through suspension, while Brazil playmaker Kaka is expected to make way for Ozil.

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