Manchester City
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Bayer Leverkusen
Atletico Madrid
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AS Nancy Lorraine
5:30 PM UTC
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Huddersfield Town
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Queens Park Rangers
Wigan Athletic
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Derby County
Burton Albion
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2:00 AM UTC Feb 22, 2017
Leg 1
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Europa League round of 16 draw

Europa League

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Joy of six for Gérard?

Gérard Houllier may not look like a man with detailed carnal knowledge, but if - as likely - he steers Lyon to a record sixth consecutive Ligue 1 title this season, the former Liverpool boss will at least have shown consummate mastery of the number one position.

Houllier surprised many by actually improving a side that had already won four French crowns - three under the now Glasgow-Rangered Paul Le Guen - as Lyon held top spot for all but four of the campaign's 38 rounds, racking up a best-ever points total (84).

And after seeing a second-string XI beat a near full-strength Paris St. Germain on penalties to clinch France's traditional season-opening Champions Trophy on Sunday, Houllier will feel a unique place in European footballing history beckons as Lyon could become the first club on the continent to dominate a major domestic league for six straight years.

'If you don't move forward, you go backwards' is a cliché hyper-ambitious Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas clearly lives by, and France's shrewdest mover in the transfer stakes has been at work.

Sébastien 'Toto' Squillaci has brought his imaginative Italia '90 nickname and international-class defensive skills to stiffen a Gerland rearguard that was already the joint-second stingiest last time round, while midfield grafter Jeremy Toulalan and silky Kim Källström have also been prised away from Nantes and Rennes respectively as Aulas strengthens a squad which he hopes can finally get beyond the last eight of the Champions League.

The club has already persuaded two key players - the promising right-back François Clerc, courted by the pre-scandal Juventus, and burly Brazilian centre-half Cris, wooed by Milan - to stay, and if the overtures of Manchester United virtuoso-in-chief Sir Alex Ferguson for Mahamadou 'the new Roy Keane' Diarra can be stifled, Aulas and Houllier will know no-one on the domestic scene can realistically challenge them.

But the club and Aulas are not finished there, with two more transfer targets lined up.

Since the departure of the talismanic Sonny Anderson in 2003, Lyon, like an out-of-touch gangster, have been in search of a hitman to fill the void left by the Brazilian, suffering from the lack of respect the French league commands with big-name forwards with Didier Drogba, among others, turning them down in recent years for more reputed pastures.

Despite a promising start, Norway's John Carew tried - and failed - last season as he notched a paltry eight goals, while back-up striker Fred, given the chance to witness Ronaldo's table manners first-hand in the Brazil squad over the summer, is still considered a little raw for all the 14 notches on his gunslinger's belt from the campaign gone by.

Enter David Trezeguet, and a man who knows where both the goal - and Lyon - are.

Despite the Argentina-raised France striker's French being more halting than a zealous German border official, Trezegol would not be adverse to returning to the country of his birth rather than being kicked week-in, week-out by the calcio cloggers of Serie B.

But an unwillingness to take a cut in his €4.2m-a-year pocket money, France's ferociously elevated income tax and new Juve boss Didier Deschamps' determination to stem the flood of departures from Turin may mean Lyon have to look elsewhere.

The most likely notable arrival in the Lyon dressing-room is Marseille's Franck Ribéry, France's non-headbutting star of the World Cup.

'Lascar Face' - reference to the deep marks left by a childhood car accident rather than any resemblance to Al Pacino - has already admitted to being 'unsettled' on the south coast and expect the wrangling to continue until, despite Marseille's bluster and posturing, Ribéry finally dons a Lyon shirt sometime before August 31.

The nod to the underworld in Ribéry's nickname is spookily appropriate for the murky goings-on in Marseille, who but for a couple of last-gasp goals on the final day of the season would have been playing in the Champions League this year.

But they had to settle for the Intertoto Cup, and thirteen years after their match-fixing scandal with Valenciennes, incidentally back in the top flight this season for the first time since 1993, France's most tempestuous club is again embroiled in off-the-pitch shenanigans.

Rumours of players robbed and threatened by underworld hoodlums, whispers ex-coach Jean Fernandez sought work in the peace of Auxerre after being intimidated by sinister characters on motorbikes, and more judicial problems looming over dodgy backroom transfer dealings mean OM is the same as it ever was.

But the off-field distractions could scupper the club's chances of building on last season's performance, especially given the likeable Fernandez's departure, the temporary appointment of Albert Emon, a man who has been caretaker so often he always keeps a mop within reach, and all their hopes resting on the wantaway Ribéry and broken leg, non-goalscoring goalscorer Djibril Cissé, on loan from Liverpool.

There is no Fabien Barthez in goal; the France number one's salary was too hefty for the club's fragile purse strings though replacement Cédric Carrasso is promising, while young defender Roland Zubar, smuggled away from Caen, is tipped as a future William Gallas.

Up in the capital, PSG look to be getting things right after spending years in the doldrums despite owners, pay-TV channel Canal+, throwing vast sums of good money after bad players.

Canal+ have now gone, and in president Alain Cayzac, a PSG man of the last three decades, the club finally has a man at the helm who a) loves the club and b) actually knows something about football.

Cayzac confirmed the moustachioed Guy Lacombe would continue the foundation work of last season - ninth place after coming in midway through the campaign. And the transfer dealings have been shrewd if not spectacular.

Nice defender Sammy Traoré and Strasbourg forward Amara Diané have been lured to the Parc des Princes, while industrious midfielders David Hellebuyck and Albert Baning have arrived from St Etienne and Switzerland via China respectively, with Cayzac stressing the importance that PSG was the club many of his new players 'supported as a boy.'

The Batman-fight-scene-acronymed Pierre-Alain Frau, a Lacombe protegé at Sochaux, has been brought in and should ease the goalscoring burden on the shoulders of Pauleta, Ligue 1 top scorer last season and supplier of nearly 50% of his team's goals, while a supporting cast of France's Vikash Dhorasoo, Ivorian Bonaventure Kalou and Colombian Mario Yepes should see PSG flirt with a top-two finish.

The same cannot be said of last season's runners-up, Bordeaux.

Despite the obvious allure of some of the planet's finest claret, they have only managed to persuade ex-Werder playmaker Johan Micoud to swap Riesling for red in a quiet opening to their mercato, though their decision not to sign Liverpool reserve starlet Bruno Cheyrou on a permanent deal is probably a boost to their hopes.

Expect their Scrooge-esque defence, a Ligue 1 best of 25 goals conceded last season, and veteran keeper Ulrich Ramé to be the mainstay of a long and drudge-filled crawl into the top four.

Northerners Lille and Lens, third and fourth last year, have been equally frugal, though Lille's ability to hang onto coach Claude Puel, despite the come-hither glances being cast from Monaco, may prove their best piece of business this summer; and watch out for Lens' Sidi Keita, sneaked out of Strasbourg and expected to replace World Cup finalist Alou Diarra should his projected move to Roma come to fruition.

The vacant coaching position at Monaco has been filled by the well-travelled Laszlo Bölöni, who dragged Rennes kicking and screaming to the brink of Champions League football last season, and a man with an authoritarian reputation so fierce he makes Graeme Souness look like Alice in Wonderland.

Bölöni almost sparked a mass exodus of disgruntled players from his former club and for all his messianic miracle-working in Brittany, there are doubts whether the Romanian's strong-arm tactics will work with the bigger reputations in the millionaires' playground. But he will certainly try.

Christian Vieri has gone, though there is new signing Jan Koller to bully into playing the lumbering big man role up front.

But the loss of full-back Douglas Maicon to Inter, Squillaci to Lyon and, potentially, other centre-back Gaël Givet to Juventus, where his ex-boss Deschamps has fond memories of away-day card schools with the shaggy France defender, mean Bölöni will have to build from the back with rumours he is to strengthen [sic] his rearguard with Jean-Alain Boumsong.

And the rest?

Well, Auxerre and Nice may trouble the top eight again, but does it really matter? Lyon and Gérard have a one-track mind and they are not ready for page 2 of the Kama Sutra just yet.

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