Football: Lyon facing first test of metal

2nd February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 2, 2007 (AFP) - Champions Lyon travel to lowly Troyes on Sunday with something of a mini-crisis on their hands.

PARIS, Feb 2, 2007 (AFP) - Champions Lyon travel to lowly Troyes on Sunday with something of a mini-crisis on their hands.

Despite being 13 points clear of their rivals at the top of the French league and through to the knock-out phase of the Champions League, Lyon are struggling.

Wednesday night saw the five-in-a-row champions suffer a late collapse against Marseille in the French Cup, conceding two goals in the last three minutes to lose 2-1 and crash out of the competition.

They have also not won in the league in their last four games.

When the French league took a three-week winter break, Lyon looked unstoppable, 15 points clear and having only failed to win three times in 19 league matches.

But since the turn of the year, Lyon are far from their suffocating best and the new addition of Czech forward Milan Baros has done little to stem the slide.

Defeats at Toulouse and at home to Bordeaux and a draw at Nice - adding to a draw with Monaco in their final game of 2006 - has seen Lyon's confidence badly hit.

The defeat to Marseille confirmed that this is not the same Lyon of earlier in the season - a team that looked head and shoulders above all others in Europe, including Barcelona.

Coach Gerard Houllier is convinced that Lyon's plight fits with the old adage that form is temporary while class is permanent.

"You can count on us to bounce back," he told L'Equipe newspaper after the Marseille defeat.

"We are not dispirited, there's much worse that can happen in life. We still have a lot to fight for. This is one goal that is gone but there are others."

Worringly for Lyon, they have started to concede late goals, whereas they snatched many wins with last gasp efforts earlier in the season.

"In the first half of the season it was us who scored at the end of games, now it's our opponents," said Brazilian playmaker Juninho, who this week was voted by sports media as France's sportsman of the year for 2006.

It's hard to explain but we're still ready. Doubt is normal when teams lose but we still have the desire to progress."

But while Lyon scratch around for some form, all eyes will be on the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.

Resurgent Marseille host Paul Le Guen's Paris St Germain, still looking for their first league win under the former Lyon and Rangers boss.

PSG have been much tighter at the back under Le Guen, conceding just one goal in five matches, in a 1-0 defeat at Lille, however they have picked up only two league points in three games since firing Guy Lacombe.

Two narrow 1-0 victories in the cup have seen PSG progress to the quarter-finals but they need to start finding league goals to keep their heads above the relegation zone.

That will not be easy against a Marseille team led by fit again Franck Ribery and with on-loan Liverpool forward Djibril Cisse, who Thursday earned a recall to the France squad, firing in a hatful of goals.

In other games Saturday second-placed Lille host Fabien Barthez and struggling Nantes while third-placed Lens travel to Valenciennes.

Monaco entertain Auxerre while rock-bottom Sedan travel to St Etienne, who have been boosted by the decision of star forward Frederic Piquione to remain at the club during the January transfer window.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Football

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