Lyon gaining momentum as Bordeaux’s dip continues

Lyon’s impressive run of form is gaining momentum at a crucial time
in the season, with Claude Puel’s team knocking out Real Madrid in
the Champions League the same night defending champion Bordeaux
slipped up again to open up the French title race.

Lyon’s 1-1 draw at Real Madrid on Wednesday sent it through
to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.

“Grandiose!” screamed Thursday’s headline of French sports
daily L’Equipe, above a photo of players hugging scorer Miralem
Pjanic.

“This team is starting to write its own history,” Puel said.
“We have been through some tough times, but kept going.”

Lyon’s joy contrasted sharply with the mood at Stade Chaban
Delmas as Bordeaux dropped points at home for the fourth time in
the last five league matches, losing to Auxerre 2-1.

Bordeaux desperately needs to win at Monaco on Saturday,
while Lyon hosts local rival Saint-Etienne.

“As long as we remain this inconsistent over 90 minutes,
things won’t go well,” Bordeaux defender Matthieu Chalme said. “We
have to pick things up quickly at Monaco because we are no longer
with it in the league. We’ve disappeared.”

Bordeaux is level with Montpellier on 52 points, leads
third-place Auxerre by one point and Lyon by two points – although
those three teams have played 27 games and Bordeaux has played 26.

Marseille is only three points behind Bordeaux in fifth,
having also played 26 games.

Bordeaux seemed in total command when it led Montpellier by
10 points and Lyon by 13 at the winter break, and expectation was
high that the team could win the domestic treble.

But since January, the growing speculation whether coach
Laurent Blanc will replace Raymond Domenech as France coach after
this year’s World Cup, and the poor form of playmaker Yoann
Gourcuff have been major factors in Bordeaux’s dip.

Gourcuff was hailed as the successor to famed playmaker
Zinedine Zidane after his sparkling performances lit up the French
league last season, but his poor form was evident when he failed to
impress for France against Spain last week.

Lyon’s turnaround has been more efficient than spectacular.

The attacking football that helped Lyon win seven straight
league titles with the likes of playmaker Juninho and striker Karim
Benzema has given way to a more efficient style of play under Puel.

As a midfielder, Puel was the workhorse in Monaco’s glitzy
midfield and had more grit than skill. His emphasis on greater
teamwork, improved fitness and tighter defending has made Lyon a
much harder team to beat.

Lyon has kept five consecutive clean sheets in the league and
allowed one goal in two games against Madrid’s star-studded attack.
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is growing in confidence and Brazil
defender Cris is back to his best.

“No one believed in us before the (Real Madrid) match,” Cris
said. “People will look at Lyon differently now.”

PSG’s problems, meanwhile, are mounting ahead of Saturday’s
home match against Sochaux.

PSG’s previous home game against Marseille saw violent
clashes between rival PSG supporters and left one fan in a coma.
His condition remains life-threatening and security will again be
high at Parc des Princes on Saturday.

The feud concerns rival groups from different ends of the
stadium – the Kop of Boulogne behind one goal and the Tribune
d’Auteuil behind the other – and had simmered since a similar spate
of bloody clashes marred the 2005-06 season.

Tensions resurfaced when Boulogne and Auteuil started
fighting again at an away match in Lille in January and pleas by
the club for calm have gone unheeded, culminating in the brutal
street battles as Boulogne followers attacked Auteuil’s fans before
the Marseille game on Feb. 28.

The French league banned all PSG fans from traveling to Lens
last weekend and ordered PSG to play its home game against Boulogne
on March 28 behind closed doors. PSG’s away match at Nice next
weekend will also be in an empty stadium.

PSG, which spoke confidently about qualifying for the
Champions League at the start of the season, is in 14th place with
34 points, one point behind Sochaux, which has played a game less.

In Saturday’s other games, it’s: Le Mans vs. Nice; Lorient
vs. Lens; Montpellier vs. Auxerre; and Nancy vs. Boulogne. On
Sunday, Lille hosts last-place Grenoble, Rennes is at Valenciennes,
and Marseille travels to Toulouse.