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.