Bordeaux trying to run away with title

Defending champion Bordeaux has an eight-point lead at the top of

the French league, and it still has more to prove.

The team from southwest France will be looking to extend its

five-game winning streak in the league when it visits Toulouse on

Wednesday.

“The squad still has some room to improve,” Bordeaux coach

Laurent Blanc said. “It hasn’t reached its peak yet.”

Bordeaux, which will be missing France midfielder Alou Diarra

through suspension, leads the league with 40 points from 18

matches. Second-place Marseille, which has a game in hand, trailed

by eight points and faces Auxerre on Wednesday.

“Bordeaux is setting a frantic pace,” Marseille coach Didier

Deschamps said. “If they maintain that pace, it will be complicated

to catch them.”

Since the 1994-95 season, when a victory was worth three

points for the first time, no team with a lead of at least eight

points at the halfway stage has ever surrendered it. Paris

Saint-Germain squandered the biggest cushion when it led Auxerre by

seven points in the winter of 1995 but finished second in 1996

behind Auxerre.

Bordeaux owes much of its success to its defense, the

tightest in the French league and the Champions League. It has

earned 11 cleansheets in the French league and 16 in all

competitions this season.

“We’re defending better, Blanc said. “At the start of the

season, we scored a lot of goals but also conceded some. Now, we do

not concede when we score fewer goals.”

Marseille needs to win at home against Auxerre to ensure it

does not lose any more ground in the title race.

“The priority right now is the match against Auxerre on

Wednesday,” Marseille president Jean-Claude Dassier said. “We must

absolutely take three points.

“There’s a gap of eight points with Bordeaux, maybe just five

if we beat Sochaux (in our game in hand),” Dassier added. “We’ll

visit Bordeaux on Jan. 17.”

Auxerre won seven games in a row to take over at the top at

the end of November. But it has been struggling since then, scoring

only two goals in its last five matches.

Third-place Lille has recently joined the mix of contenders

for at least a Champions League spot.

“We are on an impressive streak and we hope to stretch it at

Nancy (on Wednesday),” Lille coach Rudi Garcia said.

After a sluggish start, the northern team now has the most

potent offense in the league with 33 goals scored, including 19 in

its last five matches. Gervinho and Pierre-Alain Frau have combined

for 17 goals.

“Our opponents know that we can score anytime,” Garcia said.

“That’s a real psychological weapon.”

Lyon, which was jeered last week at Stade Gerland despite a

2-0 win over Boulogne, hosts Montpellier.

“We have one last match to play Wednesday (before the winter

break) and we count on our supporters because it’s an important

match,” Lyon coach Claude Puel said. “We must produce a great

performance.”

Lyon has won only one of its last seven league matches.

Also Wednesday, it’s: Sochaux vs. Rennes; Le Mans vs. Monaco;

Nice vs. Boulogne; Paris Saint-Germain vs. Grenoble; and Lorient

vs. Valenciennes.

On Tuesday, Lens faces Saint-Etienne.