Lyon focuses on catching Bordeaux in French league

Having joined Bordeaux in the Champions League knockout round after just four group games, Lyon now takes a break from European action to focus on wrestling the league title back from its French rival.

Lyon drew 1-1 with Liverpool at Stade Gerland on Wednesday to seal its place in the next round, but Claude Puel’s team is in second place and trails leader Bordeaux by two points heading into Sunday’s home game against Marseille.

With Bordeaux also sealing its qualification after four group games, French football enjoyed a productive week.

“They were not easy groups and it’s good for French football that we can qualify,” Puel said. “That’s great, but we need to show that we can go further.”

Puel’s team has been hampered by injuries all season, and Puel lost two more players in a gritty match against the Reds that left his team exhausted. Lyon will be without right back Anthony Reveillere and creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic for the Marseille game.

“It took a lot of physical and mental energy out of us, the players are very, very tired,” Puel said.

Puel’s defense has been changing all season, and with Francois Clerc also out, Lyon is now missing both its full backs.

“Recovery is the order of the day and we will see who is available, but Reveillere and Pjanic will both be out,” Puel said.

France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan has shown his versatility by dropping back into the center of Lyon’s defense alongside Cris.

With Pjanic out and Toulalan filling in as an emergency defender, Lyon midfielder Jean II Makoun will have much to do against Marseille, where he will come up against his Cameroon teammate Stephane M’Bia.

“It will be another big game, like a European match,” Makoun said. “We will need to rest well.”

After 11 rounds, Bordeaux has 25 points, Lyon has 23 and Monaco is in third place with 21.

Marseille, which enjoyed a resounding 6-1 win over FC Zurich Tuesday, is seven points behind Bordeaux – having played a game less – and needs to avoid defeat in Lyon to stay within touching distance in the title race.

Bordeaux travels to play Lille on Sunday buoyed by its 2-0 win away to Bayern Munich, a performance that left former France great Zinedine Zidane in a complimentary mood about his former international teammate Laurent Blanc’s fast-improving team.

“They never looked in trouble,” Zidane said. “It’s great for French football that our clubs are at the forefront of Europe again.”

Blanc feels his players “are growing in confidence all the time”, despite a recent blip which saw Les Girondins lose consecutive games to Saint-Etienne and Auxerre.

“Beating a top European side twice in two weeks underlines how much we have improved. We can afford to be ambitious,” Bordeaux midfielder Alou Diarra said. “However, our objective now is to think about the first division.”

At the bottom of the table, things are looking increasingly bleak for Grenoble, which has no points.

Grenoble has a rare chance to be mentioned alongside Manchester United – providing it loses at Monaco on Saturday. Another defeat would match United’s mark of losing its 12 opening league games, set in the 1930-31 season.

Grenoble, which stayed up last season following its promotion from division two, appears certain to be relegated and has only managed to score five goals while conceding 23. Monaco’s Brazilian midfielder Nene will be confident of adding to his league-leading nine goals.

In Saturday’s other games, it is: Le Mans vs. Auxerre; Lorient vs. Boulogne; Nancy vs. Saint-Etienne; Paris Saint-Germain vs. Nice; Valenciennes vs. Montpellier, and Sochaux vs. Lens.

PSG has been buoyed by the return of Turkey striker Mevlut Erding from injury. Erding scored in PSG’s 4-1 win at Sochaux last weekend.

Toulouse plays Rennes in Sunday’s other game.