Lyon needs Gourcuff to inspire title challenge
Yoann Gourcuff needs to find his form again if Lyon is to get back in the French title race, with games running out and a six-point deficit on leader Lille.
Fourth-place Lyon - which won seven consecutive titles between 2002 and 2008 - travels to Nice on Sunday with 10 games remaining to overtake Rennes, Marseille and Lille.
Gourcuff's performances have fallen way below the massive expectation generated by his 22 million euros ($27.8 million) move from Bordeaux early into the season.
Some critics question whether he should even be in Claude Puel's team, let alone if he is still a match winner.
For now, he still has the support of his teammates, with defender Pape Diakhate saying Gourcuff will bounce back in time to spark Lyon's title challenge.
"A player can have highs and lows," Diakhate said. "At the moment he's a little off form, but it will come back."
Diakhate thinks Gourcuff has come in for some overly harsh treatment.
"There is a plot against 'Yo' (Gourcuff) that is not worth it," Diakhate told RMC radio. "Sometimes the press are a bit sadomaso(chistic). They have a very good player, they now want to criticize him and put everything on his back."
Gourcuff's price tag, and the fact he is a pale shadow of the player who lit up the league with spectacular goals during Bordeaux's title run two seasons ago, are both working against him now.
"He hasn't asked for what is happening to him. The notoriety he has is not his fault," Diakhate added. "He is not superhuman."
Gourcuff still scores the odd goal for France, like he did against Luxembourg last Friday.
But even the support of France coach Laurent Blanc, his coach when Bordeaux won the title, has failed to revitalize him. A return of two league goals in 22 games this season has done little to silence the doubters.
The theory often offered by Blanc - that Gourcuff's confidence took a huge blow after France's awful World Cup campaign - is also wearing thin seeing as that was now nine months ago.
Diakhate, however, insists Gourcuff can still get back to his best.
"Every day in training he is doing the right things," Diakhate said. "The fact he scored for his country against Luxembourg will do him some good."
But with Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas running out of patience with Puel's stuttering title bid, the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of the coach and his star player.
Meanwhile, Lille hosts Caen on Saturday as it defends a four-point lead over second-place Marseille, which goes to struggling Lens on Sunday.
Rennes is five points behind Lille in third spot, while Paris Saint-Germain is 10 points back in fifth.
Marseille plays for the first time since Brandao joined Brazilian club Cruzeiro on loan, hoping the media frenzy surrounding the striker will dissipate.
Brandao is facing accusations of rape, after an investigating judge filed preliminary charges against him this month and then released him from custody pending further investigation.
Marseille president Jean-Claude Dassier said this week it would be impossible for Brandao to continue playing in France for the remainder of the season, and his long-term future also remains unclear.
PSG's title bid took a huge blow after the 2-1 defeat at Marseille two weeks ago, and veteran goalkeeper Gregory Coupet says failure to beat Lorient on Saturday will hamper PSG's chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
"We have had a very bad month and it is time to pick up points, especially at home," Coupet said. "We have to stay in the race for third place, and for that we have less and less room for mistakes."
In Saturday's other games, it's: Arles-Avignon vs. Monaco; Nancy vs. Bordeaux; Rennes vs. Auxerre; Sochaux vs. Brest; and Toulouse vs. Montpellier.
Sixth-place Saint-Etienne hosts Valenciennes in Sunday's other match