Rhone neigh­bours go to war in fiery French derby

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

PARIS: The Rhone derby against neigh­bours Saint-Eti­enne comes at the right time for Lyon.

The seven-time cham­pi­ons have won five of their last six games and are un­beaten in 10 ahead of the big match of the week­end in the French league.

Both clubs are well po­si­tioned in the stand­ings, with third-placed Lyon trail­ing lead­ers Mar­seille by four points and Saint-Eti­enne in sixth, four points fur­ther back.

With 10 league ti­tles to their name, Saint-Eti­enne is the most dec­o­rated French club while Lyon dom­i­nated the first di­vi­sion be­tween 2002 and 2008, claim­ing seven ti­tles in a row. Their fierce ri­valry of­ten pro­duces clashes off the field, too, and only 400 Lyon fans will travel to the Ge­of­froy-Guichard Sta­dium on Sun­day night. Un­beaten in seven matches in all com­pe­ti­tions, Les Verts will be seek­ing their first home win in the top flight against Lyon in 20 years.

The ap­point­ment of Marcelo Bielsa as Mar­seille coach has been de­ci­sive in the team’s resur­gence this sea­son.

Lack­ing the mil­lions in­vested in Paris Saint-Ger­main by their Qatari own­ers, the Ar­gen­tine coach is com­pen­sat­ing with strong dis­ci­pline and as­tute strate­gic de­ci­sions.

This sea­son, Mar­seille played most of his games in a 3-3-3-1 sys­tem, with striker An­dre-Pierre Gignac scor­ing 11 of his team’s 30 goals. Ahead of Nantes’ visit to the Stade Velo­drome to­day, Bielsa is think­ing about start­ing with two strik­ers, Gignac and Michy Bat­shuayi.

“The prob­lem is when you play with two No9s, one of them has to play fur­ther down the pitch and on the sides,” Bielsa said. “And he will play worse than usual. On the other hand, it can hap­pen that the ad­di­tion of the two has a pos­i­tive im­pact on the team’s over­all per­for­mance.”

The for­mer Ar­gentina coach said that this as­pect of the game has been trou­bling him for years.

“I started to think about it 15 years ago, when I had (Her­nan) Cre­spo and (Gabriel) Batistuta un­der me,” Bielsa said. “It’s not an easy decision to take.”

With only three more points than the rel­e­ga­tion-threat­ened teams and the worse of­fen­sive record in the league, Lille is in tat­ters.

Be­cause of the Davis Cup fi­nal held in the north­ern French city last week­end, Rene Gi­rard’s side has not played since a 2-0 loss at Reims on Novem­ber 9 and their most re­cent win dates back to the end of Septem­ber. “We need to find a so­lu­tion. I hope this break will have done us some good be­cause the last month and a half has been very dif­fi­cult,” Lille mid­fielder Rio Mavuba said.

The prob­lem for Lille, who are also in­volved in a tir­ing Europa League cam­paign and claimed only one win in their last 12 matches, is that the club is now fac­ing a run of tough en­coun­ters be­fore the win­ter break.

First comes a trip to Bordeaux on Sun­day be­fore matches with lead­ers PSG and ri­vals Lens in the north­ern derby.

“I think we can come through this run of games bet­ter off than we were be­fore,” Mavuba said. “At the mo­ment I am not wor­ried but we know it will be dif­fi­cult.”

Highly-praised Monaco left-back Layvin Kurzawa could hit the Premier League sooner than ex­pected.

The 22-year-old France in­ter­na­tional trav­elled to Manch­ester ear­lier this week to at­tend City’s Cham­pi­ons League match against Bay­ern Mu­nich as a guest of the English cham­pi­ons. But ac­cord­ing to L’Equipe news­pa­per, a last-minute in­ter­ven­tion from his club pre­vented him from watch­ing the game from the stands and Kurzawa saw on it on TV in a ho­tel room.

Kurzawa did not play in Monaco’s 1-0 win at Bayer Lev­erkusen and will not make the squad for to­mor­row’s match at Rennes be­cause of a ham­string in­jury.

After sit­ting out PSG’s 3-1 win against Ajax in Cham­pi­ons League be­cause of leg in­juries, Thi­ago Silva and Thi­ago Motta re­turned to train­ing ahead their game against Nice.

Motta’s re­turn will bring some re­lief to coach Lau­rent Blanc after his team’s frail­ties in mid­field were ex­posed against the Dutch side.

“That’s the sec­ond time we’ve been be­hind (Ajax) in terms of pos­ses­sion.

“They played bet­ter foot­ball than us,” Blanc said. “We know that we’re not dom­i­nat­ing teams at the mo­ment. You have to an­a­lyse and try to un­der­stand why.” – Sapa-AP

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