Paris (AFP) – Lyon are hoping to build on their rousing Champions League win over Juventus this weekend as they face bitter rivals Saint-Etienne, whose coach Claude Puel heads into hostile territory under serious pressure.
Off the field, Lyon have established themselves as the second force in the French game behind Paris Saint-Germain, but they are struggling to translate that into on-pitch success.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Juventus in their Champions League last 16, first leg has raised hopes Lyon might win a knockout tie in the competition for the first time in a decade.
However, the result came with Rudi Garcia’s side languishing in seventh place in Ligue 1 and in serious danger of missing out on the Champions League next season.
«We showed that over 90 minutes we are capable of beating a team who are stronger than us,» said Garcia, who saw Brazilian Bruno Guimaraes, signed for 20 million euros ($22 million) in January, star on his home debut.
It was the first of three huge home games in eight days for Lyon — after Saint-Etienne, PSG visit in the French Cup semi-finals.
«It is going to be an exciting end to the season for us, but the watchword right now is recuperation,» said Garcia, whose side also face PSG in the League Cup final.
Most Lyon fans are still to be convinced by Garcia, and the club have reacted angrily to an image of their coach made up as a clown going viral online.
In a statement, they said they will take action against any future cases of online «defamation, slander, threatening behaviour, harassment or inciting hatred».
Garcia was appointed in October in the wake of a 1-0 defeat at Saint-Etienne in the last derby, which was also Puel’s first game in charge of Les Verts.
The former Leicester City boss enjoyed a good start at Saint-Etienne, going unbeaten through his first nine matches.
However, they have won just two of 12 league games played since the start of December and are hovering just above the relegation zone.
Puel also took the risky decision to drop goalkeeper and fan favourite Stephane Ruffier last weekend, and really needs a positive result.
Meanwhile, Lyon supporters will be desperate to pile on the misery for Puel, who managed OL from 2008 to 2011 before being sacked.
He later took legal action against the club in a bid to reclaim seven million euros for wrongful dismissal.
Puel was unsuccessful, and now his Saint-Etienne experience is at risk of turning sour unless his team can grind out a result on Sunday.
Player to watch: Edinson Cavani
With Neymar suspended, will Cavani keep his place in the Paris Saint-Germain side for their home game against Dijon?
The Uruguayan scored his 200th goal for the club in last week’s 4-3 win over Bordeaux after being selected ahead of Mauro Icardi.
It was a rare start this season for the 33-year-old, who is PSG’s record marksman, but he will be hopeful of forcing his way into Thomas Tuchel’s thinking for a place in the upcoming Champions League last 16, second leg against Borussia Dortmund.
Sitting 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, PSG should have few problems at home to a Dijon side sitting just above the relegation zone.
14 – PSG are unbeaten in 14 Ligue 1 games since their last defeat, away at Dijon in November.
7 – In their last 12 league games Saint-Etienne have collected just seven points. Les Verts have gone from fifth in the table at the end of November down to 15th.
4 – Lyon have won just four of their 12 home league games this season, although they are unbeaten in eight at the Groupama Stadium in all competitions.
Fixtures (kick-offs GMT)
Nimes v Marseille (1945)
Paris Saint-Germain v Dijon (1630), Amiens v Metz, Brest v Angers, Monaco v Reims, Montpellier v Strasbourg, Toulouse v Rennes (all 1900 GMT)
Nantes v Lille (1400), Bordeaux v Nice (1600), Lyon v Saint-Etienne (2000)