Lyon might be able to challenge in Ligue 1 again
Currently level with PSG and Marseille
21 December ~ Once the dominant force in French football, Lyon are joint leaders of the league alongside Marseille and the nouveaux riche Paris Saint-Germain going into this weekend's fixtures. Two weeks ago they were five points clear but they now trail PSG on goal difference after losing to them last week. Having become accustomed to trophies, winning their first ever Ligue 1 championship in 2002 and then adding six more titles, Lyon's successes have been few and far between over the past five years.
Missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 13 seasons last year resulted in cost-cutting measures and wholesale changes over summer. Stalwarts Cris, Kim Kallstrom and Hugo Lloris departed as dressing room disharmony was also addressed and the club began this season with a squad boasting an average age of 23.
Bafétimbi Gomis looks to be finally fulfilling his undoubted potential, scoring ten goals thus far, complimented by the veteran Lisandro López in attack. Steed Malbranque has also been a revelation since joining in the summer. Without a club since his mysterious departure from Saint-Étienne last season only weeks after joining, Malbranque has already provided six assists from midfield.
Rémi Garde replaced Claude Puel as coach in June 2011, progressing from the role of training centre director and remaining in situ despite finishing fourth and overseeing a shock Champions League exit against Apoel. With the winter break fast approaching and the chance of being crowned "autumn champions" a distinct possibility, Garde is currently fielding questions on the likelihood of a sustained challenge: "I can say that every night I go to sleep dreaming of winning the title and I hope that my players do the same. But dreaming of something doesn't mean that you're going to easily achieve it." As a caveat, he added: "It's still up to PSG. It's only up to PSG."
PSG are certainly underachieving at present. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's recent hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Valenciennes took his total to 17 goals but they recorded only one win in five games last month. It may prove that the current sense of healthy competition will be shattered once PSG hit their stride but Lyon are working towards a more sustainable future and their acclaimed academy appears to be bearing fruit. Lyon look well equipped to at least achieve Champions League qualification again. Should they fall short, further cost cutting may ensue. Scott Johnson