OL eye podium place
By A. Scott
Olympique Lyonnais are not giving up hope of a top-three finish just yet as they prepare to welcome bottom club AJ Auxerre to the Stade de Gerland on Saturday evening.
Lyon come into Week 31 in fourth place in Ligue 1, six points behind Lille in third and with the games running out if they are to finish on the podium for a 14th consecutive season. However, results have improved in recent weeks, and last Sunday's 1-1 draw at Stade Rennais left Rémi Garde's side unbeaten in four league games, and five in all competitions, since their Champions League last-16 exit at the hands of APOEL.
This encounter is the first of three decisive games in eight days for Lyon, with a Coupe de France semi-final against Gazélec Ajaccio to come on Tuesday before next weekend's Coupe de la Ligue final showdown against Olympique de Marseille. OL are desperate to end their four-year trophy drought, but for now the focus is on keeping alive their chances of a return to the Champions League next season.
"We will see where we are at the end of the season," said goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. "With 24 points to play for a lot can still happen. If we can take all 24 points then we will not be far away from that third place. Our number one objective is still to qualify for the Champions League. We know it won't be easy but we hope we can do it and the desire is there."
Lloris: 'It won't be easy'
However, Lloris believes Lyon must still raise their performance levels if they are to avoid a slip-up against relegation-threatened Auxerre. He added: "They will be coming here looking for points, which they need in their battle to beat the drop. It won't be easy. They will sit back and it will be up to us to unlock their defence if we are to win the game.
"We can count ourselves lucky to have taken four points from our last two games because our performances have been rather inconsistent. Against Sochaux, we overcame fatigue to win the game but our performance was average. And we were lucky to have taken a point against Rennes, especially given our first-half display."
The statistics point in favour of a home win this weekend. Lyon have been beaten just twice at home all season, while Auxerre are one of only two teams in Ligue 1 - along with Stade Brestois 29 - still looking for their first away victory of the campaign. The Burgundy club last won on their travels at Lorient on the final day of last season. They have also won just once in their last 22 league visits to the Stade de Gerland and were soundly beaten 3-0 when the clubs met in Auxerre in November.
But having beaten Valenciennes 2-0 last weekend in what was Jean-Guy Wallemme's home debut as coach after replacing the sacked Laurent Fournier in the dugout last month, the AJA find themselves just three points from safety once again. They remain hopeful that they can drag themselves out of trouble and extend their top-flight stay into a 33rd consecutive season, but former Lens coach Wallemme knows his side must still raise their game to take anything from Lyon.
"A good fighting spirit is only going to get us so far," warned Wallemme this week. "That is the minimum we will need. If we don't manage to do that at the very least against a team like Lyon, even with all the respect I have for Valenciennes, then this is going to be a tougher challenge for us, especially away from home. They are all difficult games, but I just hope that we can come away from every game we play without any regrets. We know full well that Lyon will not make life easy for us."
Auxerre will be without Amadou Sidibé for around six months after he underwent surgery to repair ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee. Former Lyon defender Jérémy Berthod, Delvin Ndinga, Donovan Léon, Ben Sahar, Adama Coulibaly and Yaya Sanogo are also missing. For Lyon, Bakary Koné and Alexandre Lacazette are available again after suspension, but Yoann Gourcuff and Cris are still sidelined and Michel Bastos is a worry with a back problem.