Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Fekir and Khazri duel in St. Etienne-Lyon derby date

Publish on 17/01/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


Nabil Fekir and Wahbi Khazri will duel at distance as Olympique Lyonnais and AS Saint-Etienne collide in Sunday's Rhône derby with a podium place and bragging rights up for grabs.

 AS Saint-Etienne - Olympique Lyonnais 

Fekir won the FIFA World Cup with France last summer, but the Lyon captain's season has been disrupted by niggling injuries that have limited the flashes of brilliance borne of his undoubted talent.

A knock to an ankle in last weekend's 1-1 draw at home to Stade de Reims meant he started Wednesday's rescheduled Week 17 encounter at Toulouse FC on the bench, but when his team needed him, he came to their rescue.

With Lyon 1-0 down, Fekir replaced Lucas Tousart on the hour mark, and after Jimmy Durmaz's penalty had given the visitors a two-goal mountain to climb with a meagre 15 minutes left, Fekir led the ascent.

His inch-perfect pass for another substitute, Moussa Dembélé, saw Lyon pull one back and Fekir then arrowed a delicious free-kick beyond Baptiste Reynet to salvage an unlikely point and announce a timely return to form.

"He responded in the best way to the critics," said coach Bruno Genesio. "He's our captain and he showed that he's ready to stand up and be counted. I must highlight the performance of the players who came off the bench, which shows that everyone feels involved. There is desire and a real spirit in this team."

"He showed his character and, of course, his ability with free-kicks as well as the pass for Moussa," added teammate Anthony Lopes. "It has been tough on him, but I hope he's now gotten over that and will bring us a lot of points."

Depay drought

The seven-time Ligue 1 Conforama champions need Fekir firing, particularly with Memphis Depay having now gone ten games without finding the net, and with his team having recorded just a single win in their last six league outings.

That run has allowed arch-rivals Saint-Etienne to sneak up and — with Wednesday's come-from-behind win over Olympique de Marseille, their sixth victory in nine league games — overtake Lyon with Jean-Louis Gasset's men leapfrogging their neighbours to claim third place in the table for themselves.

The victory came courtesy of a Khazri brace as the Tunisia international — excelling after returning to in France on a permanent basis last summer after an unhappy spell at Sunderland — took his tally to a career-best 12 with the campaign only just beyond the midway point.

Ten of those goals have come in home games — in contrast to the four strikes and one assist Dembélé has away this season for Lyon — and has helped make the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard a formidable place to come, and not only because of the furious passion of the team's loyal fans.

Les Verts have won their last five matches inside Le Chaudron (The Cauldron), and are unbeaten in 11 home games in all, and Gasset explained after the defeat of Marseille how everyone involved with the club has played a part in that.

"Did I thank Khazri? Why only him? Thanks to the team, the fans, to [Stéphane] Ruffier, to [Loïc] Perrin, to [Yann] M'Vila. He finished off the work, he's the last link in the chain. He did his work very well, like the majority of the team," said the former Montpellier Hérault SC coach, whose side are now two points clear of OL.

"If you had said we would be in front of Lyon before the derby, we would have smiled. But we haven't stolen our points."