Nabil Fekir and Moussa Dembélé will spearhead Olympique Lyonnais' bid for a fourth successive Ligue 1 Conforama win when they go to OGC Nice on Sunday.
OGC Nice - Olympique Lyonnais
Lyon are the French top-flight's in-form team as they prepare for their upcoming UEFA Champions League encounter with Barcelona. Though they lost their Coupe de la Ligue quarter-final with RC Strasbourg-Alsace, it is the only slip Bruno Genesio's side have made in nine competitive outings since the turn of the year, and their league form has kept them in third place, just three points behind LOSC Lille in second.
Fekir and Dembélé have had much to do with that. The Lyon captain has struck five times in his last seven league games, while Dembélé, who originally struggled for goals following his summer switch from Celtic, has hit a rich vein of three in his last four to join Fekir on seven league strikes this campaign. Both were on target last Sunday as OL became the first team to defeat leaders Paris Saint-Germain in the league this season, even if goalkeeper Anthony Lopes' saves also played a central role.
"It gets very emotional after a match like that. Antho [Lopes] was decisive when the time came. As usual. I saw tonight that my team have really made progress," said Genesio, whose side are now six points clear of neighbours AS Saint-Étienne in fourth.
"The game plan was simple but we still had to put it together out on the pitch. We decided to push high uptake pitch and go after them. You open yourself up playing in this way, but you also give yourself a chance to win it, as was the case tonight. We managed to get back in to the match and beat PSG. We knew we were capable of beating them."
Coupe de France win
The seven-time French champions made four changes to the team that beat PSG — with Memphis Depay, Hossem Aouar, Bertrand Traoré and Léo Dubois all dropping out — and were still too strong for En Avant Guingamp in Thursday's Coupe de France Last 16 tie as they clinched a quarter-final berth with a 2-1 win in Brittany.
"Qualifying is the most important thing in the cup, but overall, we're happy with the performance, how we contrrolled things," said Genesio, who saw Dembélé and Maxwel Cornet score before Alexandre Mendy's late consolation for the hosts.
"We had chances to score a second before half-time, but only did so after it, and after that, we settled for controlling the game, controlling play. We made life tough for ourselves in the last three or four minutes when we conceded."
Ninth, three points off fourth, ahead of the weekend, Nice will be anxious hosts as they have seen their form stagnate. Just two wins in their last nine league games has slowed their momentum, though they have lost just two of those matches, which suggests they will be a difficult side to break down.
They also defeated Lyon earlier in the season, and are seeking to take a maximum six-point haul against OL for the first time since the 1959/60 season. However, if their 4-0 loss at Lille last time out is the yardstick by which to measure their chances, they look short.
"We came up against a much stronger side than us, and we didn’t have the ingredients to make them doubt themselves this evening. We were punished by a team that was clearly better than us. Lille have too much pace and individual quality. We let them attack on the counter through our lack of aggression. In behind us, they were very quick," said coach Patrick Vieira, who has Pierre-Lees Melou suspended against Lyon, after seeing his team dismantled at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
"We have always been aware of our strengths and weaknesses. In this evening’s match, we saw one side with the means to qualify for the Champions League and another who will try to battle to finish as high as possible. In terms of quality, there is a huge difference between Lille and us."
Nice: Benítez; Jallet, Hérelle, Dante, Sarr, Burner; Walter, Tameze, Cyprien (c); Maolida, Saint-Maximin
Lyon: Lopes; Dubois, Marcelo, Denayer, Mendy; Ndombele, Aouar; Traoré, Fekir (c), Depay; Dembélé