Olympique Lyonnais begin a potentially decisive month in their season when they play host to a floundering Angers SCO on Sunday.
Olympique Lyonnais - Angers SCO
Lyon find themselves in third place in the table at the halfway stage of the Ligue 1 Conforama campaign, level on points with second-placed AS Monaco and nine adrift of leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG will be the visitors to Lyon next weekend, while after they meet in the Coupe de France Round of 32, OL will face Monaco once again — this time with three potentially vital points at stake — in the principality on 4 February, the last of six matches in a testing, sapping series that could be decisive in the race for a top two finish and automatic qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
"The small details will make the difference," said OL defender Marcelo when asked for his thoughts on the race behind PSG, one that includes fourth-placed Olympique de Marseille, just three points further back. "We'll need to be as focussed as possible, especially away from home. We'll absolutely have to take points from our direct rivals to put ourselves in a favourable position in the table.
"Tiredness and recovery will also be important factors. We have to think about the series of eight matches to come. We're prepared well physically and we have to maintain our current momentum.
"We have a squad full of talented players, like Tanguy [Ndombele] and Nabil [Fekir], and we have to use that to go as far as possible. They have real qualities and they give us all confidence. They're very talented. We're happy to play alongside them and we also like to see them play in matches."
Victors in their closing four league games of 2017, Lyon also triumphed — but only just — in their opening match of 2018, coming through with two late goals to win 3-2 at AS Nancy Lorraine last weekend.
They are unlikely to underestimate Angers, despite the visitors arriving at the Groupama Stadium second-from-bottom of the table. OL's new home celebrated its second birthday this week, and the hosts will be particularly wary of what Angers could do to the festive atmosphere as Stéphane Moulin's men ruined Lyon's party planned for the last game at their former home by winning at the Stade Municipal de Gerland in December 2015.
"They perform well away from home. It'll be a difficult game. We expect the same kind of match as the first game, with opponents who'll stay compact and who'll play on the counter-attack. They have the means to trouble us," noted Lyon boss Bruno Genesio.
"It'll be a good test, like the one Nancy had for us in the Coupe de France. We have to be able to beat those teams that sit back and wait for us, especially at home. It's necessary. We have analysed this opponent well and we have prepared the game well, but sometimes, football can be bizarre."
Angers have been knocked out of the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue this week, but they battled to a 3-3 draw with Lyon when they met earlier this season, and Moulin believes his team — who are just a point from safety — have shown encouraging signs.
"I think we're better, we're more solid. We will get even more players back. We were coherent even if not everything was perfect. That wasn't enough. That was the verdict at the end of the game, unfortunately. We played our hand as well as we could. We can't be criticised for that," said Moulin after seeing Montpellier secure a 1-0 win over his side in the Coupe de la Ligue quarter-finals on Wednesday.
"Each year has its own story. We can't think about what happened last year. Now we only have the league. That's good, because we have work to do. It's up to us to do our job so that on 16 May we can again celebrate our top-flight survival."
Lyon: Lopes; Tete, Marcelo, Morel, Marçal; Tousart, Aouar; Cornet, Fekir, Depay; Gouiri
Angers: Butelle; Bamba, Traoré, Thomas, Manceau; Oniangué, Santamaria, Mangani; Fulgini, Toko Ekambi, Tait