Olympique Lyonnais are in a title fight while old foes AS Saint-Etienne can hardly buy a win and have been decimated by a coronavirus outbreak, meaning Sunday’s derby showdown at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard looks, on paper at least, like a complete mismatch.
AS Saint-Etienne - Olympique Lyonnais Sunday at 21:00 CET (2000 GMT)
This is still quite possibly the biggest fixture on the Ligue 1 Uber Eats calendar and remains a huge occasion, even if the absence of supporters at Le Chaudron due to coronavirus restrictions will inevitably take something away from it this time. The stakes could scarcely be higher too, with Les Verts and OL both needing points for very different reasons.
Lyon make the short 70-kilometre trip from the banks of the Rhône into the Loire département knowing they need to get back on track quickly after a shock 1-0 home loss to FC Metz last weekend saw them surrender top spot and drop two points behind both Paris Saint-Germain and LOSC at the top.
Caught cold by a Metz sucker punch in the 90th minute after earlier having a goal disallowed for a tight offside call, Rudi Garcia’s side saw their 16-game unbeaten run come to an end as they went down to a first defeat in four months.
Highlights: Lyon caught cold by Metz
'Derbies always special'
“We could have held on for a draw, even if we always look to win our matches. But honestly there is no cause for alarm,” said sporting director Juninho, a veteran of plenty of derby victories in his days as a Lyon player.
“Derbies are always special for all the Lyonnais. We are eager to get out there but we will need to make sure we are well prepared. Last Sunday we let slip three points and that defeat is sort of a wake-up call for the whole squad,” the Brazilian added.
“We were on an incredible unbeaten run but things happen very fast in football and we need to always be asking questions of ourselves. Metz was a great opportunity missed but I am convinced that we can use that setback to help us going forward into the rest of the season.”
Certainly Lyon remain on course to fulfil their primary objective for the campaign of a top-three finish and a return to the UEFA Champions League. In contrast, Saint-Etienne are locked in a battle for survival having ended last weekend in 16th place, four points above Nîmes Olympique in the relegation play-off spot and five points clear of the bottom two having played a game more than Dijon FCO in 19th.
Saint-Etienne left decimated
Claude Puel’s side were beaten 1-0 away at RC Strasbourg Alsace last time out with a line-up showing six changes from the previous game, a 3-1 loss at Stade de Reims. That was after what the club said was “numerous cases of Covid-19” were detected among players and staff.
Among the players missing in Alsace were Mathieu Debuchy, Harold Moukoudi, Timothée Kolodziejczak, Yvan Neyou, Wahbi Khazri, Denis Bouanga, Romain Hamouma and Kévin Monnet-Paquet. Meanwhile, Puel himself tested positive and was forced into self-isolation meaning he missed the game at the Stade de la Meinau. In total 10 players tested positive along with eight staff members, but the match went ahead.
“It was a grotesque situation,” said Puel during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “The players, the staff and the club had to adapt from one hour to the next. We did everything to respect the rules and manage what was a crazy situation.”
So how does Puel prepare to play Lyon in this situation? It is certainly one that Saint-Etienne could have done without after a run of just one win in their last 17 matches.
Highlights: Saint-Etienne kids lose narrowly at Strasbourg
“When a player tests positive, he has to self-isolate at home for seven days. After that he is allowed to train individually for seven days but he still needs to be tested to check his cardiac condition. So it needs to be done progressively and looking at each individual case. Only after those two seven-day periods have been completed can he restart group training and be available for the team,” Puel said.
“As long as you have one goalkeeper available and not more than 10 Covid cases among the players, the rules are clear: you have to play. It was the case against Strasbourg and it will be the case against Lyon even though six players will still be unavailable and four others will be short of training because they will only return to group training the day before, or on the day of the game.
“Despite that we won’t be crying about the situation. Whatever team we put out our motivation will be all the greater. The advantage of playing with youngsters who have grown up at the club is that they know what the derby represents.”
Lyon, meanwhile, will be without the suspended Lucas Paqueta but Houssem Aouar is likely to return to the line-up. Islam Slimani should again start on the bench after coming on to make his debut against Metz following his arrival from Leicester City on an 18-month contract.
OL won 2-1 when the sides met at the Groupama Stadium in November, with Tino Kadewere scoring twice. However, Saint-Etienne won the last meeting of the sides at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, triumphing 1-0 in Puel’s first game in charge in October 2019.
Saint-Etienne: Moulin - Moueffek, Sow, Kolodziejczak, Trauco - Nordin, Camara, Neyou, Aouchiche - Hamouma (c), Bouanga.
Lyon: Lopes - Dubois, Marcelo, Denayer, De Sciglio - Thiago Mendes, Guimaraes, Caqueret - Kadewere, Depay (c), Toko Ekambi.