Match OM's mental strength, says Garde
By A. Scott
Olympique Lyonnais coach Rémi Garde has urged his team to match Olympique de Marseille's mental strength as the two rivals prepare to meet in a crucial encounter at the Stade de Gerland on Sunday evening.
Olympique Lyonnais - Olympique de Marseille
The second Olympico of the season is a battle between the clubs that sat in second and third place respectively coming into the weekend, with OL trying to keep up with Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain and OM now focused on fending off the threat to their top-three status being posed by the likes of AS Saint-Etienne and OGC Nice.
Marseille's patchy form since the winter break, especially away from home, means that Lyon must be considered favourites as they look to beat OM for the second time this season following their stunning 4-1 triumph at the Stade Vélodrome in November.
Elie Baup's men have failed to win any of their four away league games in 2013 and only just scraped a 2-1 home victory against ESTAC Troyes last weekend. However, they showed great character to come from behind in the final ten minutes and win that match. While the quality of their play has been called into question recently, their mental strength is impressive, as Garde is only too aware.
'More like a European game'
"I know that they have been struggling away from home since the start of the year," he said. "But a match at the Stade de Gerland is different. This will be more like a European game than a Ligue 1 game, and OM are used to playing in games like these.
"They are a difficult team to beat, and are still up there despite what they say. They are mentally much stronger than most teams. Against them, you are never safe until the final whistle. That is down to the mentality and the environment at the club."
Important, but not decisive
Out of Europe and both domestic cups, the two clubs have been left with just the league to focus on between now and the end of the campaign. Neither will be too disappointed if they miss out on the title to a PSG side who are overwhelming favourites, but both are desperate to return to the Champions League next season. That means a top-three finish is crucial. However, Garde says nothing will be decided this weekend.
"It is very important for both teams, but there will be ten matches left to play after," he insisted. "That is a lot. We are still a long way from the finish. Of course, it is important to win against a direct rival. But every game, every weekend is difficult.
"The idea for us is to be consistent. We are not worrying too much about other teams. If we keep going at a rate of two points per game then we won't be far away. Behind us there are teams like Lille, who have found form and have caused us the most problems, and Saint-Etienne, who are playing with panache and picking up points. And then there is Marseille. These teams can all finish the season strongly."
Gonalons, Cheyrou back
Lyon are set to welcome back captain Maxime Gonalons in midfield after he sat out last Sunday's 1-1 draw with Brest in Brittany with a calf problem, and there was more good news this week when Yoann Gourcuff returned to training after his latest spell on the sidelines with an adductor muscle injury. However, Anthony Réveillère misses out due to illness.
Benoît Cheyrou has also returned to training for Marseille after a thigh injury and could be available for the game, although he is unlikely to start as OM go looking for revenge for that painful defeat to Lyon back in November. They have not won at the Stade de Gerland since November 2007, but defender Rod Fanni believes there have been enough encouraging signs in their recent performances - even in the back-to-back away defeats to PSG in league and cup - to suggest they can take all three points this time.
"Even if our matches have not always been the best to watch and we have not been playing the way we would like to, I think we deserve to be in the top three," said Fanni. "Everything is possible. We showed in the two games against Paris that we can compete, so I don't see why we can't cause Lyon problems."
Lyon: Vercoutre; Dabo, Bisevac, Lovren, Umtiti; Gonalons (c), Malbranque, Grenier (or Fofana); Lacazette, Gomis, Lisandro
Marseille: Mandanda (c); Fanni, Nkoulou, Mendes, Morel; Romao, Barton; J. Ayew (or Sougou), Valbuena, A. Ayew; Gignac