PARIS, Nov 3 — Lyon head into Sunday’s Rhone-Alpes derby with fierce rivals Saint-Etienne on a terrific run of form sparked by the return to prominence of captain and leading scorer Nabil Fekir.
The 24-year-old has helped fill the considerable hole left by the sale of prolific striker Alexandre Lacazette in the summer and dragged Lyon out of an early-season rut.
Fekir’s last-gasp freekick earned Lyon a 3-2 win over reigning champions Monaco on October 13 — halting a five-match winless streak — and Bruno Genesio’s team haven’t looked back since.
His nine goals in 10 league matches trail only Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani in France and earned Fekir a recall from national team boss Didier Deschamps for upcoming friendlies against Wales and Germany.
“The derby is coming up and we know the most important thing is to win. We’ll give it our all for our supporters,” said Fekir following yesterday’s 3-0 victory over Everton in the Europa League.
“We’ve did our job well. It’s a good win against a good Everton side… It would be good to seal our qualification before December but we’re going to try and get first place.”
Lyon, who are chasing a fourth straight league win, are seven points behind leaders and strong title favourites Paris Saint-Germain, with second-place Monaco three points ahead.
“All the players know the importance of the match, even those who have just arrived. You have these matches in your head from the start of the season,” said Lyon coach Genesio.
But Lyon have lost on their last three trips to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, where Saint-Etienne will be attempting to relaunch their push for Europe after winning just once in five outings.
“The derby is a very, very special match. It’s the game that we most want to win for the fans,” Saint-Etienne coach Oscar Garcia said following last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Toulouse. “I hope we’ve saved the goals for this match.”
PSG ‘best in Europe’
Anderlecht coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck called PSG “quite simply the best team in Europe” at present after his team were destroyed 5-0 at the Parc des Princes in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Unai Emery’s side cruised into the last 16 of the competition after recording a fourth straight group-stage win — a run that has seen them score an impressive 17 goals without conceding.
“If the final were tomorrow I think they would win it,” the Belgian club’s coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck said of PSG, who return to domestic action away to Angers on Saturday.
Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco all but watched their Champions League hopes evaporate as Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Besiktas left them bottom of their section with just two points.
“I have two distinct feelings. I’m sad about the result but I’m very happy with the team’s attitude,” Jardim said afterwards. “We have to keep believing. It’s not finished…there’s still a small chance (of qualifying).”
Monaco also lost Thomas Lemar to a shoulder injury which is expected to sideline the France international for between three and four weeks.
They host Guingamp on Saturday, while Marseille — beaten 1-0 by Vitoria Guimaraes in the Europa League yesterday — will try to extend their six-game unbeaten run in Ligue 1.
Marseille’s defeat in Portugal was overshadowed by an alarming altercation that resulted in veteran defender Patrice Evra being sent off for launching a karate-style kick at one of the club’s fans before kickoff.
Ligue 1 fixtures today
Rennes v Bordeaux (1945)
Angers v Paris Saint-Germain (1600), Monaco v Guingamp, Montpellier v Amiens, Nantes v Toulouse, Troyes v Alsace
Nice v Dijon (1400), Marseille v Caen, Metz v Lille (both 1600), Saint-Etienne v Lyon — AFP