With the winter break set to begin in several European football leagues following the weekend fixtures before Christmas, the situation at the top of Ligue 1 in France is much closer than in previous seasons under Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) domination. Without the distraction of a European campaign this term, Marseille are offering a genuine challenge to the reigning champions but after a rather indifferent beginning to the 2014-15 season, it is the form of Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) which is now attracting serious attention.
During the early millennium years, Lyon won the French title in seven consecutive seasons but they have not claimed the crown since the 2007-08 campaign. The club has been beset with financial problems in recent times with revenues directed towards the building of the new Stade des Lumieres to replace the current Stade de Gerland. As such, funds for the recruitment of new players have been limited with Lyon becoming a predominantly selling club content to follow a youth policy.
Although Lyon finished fifth last season in Ligue 1, there were 5-1and 4-0 defeats at Montpellier and PSG respectively and the decision by Head Coach Remi Garde to quit the club after three years at the helm. His replacement Hubert Fournier had guided Reims to promotion from Lique 2 and stabilised the club in the top flight.
However, Fournier’s tenure at Lyon did not begin with much success. Elimination from the Europa League in the play-off round and three defeats in the first four league games, including a 1-0 home loss to newly promoted Lens, did not offer a great deal of optimism. Yet a 2-1 home win against Monaco and a 1-1 draw at PSG followed which appeared to be the turning point for the current campaign.
Lyon have won every home match since then, including beating Montpellier 5-1, and the only defeat suffered was in the Rhone derby when losing 3-0 a St Etienne, a result which appeared to flatter the home team. Three successive victories followed and now Lyon will enter the second half of the season as real title contenders.
Their recent successful sequence has been achieved without influential midfielder Clement Grenier who is hopeful of a New Year comeback following a long-term injury but following the summer sale of striker Bafetimbi Gomis, it is Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir who have mainly assumed responsibility in attack. 23 year old Lacazette is a product of the Lyon youth system as is 21 year old Fekir and they have netted 15 and 6 league goals to date this season with other players providing a steady back-up.
It may be early days to talk about Lyon emerging as 2014-15 Ligue 1 title winners but Hubert Fournier appears content to follow the policy of encouraging locally developed players in response to the more lavish spending strategy of champions PSG. The challenge for Fournier will be to convince his young players to stay at Lyon and resist the offers of the richer European clubs.