x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

PSG looking to turn the tide on Lyon

PSG were once the dominant force in French football. Now on the mend, they hope to measure up against the current giants Lyon.

The PSG forward Ludovic Guily, a one-time Lyon player, says the start of the match is important against his former club.
The PSG forward Ludovic Guily, a one-time Lyon player, says the start of the match is important against his former club.

Who are the bigger club - Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain? You might think it's an insane question given that Lyon have won the last seven French league titles - but if there's one club who ought to regret allowing "OL" become the dominant force in "l'Hexagone", it's PSG. A decade ago, Jay-Jay Okocha was turning out for the capital's club, prodigal son Nicolas Anelka's return for a record-breaking £21 million (Dh114.6m) transfer fee was imminent and Ronaldinho - yes, that Ronaldinho - would soon pick PSG as the venue to launch his European career. Three French Cup triumphs topped Lyon's list of honours.

So much has changed since - why such starkly contrasting trajectories for OL and PSG over the past 10 years? The answers are brilliant planning and management on one side, comical leadership and chronic instability on the other. The Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas's relentless ambition and wonderful transfer policy - Lyon sell on their best stars for huge fees while always finding the next best French players to replace them - have turned "OL" into a dominant force and competitive one on the European stage.

While PSG have squandered money, swapped presidents and suffered so many false dawns you might think a solar eclipse permanently hangs over the Parc des Princes. Tonight's league meeting between the sides is an opportunity for PSG to see if they're closing the gap on Ligue 1's talismanic leaders. Ten points separate the sides, but there are signs that coach Paul Le Guen's summer spending spree is beginning to bear fruit.

The former France internationals Claude Makelele (bought from Chelsea) and Ludovic Giuly (Roma) have improved the side as well as the atmosphere in the dressing room. Stephane Sessegnon is an inventive link between midfield and attack and Guillaume Hoarau has picked up where he left off as Ligue 2's top-scorer with 28 goals for Le Havre last season. "We're going to give our all," said the one-time Lyon man Giuly as he looked forward to the match. "When you play Lyon you need to be more focused than usual and make sure you don't mess up the start of the match. We're a great counter-attacking side but we can't just play like that. Against Le Havre [PSG won 3-1 last week], we played some great football."

Lyon go into the games in good form - their 2-1 win over fierce rivals Bordeaux last weekend all but ended Bordeaux's title chances, so now les Girondins must try to pick themselves up away to Rennes. It won't be easy - the hosts are unbeaten in 12 matches. The weekend's other big clash is tomorrow when Marseille face Lille, looking to recover from their shock 3-2 home defeat to Lorient last week. Marseille led 2-0 with 15 minutes to go but Lorient scored three times to steal the two points. Lille beat St Etienne 3-0 weekend, which means the new St Etienne boss Alain Perrin is still looking for his first win as les Verts take on Nice.

jeastham@thenational.ae