Pitchside Europe

Lyon in disarray ahead of Spurs tie


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When the draw for the Europa League knockout stages was made just before Christmas, Lyon looked like one of the teams to avoid. Now, coming into their tie with Tottenham Hotspur, things are far from rosy in the Ligue 1 club's garden.

Halfway through the domestic season, OL sat in second place in France's top flight, behind Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference only.

Fast forward six weeks, and they are six points adrift of the capital club, who now look set to run away with the title after all.

While Tottenham are unbeaten in ten Premier League games and Gareth Bale is in the form of his life, Lyon have endured a difficult start to the New Year, and their season is in real danger of unravelling.

Rémi Garde's side were shambolic for much of Sunday night's home game against Lille, in which they were beaten 3-1 but could have lost by a greater margin. It was only Lyon's second home loss of the campaign, but it continues a worrying trend.

Since the winter break, they have seen their defence of the French Cup ended in a penalty shoot-out at the first hurdle by third-tier minnows Épinal, have been held to a goalless draw at home by struggling Evian-Thonon-Gaillard, and have now lost their last two Ligue 1 outings.

The often insipid nature of their performance against Lille followed a 3-1 defeat to Ajaccio in Corsica last weekend, when some of their defending was truly dreadful.

Dejan Lovren and Samuel Umtiti inexplicably allowed Adrian Mutu to head home unchallenged from six yards and Lovren was later sent off for the third time this season for conceding a penalty that Mutu converted.

"This is the first time all season that we have lost two games in a row," said former Arsenal midfielder Garde after the Lille reverse.

"We just weren't up to the challenge physically. This calls into question the performances of everybody at the club."

Lyon have taken just seven points from a possible 15 in 2013. It is not title-winning form, but then OL insist they have never really been competing for the title.

“Winning the title has never been our obsession and was not something we discussed at the beginning of the season,” says captain Maxime Gonalons, who has probably been Lyon's best player this season in the centre of midfield.

A top-three finish, synonymous with a return to the Champions League, is the goal. However, the danger is that they might not even manage that if they continue to stumble along at their current rate.

Key players are simply underperforming just now, notably the former Spurs midfielder Steed Malbranque, who had been so impressive before Christmas. And then there is the impact of the dreaded January transfer window.

At first glance, Lyon came out of that potentially turbulent time relatively unharmed. With president Jean-Michel Aulas desperate to cut costs, Garde must have feared losing all of his senior players. In the end, Michel Bastos was the only major name to leave, with the Brazilian winger moving to Schalke 04 on loan.

Yoann Gourcuff, Lisandro, Bafétimbi Gomis and Jimmy Briand all remain after being linked with moves away but, in the case of Lisandro in particular, that might not be such a good thing.

The Argentine's mental state is a concern. He reportedly wanted to leave, but an untimely calf injury ended his hopes of joining Juventus, while Tottenham - who lured Hugo Lloris from the banks of the Rhône to North London in August - themselves then had a €6 million offer for the player rejected, with Aulas not prepared to accept such a sum for someone that cost him €24 million from Porto in 2009.

For Gomis, a mooted move to Fulham never happened either, and that must be a source of great relief for Garde given that the former Saint-Etienne man has scored 12 league goals this season, and 17 in all competitions.

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Nevertheless, January was an unsettling time for many at a club which had found some much-needed stability towards the end of 2012.

"The transfer window has closed now and we are set for four months that could be exceptional for us," Garde said recently.

And yet the final months of the season could be very long indeed if they keep stumbling domestically and see their European hopes dashed by Spurs.

Andrew Scott

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