PREVIEW: RENNES - LYON
Carlos Bocanegra and Rennes will aim to close the gap on fifth-place Lyon at the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient this Saturday as the race for a spot in Europe heats up with eight games left to play in the season.
Rennes Coach Frédéric Antonetti finally has Les Rouges et Noirs playing the sort of attacking soccer expected of a team boasting French hopefuls like Sylvain Marveaux and Jimmy Briand, as well as Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan.
After a shaky start to the season, Rennes are now in inspired form with four consecutive wins and one eye on an elusive fourth-place finish and qualification for the Europa Cup. As visitors can attest, the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient is no easy place to play with only three teams managing a win there all season.
Antonetti is hoping for a quick recovery by Gyan, who was forced to withdraw before last Sunday's 3-1 win over Toulouse due to inflammation of his right knee. As the score line suggest, though, Rennes fared well without him. Gyan passed medical tests by the team's doctors last Monday and is expected to return to training before the end of the week. Veteran midfielder Jerome Leroy is also available again after recovering from a stomach virus last week and will compete with Fabien Lemoine for a starting spot.
Lyon have struggled this season since abdicating the Ligue 1 crown last year after seven consecutive championships. After a few setbacks in early March, including a scoreless tie against lowly Boulogne and a 2-1 loss to rivals Marseille, Lyon have now won two straight, including an impressive 3-1 win over Bordeaux in the Champions League after their earlier upset of Real Madrid. With the return leg set for next Wednesday, Lyon Coach Claude Puel will need to keep his team focused on the immediate challenge posed by Rennes.
The recent play of Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos and Argentinean striker Lisandro Lopez, who both scored midweek, will be the focus of Bocanegra and the rest of Rennes' defense. With Jean Makoun out with a groin injury, Jérémy Toulalan will be expected to counter the attacking threat posed by Marveaux and Briand. Lyon are also missing defender Aly Cissokho, sidelined with a sore ankle, as well as forward Sidney Govou who is suffering from stomach problems.
Meanwhile, Lyon will be counting on goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to replicate his performance against Bordeaux - his quick reflexes preventing a few sure goals - in the face of Rennes' leading goal-scorer Gyan.
The two teams' last meeting in Lyon on Nov. 29 ended in a 1-1 tie with goals from Lopez and Gyan. A win for Rennes would bring them within two points of Lyon.