Lyon aim for more on Ligue 1 recovery mission

AFP , Thursday 22 Feb 2024

Lyon have pulled clear of the Ligue 1 relegation places after three straight wins, but coach Pierre Sage knows the seven-time French champions are not out of trouble just yet.

Pierre Sage
Lyon s head coach Pierre Sage smiles after winning the French League One soccer match between Lyon and Nice at the Groupama stadium, outside Lyon, France, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. AP


The appointment of Sage, initially on an interim basis in late November, has coincided with a vast improvement in results for Lyon, who have won nine of their past 11 matches in all competitions.

Rooted to the foot of the table when he made the step up from managing the club's academy, Lyon lost their first two games under Sage before embarking on a recovery -- helped by significant investment in the January transfer window -- that has pushed them up to 11th place.

Friday's trip to second-bottom Metz, who have taken one point from their past nine matches, provides another opportunity for Lyon to continue their resurgent run.

But Sage is adamant his team must step up their level after a fortuitous 1-0 win over Nice last week to avoid being dragged back into a relegation battle.

"We've got to be more in control of our performances," said Sage. "There's lots of room to improve collectively, there's still a gap between our results and the way we play."

"We've been winning the past two weeks and we're still just three points ahead of the team in the relegation play-off spot," he continued. "We're not just fighting with Metz to stay up.

"Seeing the pace of other teams, it's possible that we'll need more than 35 points (to stay up), but we're going to keep this goal and try to reach it as quickly as we can."

The arrival of Sage has brought stability where there was once turmoil, which is the situation once more at Marseille following the exit of coach Gennaro Gattuso.

The Italian former World Cup winner left this week after less than five months in the job, with Marseille winless in six matches and eliminated from the French Cup, prompting Gattuso to say they had "hit rock bottom".

Jean-Louis Gasset was a curious choice of replacement. The 70-year-old has plenty of Ligue 1 experience -- including as a former assistant to Laurent Blanc at Paris Saint-Germain -- but was sacked by Ivory Coast midway through the recent Africa Cup of Nations before the hosts remarkably went on to win the tournament.

"We want to bring a little sunshine to a lot of people by doing the right thing," said Gasset, who will become the fourth man to take charge of OM this season.

"We have to react and I think the players are aware of that."

Marseille host Montpellier on Sunday after Rennes put their six-match winning run on the line against runaway leaders PSG, who sit 13 points clear of Brest in second.

One to watch: Mohamed Bamba

Signed from Austrian club Wolfsberg in January for five million euros ($5.4 million), the Ivorian striker has been an instant hit at Lorient with five goals in four matches -- including in last weekend's 3-1 win at Strasbourg.

Lorient were dead last when the 22-year-old Bamba made his debut in a 3-3 draw with Le Havre but have since won three in a row to move out of the bottom three on goals scored.

Bamba left his home in Bouake aged 19 and spent three-and-a-half years with Hapoel Rishon in Israel's second tier before moving to Austria last June and scoring eight times in 17 outings for Wolfsberg.

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