In-form Lyon looking to extend 20-year unbeaten run at French rival Saint-Etienne



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PARIS — The Rhone derby against neighbor Saint-Etienne comes at the right time for Lyon.

The seven-time champions have won five of their last six games and are unbeaten in 10 ahead of the big match of the weekend in the French league.

Both clubs are well positioned in the standings, with third-place Lyon trailing leader Marseille by four points and Saint-Etienne in sixth, four points further back.

With 10 league titles to its name, Saint-Etienne is the most decorated French club while Lyon dominated the first division between 2002 and 2008, claiming seven titles in a row. Their fierce rivalry often produces clashes off the field, too, and only 400 Lyon fans will travel to the Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium on Sunday night.

Unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions, Les Verts will be seeking their first home win in the topflight against Lyon in 20 years.

Here are some things to know ahead of this weekend's matches:


STRATEGIC HEADACHE

The appointment of Marcelo Bielsa as Marseille coach has been decisive in the team's resurgence this season.

Lacking the millions invested in Paris Saint-Germain by its Qatari owners, the Argentine coach is compensating with strong discipline and astute strategic decisions.

This season, Marseille played most of his games in a 3-3-3-1 system, with striker Andre-Pierre Gignac scoring 11 of his team's 30 goals. Ahead of Nantes' visit to the Stade Velodrome on Friday, Bielsa is thinking about starting with two strikers, Gignac and Michy Batshuayi.

"The problem is when you play with two No. 9s, one of them has to play further down the pitch and on the sides," Bielsa said. "And he will play worse than usual. On the other hand, it can happen that the addition of the two has a positive impact on the team's overall performance."

The former Argentina coach said that this aspect of the game has been troubling him for years.

"I started to think about it 15 years ago, when I had (Hernan) Crespo and (Gabriel) Batistuta under me," Bielsa said. "It's not an easy decision to take."


LILLE IN CRISIS

With only three more points than the relegation-threatened teams and the worse offensive record in the league, Lille is in tatters.

Because of the Davis Cup final held in the northern French city last weekend, Rene Girard's side has not played since a 2-0 loss at Reims on Nov. 9 and its most recent win dates back to the end of September.

"We need to find a solution. I hope this break will have done us some good because the last month and a half has been very difficult," Lille midfielder Rio Mavuba said.

The problem for Lille, which is also involved in a tiring Europa League campaign and claimed only one win in its last 12 matches, is that the club is now facing a run of tough encounters before the winter break. First comes a trip to Bordeaux on Sunday before matches with leader Paris Saint-Germain and rival Lens in the northern derby.

"I think we can come through this run of games better off than we were before," Mavuba said. "At the moment I am not worried but we know it will be difficult."


KURZAWA'S BOTCHED TRIP

Highly-praised Monaco left back Layvin Kurzawa could hit the Premier League sooner than expected.

The 22-year-old France international traveled to Manchester earlier this week to attend City's Champions League match against Bayern Munich as a guest of the English champions. But according to L'Equipe newspaper, a last-minute intervention from his club prevented him from watching the game form the stands and Kurzawa saw on it on TV in a hotel room.

Kurzawa did not play in Monaco's 1-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen and will not make the squad for Saturday's match at Rennes because of a hamstring injury that will sideline him until January.


MOTTA AND SILVA BACK

After sitting out PSG's 3-1 win against Ajax in Champions League because of leg injuries, Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta returned to training ahead of Saturday's game against Nice.

Motta's return will bring some relief to coach Laurent Blanc after his team's frailties in midfield were exposed against the Dutch side.

"That's the second time we've been behind (Ajax) in terms of possession. They played better football than us," Blanc said. "We know that we're not dominating teams at the moment. You have to analyze and try to understand why."

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