The Newsweek Countdown Match

Lyon vs. PSG: Former Champions Look to Close Gap On Ligue 1’s Runaway Leaders

Worry not, for natural order in French football has been restored. Monaco’s brief spell as champions in France looks to be swiftly coming to an end, as Paris Saint-Germain are back on top of Ligue 1 with a plumped-up 11-point cushion.

PSG, the moneymen across the channel, have won the domestic title for four of the last five seasons, and Unai Emery’s team is cantering toward a fifth. Monaco’s sensational campaign last season prevented PSG from closing in on the record of successive championships in Ligue 1, currently set at seven and held by Lyon.

The dominant force as French football settled into the 21st century, Lyon won the title every year from 2001-02 to 2007-08. In the years under Paul Le Guen and, then, Gerard Houllier, Lyon was the immovable object. But now they are on the other side of the field, tasked with turning this season into more of a competition.

On Sunday (January 21), Emery takes his team, made up of £199 million man Neymar Jr., French starlet Kylian Mbappe, and Edinson Cavani, on the 300-mile journey south to the Groupama Stadium. Lyon are third in Ligue 1, level on points with second-place Monaco, in the chase for PSG.

His chances appear slim having lost all of the past four meetings, with an aggregate score of 10-3. But, on closer inspection, the trip south has proved to be a difficult one for PSG: over the past four seasons, the club has only left Lyon with victory on one occasion and have been beaten twice.

This year, PSG meet Emery’s team in formidable form having dropped points in just three of their 20 league games so far this season. Lyon’s defense, which has not kept a clean sheet in the past three games, has the added concern of Mbappe and Neymar this season, but Cavani may be the biggest threat.

PSG Moneymen Neymar Jr., left, Kylian Mbappe, center, and Edinson Cavani at Parc des Princes stadium, Paris, France, September 27, 2017. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty

The Uruguayan striker is the leading scorer in Ligue 1 with a massive 19 goals in 20 games, an average of one goal every 81 minutes. Neymar’s nine assists this season have certainly helped Cavani’s tally.

Lyon’s threat comes from 24-year-old Spanish striker Mariano, who was developed at Real Madrid and signed in the summer for a fee of little over £7 million; it has proved to be a bargain. The striker has scored 13 goals in the league for Lyon and developed a smart partnership with former Manchester United forward Memphis Depay, who has eight goals and five assists to his name.

Lyon manager Bruno Genesio will be relying on the duo to be on their best form, as well as a resilient defense, should his team continue their impressive for at home to PSG and breathe some life into this Ligue 1 season.

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