In-form Lyon turn to domestic and legal battles
PARIS, Dec 9 (Reuters) - After a fine start to their European campaign, Olympique Lyon switch their minds to a derby against once great St Etienne and a legal battle with FIFA.
The four-times French champions, 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and already certain to reach the halfway stage in the lead, can expect a stern challenge at St Etienne on Sunday.
'St Etienne are a strong team and they always want to beat us,' said Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas. 'It will be tough.'
Aulas made headlines for another matter on Wednesday, saying his club was to sue FIFA for one million euros over the injury sustained by defender Eric Abidal while on international duty.
Abidal fractured his left foot during France's 3-2 victory over Costa Rica in a friendly played last month in Martinique. He is expected to remain out of action until February.
To face St Etienne, Lyon coach Gerard Houllier will also have to make do without France midfielder Florent Malouda, who is sidelined for the rest of the year with a sore right knee.
St Etienne, who ruled French soccer in the 1970s and have won a record 10 league titles, lie ninth, 18 points off the pace, but the always give their all against Lyon.
'This match is really special,' said St Etienne midfielder and captain Julien Sable. 'Everything else stops in town when we're about to play Lyon. The only thing people talk about is the derby'.
Lyon boosted their morale ahead of the short trip to St Etienne by beating Rosenborg 2-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday to finish the group stage on a high note.
Houllier's men had already made sure of winning their group ahead of Real Madrid to reach the knockout stage. Their only defeat this season came when they lost to Nantes on penalties in a League Cup tie in October.
Lyon's aims this season include winning a record fifth successive French title and making an impact in Europe at last after exiting the Champions League in the quarter-finals the last two seasons.
As ever, winning the derbies against St Etienne also features high on their list of priorities.
'Before the season started, our fans asked two things from us,' said the Lyon captain, Brazilian defender Claudio Cacapa.
'They told us they wanted us to win the Champions League and the two derbies against St Etienne. We'll try.'