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By ESPN Staff

France: Benzema slump gives contenders hope

Karim Benzema's dip in form has left Olympique Lyon with their closest Ligue 1 rivals breathing down their necks before the seven-times champions travel to strugglers Le Mans on Saturday.

The France striker has only scored two goals in 10 league games in 2009 and Lyon were sitting on a six-point cushion when Benzema found the back of the net for the last time in the league against Nancy on Feb. 21.

Claude Puel's side, who have 56 points from 29 games, now lead Olympique Marseille by a single point with third-placed Girondins Bordeaux two points further back.

Toulouse, Lille and Paris St Germain, four points off the pace, are also hot on Lyon's heels.

Bernard Lacombe, Lyon's special advisor and the French top flight's second most prolific striker of all time with 255 goals, confirmed Benzema was going through difficult times.

"He doesn't say so, but it shows," Lacombe told French sports daily L'Equipe earlier this week.

"He must not be impatient. He must think more about the team and be more generous. Everything else will follow."

Benzema's poor form was displayed in front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France in the 1-0 win over Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday - and to millions of TV viewers.

Lacombe, however, was confident Benzema would soon be back to his best.

"Inevitably it will come back to Karim. We need him. We cannot be champions of France without a great Benzema," he said.

Saturday would be a perfect day for Benzema to show his true colours again as Bordeaux take on troubled Nancy, whom they are expected to beat.

Toulouse, who hope to be once again boosted by Ligue 1's top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, visit second-from-bottom Caen later on Saturday.

Gignac celebrated his maiden cap for France by setting up Franck Ribery for the winner against Lithuania on Wednesday.

The other title contenders will not be in action before Sunday, with Paris-St Germain looking to bounce back from consecutive defeats against Marseille and Toulouse when they entertain Nice.

Marseille, the league's best team away from their base, will be at St Etienne in the day's final game.


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