Towards the end of September, Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas suggested that the club’s target for this season was still to win the Ligue 1 title, despite having started the campaign in appalling fashion.

Just a week later, and after a defeat to local rivals Saint-Etienne, this comment looked overly optimistic. With the team languishing perilously above the relegation zone, it seemed just a matter of time until manager Claude Puel was fired. Following a poor spell of form and unrest among the supporters, surely the next league defeat would be the final straw reasoned Puel’s critics.

That next defeat took a while to arrive however, only coming last week at Valenciennes, as Les Gones (The Kids) went down 2-1 to end a run of four months without defeat in the French top flight. The club also announced recently that they would be moving into their new home, the Stade des Lumieres, in 2013. Allied to their improvement in form, this has served to raise the mood significantly at the Stade Gerland; the future is indeed bright.

Perhaps the main reason why Puel’s charges have been able to recover since those dark September days though was because they were actually not playing that badly to begin with. A poor defence combined with a profligate, misfiring attack was Lyon’s problem, but the unpredictable nature of the Ligue 1 title race meant that when results turned the seven times champions would be in contention for their eighth crown; and just seven points behind table toppers Lille at the time of writing, Lyon have every chance.


Puel is hitting an optimistic note, insisting that two years without the title is "too long" for the club. Pointedly, he recalled the exploits of last season when the team came close to winning Ligue 1 and qualifying for the final of the Champions League.

“We were in the semi-finals of the Champions League. We had won all our games at the end of the season to go from fifth to second, but all of that has been forgotten because there was no title.”

This year the club are determined to regain the Ligue 1 trophy that they lost to Bordeaux in 2009 after seven successive championships, but their ability to do so rests on the durability of Lille and Paris Saint-Germain. Both sides have played with flair and imagination to storm ahead as the race for the league has opened up in recent weeks. Questions do persist about their ability to last the distance however. The Parisians have not been involved in a title tussle for quite some time, though Lille have steadily improved in recent years, and finished just eight points off champions Marseille last season. With a talented young squad, their inexperience may cost them, and if it does, then Lyon must be ready to pounce.

Les Gones’ return to form has come largely thanks to Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis, who have rediscovered their goalscoring touch to fire the side up the table. Gomis in particular has performed impressively as he has fought back to silence his numerous critics, going from the subject of the fans’ ire to a crowd favourite as his goals got Lyon back on track. Being a former Saint-Etienne forward, Gomis has had to do more than the average Lyon signing to win over the faithful, but his goals may win more than the fans’ approval if he is able to maintain his current form over the remainder of the season.

Worryingly for Lyon though, the goals have dried up for Gomis and Lopez in the last three weeks, as defeat to Nice in the French Cup was followed by the setback at Valenciennes and then a goalless draw at home to Bordeaux with a succession of chances being missed. It is crucial to Les Gones’ hopes that this lack of potency is just a blip as the lack of a regular goalscorer heading into the final straight could end up being the difference between placing first and second. Rivals Lille have Moussa Sow and Paris Saint-Germain can boast Nene in the scoring stakes, with the duo leading the goalscorers charts and no Lyon player in sight. This would not be the problem it is but for the fact that the Stade Gerland outfit do not have regular contributors from other positions. Michel Bastos and Jimmy Briand are the next most likely to find the net, but even they have just six goals between them this season.

Three games without a win have come at the precise moment that Lille have started to pull away from their title rivals, but in this most unpredictable of races, there are bound to be further twists in the weeks ahead.

For Les Gones, the next month will be crucial, as it sees Puel’s men take on Real Madrid in the Champions League, rivals Saint-Etienne in the league and then a decisive top of the table clash with Lille on the 27th.

Before the New Year, Aulas sent a long personal letter to each of Lyon’s squad, explaining his dreams for the future and this season. He implored the players to help make his dream of winning the title this season a reality. Given the dip in form, Puel may wonder whether Gomis’ and Lopez’s letters got lost in the post – he should consider sending the pair fresh copies.