« What’s riding on this match? Three points? ». Despite taking the honours early for the first half of the season, with a huge gap of 11 points at the top of the table, Gérard Houllier won’t deviate from the quintuple champions’ road map.
For the moment, it’s a PSG looking to recover that will confront the men from Lyon. Considered one of OL’s main rivals after a convincing performance in the Champions Trophy, PSG went downhill fast, losing many matches in both domestic and European competitions as well as going through crises off the field, lending credence to the view that they are a club falling into a hole. Faced with a team 14th on the table, anything other than victory for OL will be seen as a blot on the record of a team that has won its last 6 league matches at home. If the pickiest fans pointing to OL’s glut of 1-0 victories are set aside, OL’s record is to die for : 9 wins, 2 draws, 1 of which was conceded in the last minutes and the other in a match with =out risk of ramifications. Basically, there isn’t much room for criticism at all, and this illustrates the difficulty of the task facing the Parisians.
But the Parisians do have some cause for optimism ahead of the match with OL. The first has to do with the current difficulties that the club is facing: PSG is ranked 18th in the league at home, but 9th on the road. Far from the Parc des Princes that seems to paralyse them, they produce performances of real quality . Away from home, they have three « unlucky » draws, at Auxerre, Le Mans and Nantes. « They are better than their standing suggests » says all the OL players. (Lyon on its guard).
The other source of hope for the Parisians is derived from their two last visits to Gerland. IN the Champions Trophy match (1-1) and in the round of 16 of the League Cup, Mickael Landreau and his teammates dominated the game before conceding in the last minutes. Important note: the absence in these two matches of several first-team regulars such as Grégory Coupet, Florent Malouda, Juninho, Abidal and Fred. If the Brazilian, still in rehabilitation after injuring his right hamstring, misses the match-up once again, the return of the four others would still change the face of OL from what was seen in the first two games. Another reason for Gérard Houllier to be happy is that he will have his first-choice defensive line-up at hand. Since Claudio Caçapa and Eric Abidal have returned to the team, Houllier has been spoiled for choice defensively.
The statistics do not favour the Parisians: in the league, since the 1994 – 1995 season, they have only won once at Gerland, in 2005, while OL had a 14-point lead on its nearest rivals five matches from the end of the season; and head to head, they have lost 7 of 12 encounters.
Despite PSG’s poor ranking, its rivalry with OL is one of the biggest in Ligue 1. « Paris is still Paris » says Juninho when asked to define the particular character of this meeting, the most-hyped since… the last visit of PSG in the League Cup on October 25. Buffeted by the turbulence created by the death of its supporters after the defeat to Happoël Tel Aviv, PSG knows it will get through the tough time it is experiencing. It just doesn’t know when. « The best thing for them would be to win here » says Florent Malouda, and Guy Lacombe agrees. As good hosts, OL want to live up to their history by lighting up Gerland .