There will be more at stake than just a place in the last four of the Champions League when Lyons entertain Bordeaux in the first leg of their quarter-final at Stade Gerland tonight. "We will have to show that the big French club of today is Lyons," Jean-Michel Aulas, the hosts' bullish president, said.
Until last summer, when Bordeaux ended Lyons' seven-year run as champions, there was no doubt where the power lay but the renaissance of the Girondins has changed all that.
Just three points separate the leading six clubs – who include Lyons and Bordeaux – at the top of the French league. Lyons kept up the pressure by beating Grenoble on Saturday, their ninth match without defeat, but Bordeaux head the table, despite having let slip a 10-point lead. They also have games in hand on all their rivals.
Although this is their first appearance for 22 years in the last eight of the continent's premier club competition, Bordeaux used to be regular performers on the European stage, particularly in the 1980s under Aimé Jacquet. They made the European Cup semi-finals once, losing to Juventus in 1985.
Lyons were in the second division when Aulas took charge in 1987 and victory in the league cup in 2001 was their first trophy for 28 years. They had never won the first division title until 2002 but quickly became the most powerful force in French football.
Bordeaux's recent revival followed the appointment of Laurent Blanc, who has been coveted by some of Europe's biggest clubs since taking over as coach three years ago. However, after winning the championship and the league cup last year, the Girondins have found it hard to maintain their supremacy. On Saturday they were beaten 3-1 by Marseilles in the league cup final in Paris.
"It would have been better to win before a Champions League match," Blanc admitted. "We'll have to bounce back quickly. Somehow it's a good thing. If we had to wait a week to play again, we would dwell on that defeat. But we won't have time for that."
While Claude Puel, the Lyons coach, has a doubt about his central defender, Jean-Alain Boumsong, who has not played for three weeks because of a knee injury, Bordeaux have the greater selection concerns. Alou Diarra, their inspirational captain, is suspended, while Marc Planus is out with knee ligament trouble.
Bordeaux have the best record of any of the Champions League quarter-finalists – they are the only undefeated team – and won 1-0 at Stade Gerland in their only meeting with Lyons this season. Lyons, nevertheless, given their recent pedigree and Bordeaux's form of late, are the marginal favourites to become the first French club to reach the semi-finals since Monaco in 2004.Reuse content