Bordeaux deal Lyon title blow in France's Ligue 1

Lyon's hope of securing an eighth successive Ligue 1 title in France was dealt a severe blow as Bordeaux beat them 1–0

Bordeaux's game against Lyon on Sunday night was never going to decide who wins the French title this year, but it may just have told us who won't win it. Bordeaux's 1–0 win, courtesy of a close-range shot from the ex-Lyon midfielder Alou Diarra, has left the reigning champions down in third place, four points behind the leaders, Marseille, and two behind Bordeaux.

"It won't be dramatic if we don't win the title this year," the Lyon striker Sidney Govou told Fabulous Sport before the game, "as the most important thing is to qualify for the Champions League." Aside from the obvious shift in ambition his comment reveals, even that might now be tricky for Lyon given that they still have to play PSG (who are one point back), Marseille and Toulouse. "Lyon could now implode completely and might not even make the top three," warned pundit Christophe Dugarry.

Lyon were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Mathieu Chalmé's sixth-minute trip on Ederson went unnoticed, but aside from that, the visitors had few chances. Bordeaux were on top when, just before half-time, Diarra reacted quickest after Wendel's shot hit the post and he stabbed in the rebound.

Bordeaux controlled the second half, Diarra and Fernando were brilliant in holding midfield while Karim Benzema was kept isolated and had only one half-chance in the second period. The expected surge of Lyon pressure in the final ten minutes never came and it was Bordeaux who could have doubled their lead, Hugo Lloris saving from Yoann Gourcuff and Marouane Chamakh, who also headed against the crossbar.

"Is this the end of the reign?" ran the L'Equipe headline on Vincent Duluc's article: "Lyon are slipping inexorably towards a mediocrity which should lead to the loss of their title. They have gone from fighting for the title to fighting for a place in the Champions League."

Lyon's president, Jean-Michel Aulas, complained about the penalty decision after the game, though the fact that he said anything at all was highly significant. In among the reasons for Lyon's troubled season – rotten luck with injuries (Cris, Govou, Grosso, Réveillère and Clerc have all been out long-term), a coach trying to adapt a new system to his players (rather than the other way round), squad disharmony, overreliance on Benzema and individual mistakes at the back – the role of Aulas this term has come under scrutiny.

His decision to offload Fred in January left Benzema having to carry the attack on his own without a partner, while the pressure he put on the team to reach the Champions League semi-finals, when Lyon clearly didn't have the squad for it, undoubtedly affected their league focus.

On a day-to-day level, Aulas has shied away from the spotlight, and has been conspicuous by his absence. This is almost certainly at the request of Claude Puel, who unlike his predecessors, was not prepared to play second fiddle to his boss. "This is the first time I have seen Aulas leave the coach alone like this," said Lyon's mayor, Gérard Collomb. "Puel asked for carte blanche and he got it."

Aulas's energies have been focused on the project to build Lyon's new stadium at Décines, while he is also trying to bring in new revenue and look for sponsors to replace Accor, who are unlikely to renew their contract. According to Le Journal du Dimanche, it would appear that Aulas's decision to take a step back from the club has had an effect on the team as well. "He watches as much as he used to, but he speaks to us less often and doesn't come into the dressing room as much," admitted Cris.

There is no such fear factor in play at Bordeaux, where Laurent Blanc's team have remained united all season. They are solid at the back and have now won five games in a row without ever playing brilliantly. "We feel good physically and psychologically," said Diarra, whose time at Lyon ended after one season following a row with Gérard Houllier. "Beating the champions is an important sign and it sets up an exciting end to the season."

Not that you would hear them talk up their title chances: how the top two clubs have approached this title race perfectly reflects their personalities as cities. Bordeaux have been reserved, modest and spent most of the season pretending they are not in the race (and when they did say they were, in February, they went five games without a win). "Can you now say that you are heading for the title?" Blanc was asked after the game. "Ask me in two weeks," he replied.

Over at Marseille, they have not been shy to admit they are going for the title and OM's coach, Eric Gerets, knew that his patched-up side, with Charles Kaboré and Bolo Zenden as stand-in full-backs, had pulled off a great result in coming from behind to beat Lorient 2–1. Once again, Gerets's substitutions were decisive: Sylvain Wiltord, after replacing Hatem Ben Arfa, set up Renato Civelli for the equaliser, while another sub, Karim Ziani, crossed for Brandao's winner, his fourth goal in as many games.

Brandao also had an effort ruled out in the first half and his battering style forced Lorient to replace their injured goalkeeper Fabien Audard and centre-back Benjamin Genton. "After what he did to us, you have to say Brandao was their man of the match," grumbled the Lorient manager, Christian Gourcuff.

On-loan Wiltord, who also saw a shot hit both posts after running through from the halfway line, had a major impact. He is expected to leave Marseille this summer, but his presence and experience has definitely boosted morale at the club. There was still time for the captain, Lorik Cana, to get a late red card for a comical scuffle with his friend Arnaud Le Lan. "We watched the end of the game together in the changing room and if there had been a bar there, we would have shared a beer," said Le Lan.

There was also drama at the bottom of the table, where Nantes jumped out of the drop zone thanks to their 2–0 win over Nice and Nancy beat Caen 2–1. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry," said the Caen coach, Franck Dumas. "My boys showed so much heart, but they let in two bloody stupid goals."

Saint-Etienne are still in the bottom three, but only on goal difference after they ended a difficult week by beating Lille 2–1. The coach, Alain Perrin, admitted his players were tense after Ilan and Yohan Benalouane had to be separated during a training-ground punch-up, while the sporting director, Damien Comolli, admitted next season's recruitment policy was being drawn up with an eye on playing in L2.

"When you fall into the sea, if you panic, you're certain to drown, so we have to keep cool," said the co-president Bernard Caïazzo. "We can still get out of this."

Elsewhere, Valenciennes are not out of the woods after losing 2–0 at home to Le Mans, while Monaco continued their good form with a 3–1 win over Rennes, whose coach, Guy Lacombe, looks to be on his way out this summer. L2 leaders Lens are favourites to snap him up, while Rennes's owner François-Henri Pinault, has Frédéric Antonetti (Nice) and Antoine Kombouaré (Valenciennes) top of his list.

Jérôme Rothen was the star man as PSG eased past Le Havre 3–0 to stay in fourth and close in on Lyon for that third and final Champions League qualifying place. The ex-Lyon contingent at Paris, headed by Paul Le Guen and featuring Jérémy Clément, Ludo Giuly, and Peguy Luyindula, will need little motivation for their next game, on Friday night at Stade Gerland, where Lyon have won only eight of 16 games and have dropped 17 points.

"You can't expect Lyon to win the title for 100 years in a row," said their midfielder Kim Kallstrom. It now looks like eight will be beyond them.

Results: Grenoble 1–0 Toulouse, Monaco 3–1 Rennes, Nantes 2–0 Nice, Sochaux 0–1 Auxerre, Valenciennes 0–2 Le Mans, Caen 1–2 Nancy, Saint-Etienne 2–1 Lille, Lorient 1–2 Marseille, PSG 3–0 Le Havre, Bordeaux 1–0 Lyon Current Ligue 1 table


Ben Lyttleton

The GuardianTramp

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