Fourth-placed Lyon hosts fifth-placed Montpellier as 2009 draws to a close in Ligue 1

Lyon v Montpellier, Ligue 1, December 23, 2009

Lyon 4/7; Draw 3/1; Montpellier 7/1

Everything remains open. It’s still up for grabs, even though there’s a big gap. Another championship starts after Christmas. We’ve got another game on Wednesday [against Montpellier] and we’ll have to dig deep. After that, during the break, we’ll recuperate, and get our injured players back.” – Claude Puel.

Olympique Lyonnais lost more ground in the chase for the Ligue 1 title last weekend when they drew 1-1 against Monaco on Sunday night. The draw condemned the former Ligue 1 powerhouse to a disappointing record of having chalked up just two wins in their last ten games in all competitions, with OL now back in fourth spot after being overtaken by Lille last weekend, 10 points behind runaway leaders Bordeaux.

Lyon’s next opponents, Montpellier, could be said to be the team who are stepping into the breach left by OL’s demise. Montpellier are undoubtedly the revelations of the French season, having climbed out of Ligue 2 last summer and sprinted to second spot in Le Championnat with little over a week to go before Christmas. Back-to-back defeats to Bordeaux and Nancy has slowed the newbies progress in recent weeks, yet a win in the final round of matches of 2009 could see the Southerns jump back into second spot come the new year.

One of the keys to Montpellier’s success this term has been the luxury afforded to coach Rene Girard to have a side who have, in the main, managed to avoid any serious injuries. Consistency has been particularly present at the back, where 23-year-old keeper Geoffrey Jourdren has been protected by defenders Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa, captain Nenad Dzodic and new recruit Emir Spahic for virtually every match this season.

Spahic, in particular, has earned rave reviews since the Bosnian joined from Lokomotiv Moscow last summer. The 29-year-old, who has chipped in with two goals already this season, is known for his man-marking ability as well as his pace across the turf, should he ever fall out of position.

Up-front, Montpellier have a mix of youth and experience who have managed to chalk up goals this season. 25-year-old Colombian striker Victor Montano is the club’s top goalscorer with five goals, while Senegalese forward Souleymane Camara and the exciting 20-year-talent of Karim Ait Fana have both notched three goals each since the start of the season. 32-year-old Lilian Compan, with two goals in eight matches, offers the wise old head in the attack.

Lyon will be boosted by the return of France international midfielder Jeremy Toulalan from a groin injury. With Toulalan, Lyon took 17 points in seven games before notching up just 13 in the ensuing 11 of their 18 games so far during the autumn.

It’s not all good news though for coach Puel, as Lyon will be without midfielder Honorato Ederson because of a calf injury, although defender Mathieu Bodmer is back after nearly three months out with a groin problem.

With more than enough match-winners in their team, Lyon should undoubtedly be doing better than their current form suggests. With talents like left-back Aly Cissokho, and attackers Lisandro Lopez, Miralem Pjanic,  Sidney Govou and Michel Bastos on their books, Lyon’s under-achievements this term are that much more galling, and OL will be looking to start their recovery with three points at home in their last match of 2009.

101predicts: Lyon 2 – Montpellier 1 (9/1)

Lyon 4/7; Draw 3/1; Montpellier 7/1

Full match odds here.