Pitchside Europe

Gourcuff, Lyon moving in right direction once more

Despite suffering a weekend setback, a recent Yoann Gourcuff-inspired revival at Lyon has given hope that this could yet turn into a successful season for Rémi Garde's previously embattled side.

Good runs always come to an end and that was the case for Lyon on Sunday, as they went down to a 2-0 defeat at Rennes and had Samuel Umtiti sent off. But there was enough about their performance to suggest the result was merely a blip, with Garde later declaring himself "disappointed but not worried".

Garde has got what previously looked like a team in freefall back moving in the right direction. Things reached a nadir with the 5-1 defeat at Montpellier in October, which was Lyon's heaviest Ligue 1 loss since February 2000 and left them in 14th place, their worst league position in three years.

Since then, Lyon have lost just three times - away to Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, and then at Rennes. Before going to Brittany, they had gone 12 matches unbeaten and had won six on the bounce.

They are the only French club still competing on four fronts this season. Through to the Europa League knockout stages and the French Cup last 16, they have a League Cup semi-final at home to second-tier Troyes on Wednesday. And in the league, the state of the teams around them suggests that they could still finish on the podium, despite the current seven-point deficit to Lille.

"We want to win one trophy, even two," says Umtiti, even if PSG could stand in their way in the League Cup. Meanwhile, in the league, OL's position has greatly improved since the winter break, when they were 15 points from the top three.

Bafétimbi Gomis insisted on Sunday that nobody at the club has spoken of Champions League qualification as a realistic aim, but Lyon are closing in on a Lille side who have lost their way, while Marseille have been unable to really get their act together under José Anigo.

There is nobody of any real quality outside the top six, which leaves just Saint-Etienne. Les Verts are a fearsome proposition at home, but have to go to PSG and Lyon in March. And Lyon have lost just once in the Rhône derby in two decades.

Sports daily L'Equipe recently talked of Lyon "becoming a menace again", and the reasons are varied. There is the form of Alexandre Lacazette, who has scored 12 goals this season compared to nine in the previous four campaigns combined, and there is the decision by Garde to introduce a diamond midfield in a 4-4-2.

That has brought the best out of Gueïda Fofana, allowing him to showcase his ability to go box-to-box, but it also allows Clément Grenier and Gourcuff to flourish playing together. Gourcuff, 27, has simply been a different player of late, even if there is always a fear that his next debilitating injury is just around the corner.

He was rested on Sunday, and without him Lyon lost. But he has been transformed to such an extent in the last three months that suddenly the prospect of a return to the national team does not seem quite such a fanciful idea.

January was almost certainly his best month since joining OL. 'Lyon have signed Gourcuff', said one newspaper headline last month of the playmaker who was bought in August 2010 for €22 million from Bordeaux - a huge fee, albeit less than PSG paid to recruit Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle United last week.

Before Sunday, he had started ten games in a row and had missed only one match since early November, when he returned from a hamstring problem. For someone who has spent so much time on the sidelines, that is major progress.

Lyon have also been helped by the lack of activity during the January transfer window. Clément Grenier chose to stay put despite Newcastle making an offer of around £10.5 million for him, and captain Maxime Gonalons also stayed despite serious interest from Napoli.

Nevertheless, it is still quite possible that both will move on come the summer along with Gomis, and maybe even Garde. His three-year contract expires at the end of the season and he is currently refusing to commit to a new deal. For now, though, his focus is on keeping the Lyon comeback on track.

"I am working as if I were still going to be here next year. I am deeply attached to the club," he said last week.

Andy Scott