Lyon starting to believe it can beat PSG to title

JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer Published:

PARIS (AP) -- After playing down their title ambitions for most of the season, Lyon's players are finally starting to believe they can challenge inconsistent Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille for the French league title.

With 20 games played, Lyon leads the league ahead of PSG and Marseille, taking advantage of PSG's unexpected 0-0 draw against Ajaccio last Friday to move two points ahead of its big-spending rival. Marseille is three points behind Lyon following a surprise loss at Sochaux last weekend.

Lyon hosts relegation-battler Evian on Friday and could be five points ahead of PSG by the time the Paris club travels to play fourth-place Bordeaux on Sunday night -- without Brazil defender Thiago Silva because of a hamstring injury.

"I'm ambitious and of course I want to win the title," Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti said. "We have a good enough squad to go as far as possible."

The 19-year-old Umtiti scored Lyon's winning goal in last Saturday's 2-1 victory at Troyes, and he is one of several homegrown players in the team along with midfielders Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons -- the new club captain -- and forward Alexandre Lacazette.

"We've known each other for quite a few years and we got on well on and off the pitch. But it's a combination of things: there are the players who came through the academy and the more experienced ones who set the example for us," Umtiti said. "It's a good mix for Lyon and we have very good teamwork. The coach repeats to us all the time that teamwork counts the most, and you can see that in our games."

Teamwork has yet to properly materialize at PSG, which still resembles a collection of expensive individual talents and is still massively reliant on star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had a rare off night in Friday's dull draw with Ajaccio.

The imposing Swede has 18 goals in 17 league games and PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti will have been relieved to see him escaping a suspension after the French league cleared him of deliberately treading on the face of Lyon defender Dejan Lovren when the teams met in December.

"I was a bit surprised," Lovren said. "That's football. Maybe they (the disciplinary committee) thought that he's a superstar and so he's a bit more protected than the others."

Ibrahimovic has other priorities. With Brazilian winger Nene joining Qatari club Al Gharafa this week, Ibrahimovic will now wear the No. 10 jersey, having previously worn No. 18 while Nene was at the club.

Meanwhile, Marseille hosts defending champion Montpellier on Saturday eager to make up for last weekend's sloppy performance against Sochaux, when it conceded two goals from free kicks in a 3-1 loss. That defeat came after four straight wins had boosted confidence.

"We've been through everything this season," Marseille coach Elie Baup said. "Nothing's been easy. It's a tough league, but we have to fight hard instead of having our backs to the wall. It feels like we need to be under pressure before we respond, but we need to be reacting first."

Winger Andre Ayew thinks the team lacks concentration at times.

"Conceding two goals from set pieces is hard to accept," Ayew said. "It can happen once, but conceding two goals in one half is hard to take."

Baup has no immediate plans to strengthen his defense, but said he would like sign France midfielder Moussa Sissoko from Toulouse.

"It hasn't been finalized yet but we can't deny that contacts have been made," Baup said.

On Saturday, it's: Sochaux vs. Rennes; Ajaccio vs. Valenciennes; Brest vs. Saint-Etienne; Lorient vs. Troyes; and Toulouse vs. Nancy.

Bastia takes on Rennes and Lille faces Nice in Sunday's other games.