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High-flyers Nice seek boost after European woe

PARIS (AFP) – 

Lucien Favre’s extended honeymoon on the Cote d’Azur pits his surprise Ligue 1 leaders Nice against Lorient this weekend, while Lyon host bitter foes Saint-Etienne in the Rhone derby.

Favre, who replaced Southampton-bound Claude Puel in the summer, has overseen a remarkable start to his tenure at the Allianz Riviera with Nice the league’s sole remaining unbeaten side.

“To have 17 points after seven matches is magnificent,” said Favre, following Sunday’s 1-0 victory at Nancy that kept Les Aiglons a point clear of neighbours Monaco.

However, Nice’s domestic success starkly contrasts their faltering form in the Europa League where they have lost their first two group games, the second a 5-2 defeat away to Krasnodar on Thursday.

But Favre, who welcomed back Mario Balotelli from a thigh problem in Russia, will fancy his team’s chances of prolonging their stay at the top in France with Lorient languishing in 17th despite two wins in their last three matches.

The Italy striker has netted a brace in both of his Ligue 1 appearances since his arrival from Liverpool on a free transfer and struck again with a superb long-range effort against Krasnodar before he was withdrawn due to illness.

A squabble over the number of allocated tickets for away fans has stoked tensions ahead of the first meeting between arch rivals Lyon and Saint-Etienne at Parc OL on Sunday.

Visiting supporters plan to boycott the fixture after authorities restricted Saint-Etienne to just 771 places, considerably fewer than the 2,000 seats in the away section, with Lyon denying accusations of complicity in the decision.

With just one win in their last five outings, Lyon head into the contest trailing Saint-Etienne by two points, and forward Maxwel Cornet is fully aware of the magnitude of the occasion.

“We have to be ready to deliver but I have no doubts about the team’s spirit. I understand what the derby represents here. Anthony Lopes can’t wait for this match,” Cornet told OLTV, with the Lyon goalkeeper having come up through the club’s youth ranks.

“It’s a match that is also close to my heart. It’s up to us to do what we need to do. There’s some revenge to be had after the (1-0 defeat) at Saint-Etienne last season.”

– ‘Can’t buy confidence’ –

Reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain have made a stuttering start to life under Unai Emery, with the French giants indebted to an Edinson Cavani brace that spared them from a potentially embarrassing result against Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League.

“It’s not a question of working harder or better because the team is working well. We need confidence,” said Emery, in quotes published by French daily L’Equipe, after his side fought back to claim a 3-1 midweek victory in Bulgaria.

“With that and the quality of the players, we’ll get by. We can’t buy confidence in the transfer market, we have to go and find it.”

Hatem Ben Arfa, sidelined since September 9, is set to return to the squad for Saturday’s home game against Bordeaux, while Spanish forward Jese is also hopeful of featuring.

Monaco could knock Nice from top spot, at least temporarily, when they visit Metz, while third-place Toulouse chase a fourth consecutive win away to a slumping Caen side.

Speculation over the future of Nantes coach Rene Girard prompted a stinging rebuke on Thursday, with the former Lille boss lashing out at reporters attracted by the “smell of blood” as rumours circulate he could replaced by Rolland Courbis.

Annoyed by the increased media presence ahead of Saturday’s game against Bastia, Girard bristled at the suggestion of heightened pressure at the Stade de la Beaujoire with Nantes in the bottom three.

“I see you have it because there are lots of you today. The smell of blood, is that it? We see that sport doesn’t interest French newspapers too much these days,” snarled Girard.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Rennes v Guingamp (1845)

Saturday

Paris Saint-Germain v Bordeaux (1500), Caen v Toulouse, Dijon v Montpellier, Lille v Nancy, Metz v Monaco, Nantes v Bastia (1800)

Sunday

Angers v Marseille (1300), Nice v Lorient (1500), Lyon v Saint-Etienne (1845)

© 2016 AFP

Article source: http://www.france24.com/en/20160930-high-flyers-nice-seek-boost-after-european-woe