Ligue 1: Champions need luck after woeful start

August 23, 2007

PARIS, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Olympique Lyon, experiencing their worst season start in 10 years, hope luck will be on their side at last when they welcome neighbours St Etienne in Ligue 1 on Sunday.

Facing their local rivals, who have won a record 10 titles and appear to be recovering from a poor spell, is always a challenge for Lyon, who need a win to kick-start their campaign for a seventh consecutive title.

Lyon have earned just three points from as many matches and have lost their last two games. Not since the 1997-98 season have they started so poorly.

'Losing two matches in a row is a real nuisance when your goal is the title but I have to say nothing smiles on us at the moment,' Lyon coach Alain Perrin told reporters.

The champions have had more than their share of problems with France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and Brazil defender Cris, the Lyon captain, both sidelined for months with knee injuries.

Also on the injury list are Brazil striker Fred, France striker Sidney Govou and exciting young forward Hatem Ben Harfa.

Still, a team which such strength in depth should not lose twice in succession, especially not to unfancied sides such as Toulouse and Lorient.

'We're not confident enough,' said Brazil midfielder Juninho, wearing the captain's armband in place of Cris. 'We also have quite a few new players who need time to adapt. Maybe our poor start will give us the determination we need to get going.'

Lyon's rivals, notably surprise joint leaders Le Mans, Lorient and Nancy, had been hoping for the six-times champions to become vulnerable at last.

They should not, however, rejoice too soon.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has promised a couple of high-profile signings before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

He is also pinning many hopes on young France striker Karim Benzema, who has scored two goals sor far and has looked dangerous every time he has touched the ball.

'Losing hurts but it's much too early to talk about a crisis, warned Remy Vercoutre, deputising for Coupet in the Lyon goal.