Sat, Dec 18, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Lyon hopes to stay unbeaten ahead of break

AP , PARISAP, LONDON

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is shown in this Oct. 27, file photo. Wenger was fined by the Football Association on Thursday for calling Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy a cheat.

PHOTO: AP

The contrast between Lyon and Marseille could not be greater.

While three-time defending champion Lyon is one match away from entering the winter break undefeated, fifth-placed Marseille is unsettled by murmurs that key players are set to leave.

Lyon, seeking a record-equaling fourth straight title, hosts Marseille at Stade Gerland on Friday in the 19th round of matches.

Top scorers across Europe in the Champions League opening phase with 17 goals, rock solid with the best defense in the French first division and with a flourishing youth academy already bearing fruit, Lyon's confidence is sky-high.

By contrast, Marseille's new coach, Philippe Troussier, is still picking up the pieces just weeks into his new job after taking over from Jose Anigo.

New faces are a familiar theme at Marseille.

Since 1987, 22 coaches have been at the helm, compared to eight at Lyon. Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon's president, has been in charge since 1987.

Over the same period, nine presidents have tried to turn Marseille into the successful team its fervent supporters crave.

Returning to possibly face his former Lyon teammates is striker Peguy Luyindula -- one of several new signings made by Marseille over the summer.

Like other new signings Benoit Pedretti and Bixente Lizarazu, Luyindula has failed to make an impact at Marseille. While Luyindula is thought likely to remain, Pedretti could leave in January and Lizarazu is not far off retirement having already drawn the curtains on his international career.

Defender Lizarazu has not even made the bench in the last two matches, a sign that Troussier has little faith in the 35-year-old former France player.

Meanwhile, Lille has kept in touch with Lyon throughout the opening half of the season and is only three points behind ahead of Saturday's trip to lowly Ajaccio.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was fined ?15,000 (US$29,000) by the FA on Thursday for calling Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy a cheat.

The FA also severely reprimanded Wenger and warned him not to repeat the offense.

A disciplinary panel found the Frenchman guilty of improper conduct after his team's 2-0 loss to United in a Premier League game on Oct. 24.

"We all know him, he can only cheat people," Wenger said of Van Nistelrooy in a post-match television interview.

Wenger contested the charge but did not appear at Thursday's FA disciplinary hearing. His case was put by legal representatives and the club issued a statement afterwards saying he did not plan to appeal against the verdict or the punishment.

"Now is the time to move on," Wenger said in the statement. "We have an important match coming up and all my thoughts are focused on our preparations for the visit to Portsmouth on Sunday."

The Old Trafford game marked Arsenal's first defeat in 50 league games and led to acrimonious scenes after the match.

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