Paris: Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has always been keen on playing mind games with his rivals. In recent years, though, with his club forced to settle for second fiddle in the French league, Aulas's voice was less resonant.
But Lyon's resurgence this season — the seven-time champions are locked in a three-way battle for the French title — has galvanized Aulas, who took to Twitter this week to give Paris Saint-Germain selection advice ahead of Sunday's crucial home game against defending champion. Lyon leads the standings two points clear of both Marseille and PSG ahead of this weekend's matches.
He was reacting after PSG coach Laurent Blanc vented his anger against midfielder Marco Verratti, who picked up a yellow card in a 1-0 win over Lille in the League Cup midweek that triggered a one-match suspension later this month.
"If he doesn't have the intelligence to understand, he'll have some big problems," Blanc threatened after the game.
Surprisingly, Aulas jumped to the defense of the Italian player, insisting Blanc should field him against Lyon in Sunday's clash.
"A weird statement from L. Blanc on Marco V: Isn't he PSG's best player at the moment? He should play on Sunday for the sake of the show," Aulas tweeted.
To add pressure on PSG, Bernard Lacombe — Lyon's special adviser to Aulas — said Blanc's team will be the clear favorite at Gerland stadium.
"If we don't play at Champions League level against PSG it will be difficult for us," he said. "Paris will play it like a Champions League game and we need to match them. Sooner or later the Parisians will get going and we have to hope it happens as late as possible."
Lyon asserted its title credentials last weekend with a gritty display in a goalless draw at Monaco last week but will again be without top striker Alexandre Lacazette. Coach Hubert Fournier will also need to replace key defender Milan Bisevac, who will undergo surgery after tearing the cruciate ligament in his right knee against Monaco.
Lacazette, the league's top scorer with 21 goals, is out with a hamstring injury and Lyon must find a way to score goals in his absence. For that, Fournier can count on youngsters Nabil Fekir and Yassine Benzia, a pair of good finishers.
"That Lyon are where we are is no accident, our success isn't just a product of Lacazette's talent," Fournier said.
After a difficult end to the year, PSG has been able to bounce back in 2015, winning seven of its previous eight games in all competition. Without playing sparkling football, but with renewed defensive intensity.
"We go head to head with the league leaders. That will be an interesting match. Even without playing at our best, Paris is still in the mix," Blanc said.
Traveling to Rennes on Saturday, Marseille will return provisionally to the top of the table with a win. Coach Marcelo Bielsa is expected to field new winger Lucas Ocampos, who joined from Monaco on the last day of the transfer window.