PARIS — It's time for Lyon to find out whether it can keep dreaming of the French title.
The seven-time French champions are facing three weeks of uncertainty without injured striker Alexandre Lacazette, who will miss Lyon's next three league games, including a crucial meeting with Paris Saint-Germain.
Lacazette, who picked up a thigh injury after scoring his team's first goal last weekend in a 2-0 win over Metz, has been instrumental in Lyon's return to the top. Nurtured by the club since he was 10, the 23-year-old France international has been repaying the club for its faith with 21 goals in 22 matches, a big chunk of Lyon's total of 47 goals.
"Injuries like this never come at a good time, this one even more so than usual," admitted Lyon coach Hubert Fournier. "He's our attack leader and it would have been easier to approach the two upcoming games with him. As we were short of personnel in attack, we never got the opportunity to allow him to rest."
Lacazette is expected to return at the end of February against Nantes. In the meantime, Lyon will try to protect its four-point lead at the top of the standings in difficult encounters against PSG at home on Feb. 8 and at Monaco this weekend, before a trip to Lorient.
Still fighting for four trophies, Monaco has not lost a game in all competition since the end of November. In addition, Leonardo Jardim's side has not conceded a goal in its last seven matches.
But Lyon remains confident it can rely on the strength of the new crop of homemade players that emerged this season, and it seems unlikely that Fournier will modify his well-oiled 4-4-2 system at Monaco, with promising youngster Yassine Benzia expected to share the attacking duties with Nabil Fekir.
Elsewhere, defending champion PSG hosts Rennes seeking a third straight league win while second-place Marseille plays struggling Evian.
Here are some other things to know before this weekend's matches:
DROIT AU BUT? NOT REALLY
Marseille's motto of "droit au but," or "straight to goal," has not been contradicted this season.
The club is boasting the second-best attack in the league with 42 goals in 22 matches and is locked in a three-way battle with Lyon and PSG for the title. But according to a study by football's observatory CIES, Marseille has been lacking efficiency too many times this season.
The report revealed that Marcelo Bielsa's players need to shoot an average of eight times to score a goal. Even 16th-placed Evian, which Marseille faces on Saturday, is doing better with 7.8 shots per goal. In the top four places are Spanish clubs Real Madrid (5.4 shots per goal), Valencia (5.7), Atletico Madrid (6.0) and Barcelona (6.6).
AFRICAN CUP ANGER
Angered by the absence of Siaka Tiene and Jamel Saihi, who are currently on international duty with Ivory Coast and Tunisia at the Africa Cup of Nations, Montpellier president Louis Nicollin has vowed that he won't buy African players anymore.
After winning the French title to everyone's surprise in 2012, Montpellier has been enjoying an excellent season and stands sixth in the league. But Nicollin is worried that Tiene and Sihi's unavailability will hamper his side's push for European qualification.
"At the end of the day I think that Saihi can stay in Tunisia if he likes. I don't understand how you can leave a club for so long in the middle of the season. It could unsettle the group," Nicollin said. "In the future, I won't buy any more players who play in the Africa Cup of Nations, that is clear."
LENS IN BIG TROUBLE
When the financial watchdog of French football partially lifted the transfer ban imposed on Lens, the Northern club thought it was out of trouble.
Lens, one of the most popular clubs in France, won promotion last season but was banned from joining the top league on financial grounds, with the club short 10 million euros ($13.4 million) in its budget. The northern side was ultimately authorized to play in the top flight after the French federation agreed to replace its ban with financial limitations on the club.
But following a lawsuit by rival club Sochaux, a French administrative court decided on Thursday that Lens should be relegated again at the end of the season because its promotion was not legal. The French football federation immediately appealed the ruling.
Lens is second from bottom ahead of Saturday's reception of Bastia.
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