Rennes emerging as new force to challenge Lyon

By Bertrand Boucey

PARIS, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Stade Rennes aim to confirm on their visit to Caen on Saturday (1800 GMT) that they are the new force Ligue 1 leaders Olympique Lyon will have to reckon with.

The Brittany side moved up to second last weekend, five points behind Lyon who lead the standings on 34 points from 16 games.

Paris St Germain were their last casualties in a game that extended Rennes's unbeaten streak to 14 league matches after a sluggish start to their season.

"Being in second place, that's fine. It is more important to be second at the end of the season but this will boost us," coach Guy Lacombe told reporters.

"As for first place, you never know. Lyon are designed to win and it is going to be tough to catch up with them," he added.

Rennes have proved they have nothing to fear from the seven-times champions though. Lyon slumped to their first defeat this season when they were thrashed 3-0 at Stade de la Route de Lorient in early October. Having steadily improved since they were bought by French billionaire and Christie's owner Francois Pinault 10 years ago, Rennes are aiming for a Champions League berth at the end of the season.


"As time goes by, we might become ambitious," Lacombe told reporters.

Rennes could briefly close the gap to two points if they win at 11th-placed Caen before Lyon visit strugglers Nantes (2000).

The French league brought Lyon's game forward from Sunday to give them an extra day's break before they host Bayern Munich on Wednesday with top spot in Champions League Group F at stake.

Lyon were furious when the league initially dismissed their claim while allowing Girondins Bordeaux to host Valenciennes on Friday (1800) instead of Saturday.

Bordeaux had asked for more time to prepare for their decisive encounter at AS Roma in Group A on Tuesday.

Olympique Marseille, without a win from their last three games, are third on 28 points before they host in-form Nice, who are below them on goal difference, on Saturday.

St Etienne, tottering one place above the relegation zone, will try to put some distance between themselves and other struggling teams when they entertain third-from-bottom Le Havre on Saturday. (Editing by Rex Gowar)