Lisandro return spurring Lyon into contention

The return of Lisandro Lopez has spurred Olympique Lyon back into contention at home and in Europe, and the seven-times French champions will head into the mid-season break on a roll if they beat Valenciennes on Wednesday.

A month ago they were virtually out of the Champions League and seven points off the pace in Ligue 1, but the return of the Argentine striker who missed 12 weeks with an ankle injury has coincided with an upturn in the club's fortunes.

He has scored four times in four league matches as Lyon have narrowed the gap with leaders Montpellier to two points and sit dangerously in fourth place.

Last weekend Lisandro scored the winner in a 2-1 home win against Evien Thonon Gaillard even though he is still not 100 percent fit.

"There's been a lot of talk about my health, about the fact that I'm fragile, but my satisfaction is that I gave this victory to Lyon," Lisandro told the club's TV channel OLTV.

"He is not at his best physically, I admit it, but he gives everything and he makes the difference," coach Remi Garde said.

Lyon have lost eight games in all competitions this season, seven of those without their talisman.

Since he returned, Lyon have won five matches in a row, including a 7-1 victory at Dinamo Zagreb that sent them into the Champions League last 16 against all the odds.

Lyon, who have 35 points from 18 games, could now head into the three-week winter break on top of the standings should Montpellier, Paris Saint-Germain and Lille falter.

Leaders Montpellier travel to Evian on Wednesday having lost and drawn their last two matches with influential midfielder Younes Belhanda admitting he is weary after a scintillating start to the season.

"I need a rest, I'm reaching saturation point," the 21-year-old Belhanda, voted the best Ligue 1 player of November, told sports daily L'Equipe on Monday.

"The winter break will be most welcome for the team and especially for me."

Montpellier, who have 37 points, lead second-placed PSG on goal difference, with the club from the capital not sparkling in a mediocre goalless draw against Lille on Sunday.

PSG travel to in-form Saint-Etienne, who jumped up to fifth on 30 points after winning four of their last five league games.

Champions Lille, who lead Lyon on goal difference, take on lowly Nice on Wednesday.

"The point we snatched [against PSG] will be a good point if it's followed by three against Nice," coach Rudi Garcia told reporters.

Olympique Marseille, nine points off the pace in eighth place, travel to strugglers Nancy on Tuesday, three days after their stoppage-time win against Lorient.