PARIS - Olympique Lyon coach Claude Puel is under no illusions that his side face a monumental task to reclaim a Ligue 1 title they owned for seven successive seasons without their two most influential players. Lyon were almost untouchable for a golden period from 2002 to 2008 but relinquished their crown to Girondins Bordeaux last season and embark on a new campaign this weekend unable to call on the services of striker Karim Benzema and playmaker Juninho. "It's true that those two players were decisive and bore a lot of responsibilities but now we have to live without them," Puel said of the pair, who were Lyon's top scorers in a disappointing season in which they finished third. With France forward Benzema now at Real Madrid and Brazil midfielder Juninho at Qatari champions Al Gharafa, Lyon needed to change their tactics and stop being just a two-man team, the coach added. "There will be comparisons made if their absence shows, especially at the start of the season," Puel told Reuters in an interview. "We will compensate, I hope, by sharing responsibilities between more than just two players. Everybody will have to be creative and efficient, not like last season, when we relied too heavily on those two players." The 21-year-old Benzema scored 37 league goals over the last two seasons while Juninho, who was instrumental in all seven title-winning campaigns, often rescued the side from difficult situations with his intelligence and dead-ball expertise. NEW SIGNINGS Attempting to fill the void left by those departures, Lyon have spent 70 million euros on new signings, strengthening the squad with Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez, Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos and France forward Bafetimbi Gomis. However, the spending spree may not be enough to battle it out with a Bordeaux side able to keep hold of their best players and an Olympique Marseille team boasting reinforcements such as Argentine internationals Gabriel Heinze and Lucho Gonzalez. "It will be a tough championship," Puel said. "Bordeaux have not changed and (second placed finishers) Marseille have recruited several powerful and talented players. I hope we will be able to win the title back but it will be a big challenge." Pre-season friendly defeats to Porto and Sevilla were hardly reassuring for Puel and suggested Lyon, so used to being in a class of their own in France, could indeed struggle. "There were good things and times when we were just not there," Puel said. "You could see, however, that we have potential and will be able produce interesting football eventually." Puel, starting his second season at Lyon, asked the fans to be patient but said he was confident the team, who visit Le Mans for their first match on Saturday, would be competitive. "I'm happy with the squad I've got but we still need to work with the players who joined us late such as Lisandro (Lopez) and Gomis," he said. "Everything will not be perfect at first but the quality is there and so is the mentality. That's the main thing."
5 August 2009
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