Offensive Lille eyeing Ligue 1 title

PARIS - Lille were once regarded as one of Ligue 1's most boring sides but their offensive transformation under coach Rudy Garcia has put them in position to challenge for the title.

The northern side, who travel to meet AJ Auxerre on Saturday, are sixth in the league with 39 points from 22 matches, seven behind leaders Olympique Lyon but having played a game less.

Garcia, who helped unheralded Le Mans reach the French Cup semi-finals last year, took over from Claude Puel last summer and has changed Lille into a more attacking side. The team are the third-highest scorers in the league this season.

Under Puel, and before him, Vahid Halilodzic, Lille banked on a stern defence to make up for a lack of offensive talent.

They are currently on a nine-match unbeaten streak and have won four of their last five league games. Last weekend they were 2-0 down at halftime against Sochaux before stepping up a gear in the second half to post a 3-2 victory.

"Of course we are ambitious every time we step on the pitch. Now, we do not set ourselves any limit," Lille keeper Gregory Malicki told the club's website.

"We are very solid mentally. With this state of mind, we know that we can go far, very far," said defender Adil Rami.


Lille will also soon be able to rely again on Brazilian striker Tulio de Melo, who will be back from a lengthy injury layoff next month.

"If we get through February well, I think we can do something special," said Rami.

Having recently played against Olympique Marseille, Girondins Bordeaux and Stade Rennes, Lille now havea series of less taxing matches against Auxerre, Valenciennes and Monaco before hosting Lyon on March 7.

Seven-times champions Lyon will be at home against bottom club Le Havre on Sunday and with no fresh injuries listed, they are expected to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Second-placed Bordeaux, four points off the pace, host promoted Grenoble on Saturday with the opportunity to put a little pressure on Lyon, while third-placed Paris St Germain will take on St Etienne.

Ligue 1 top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, who has netted 12 of his 14 goals on home turf, will try to take his scoring form on the road when his fifth-placed Toulouse side travel to strugglers Sochaux.

Fourth-placed Olympique Marseille, five points behind Lyon, visit mid-table Monaco on Sunday hoping to stay in the hunt for their first league title since 1992.