PARIS (AP) — The unpredictable French league has seen the lead change hands seven times already this season, with Lyon and Marseille failing to take advantage of Paris Saint-Germain's inconsistency and giving the big spenders several reprieves.
Marseille had a four-point lead early on, and Lyon led by five approaching the winter break as PSG struggled to turn its expensive squad into a functioning team. Lyon has topped the league for a total of nine rounds, Marseille for six and PSG for five.
PSG has tightened up its defense and has not lost since Dec. 1, so Lyon and Marseille can ill afford to keep dropping points against weak teams the way Lyon did in last week's 0-0 home draw with Evian and when Marseille lost 3-1 at Sochaux the week before.
"We're not in the same dynamic as we were in 2012," veteran Lyon midfielder Steed Malbranque said. "We're going to react quickly. We're aware of the situation. It would be daft to spoil everything by just slacking off after a good first half of the season."
Ahead of this weekend's games, PSG leads Lyon on goal difference with Marseille one point behind. Lyon is at Valenciennes on Friday, Marseille travels to Rennes on Saturday, and PSG takes on Lille on Sunday.
Lyon was hampered by injuries to midfielders Clement Grenier and Yoann Gourcuff, who have only just returned to the side, and form has waned in recent weeks with coach Remi Garde's team winning only two of its past five league games.
"In the first half of the season, we were a team, not a group of individuals," Malbranque added. "Collectively, we were well-oiled, and we haven't been able to find that fluidity in our play again."
According to goalkeeper Remi Vercoutre, a major reason for the recent lack of consistency has been the endless transfer speculation surrounding the club. President Jean-Michel Aulas has made it publicly clear that one or two key players may need to be sold or loaned out to help balance the books, with strikers Bafetimbi Gomis and Lisandro Lopez, winger Michel Bastos and Gourcuff the biggest assets.