The French league spotlight shines on champions Lyon and St Etienne this weekend, showing how the wheel of success and failure has spun full circle for the once great St Etienne.
Seven-time reigning champions Lyon host title rivals Bordeaux on Sunday knowing that even if Marseille see off Lorient at the Stade Velodrome the previous evening, they will remain top regardless of their result. In contrast, a sixth straight loss for St Etienne, who reached the 1976 European Cup final, at Europe-chasing Lille could leave Les Verts bottom of the table.
Lyon's seven titles in a row, after none previously, have turned French football on its head, not least in the central eastern region which hosts both the club from the country's culinary capital and St Etienne, lying 60 kilometres away.
The latter's industrial heritage means it lies well off the tourist track, save for football fans, as the likes of Liverpool and Glasgow Rangers made their way to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for European Cup duels, the Anfielders famously advancing in a tight 1977 quarter-final. Times have changed, however, from when Saint Etienne won their tenth and last French title in 1981 - just as Lyon were facing a six-year spell in division two. The-then Saint Etienne chairman Roger Rocher said at the time: "Lyon has always been a suburb of St Etienne in footballing terms."
No longer, and as Lyon look to extend their dominance, StEtienne, who qualified for Europe for the first time since 1982 last May, head for Lille with a new coach, Alain Perrin, formerly of Lyon. Perrin, without a club since guiding Lyon to their seventh league title last June - he gave way to Claude Puel - signed a two-year contract in midweek after the club sacked Laurent Roussey.
"We will analyse the situation and why the team is where it is in the standings. We have to go out there and show some discipline," Perrin urged in looking ahead to Lille.
Perrin will be backed in his bid to revive the club where Michel Platini, now UEFA president, made his name by new sporting director Damian Comolli, just dismissed by Tottenham. Comolli was ejected after the arrival at White Hart lane of Harry Redknapp - who replaced Perrin after his ill-fated spell at Portsmouth in 2005. Perrin will now hope he can revitalise St Etienne as Redknapp has Spurs.
Lyon went out of the League Cup midweek to second division Metz, but recall star striker Karim Benzema and midfielder Jeremy Toulalan to face Bordeaux. Lyon midfielder Fabio Santos, who twisted his right ankle in Tuesday's match at the Stade Gerland which was his first start of the season, will not feature against Bordeaux, needing two more weeks to reach full fitness.
As for Bordeaux, keeper Matthieu Valverde, knocked unconscious facing Auxerre last week, is expected to be available. Kevin Olimpa stood in for Tuesday's League Cup win over Guingamp as usual first choice Ulrich Rame is sidelined through groin trouble.
Marseille will meanwhile hope Ivorian international forward Bakari Kone can overcome a knee strain to face Lorient. "He's more than doubtful - he'll do well to make the bench," said coach Eric Gerets, who says his team is "not yet running at turbo-charged speed." Kone is currently joint top-scorer at the club with six goals alongside Hatem Ben Arfa.
After reaching the League Cup quarter-finals, Paris Saint Germain travel to Le Havre hoping to squeeze into the top five, while Rennes try to bolster their UEFA Cup aspirations on Sunday at home to Monaco, when fellow high-riders Nice meet struggling Nantes.
PSG will likely have to chase the points without Serbian striker Mateja Kezman, who twisted his ankle in Wednesday's win over Nancy. On the plus side, Kezman's misfortune is another chance to impress for emerging youngster Guillaume Hoarau.