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How Pierre Sage emerged from shadows to bring hope back to Lyon


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LYON, France (AP) — Just three months ago, the name Pierre Sage did not ring a bell to soccer fans in France.

It does now thanks to a fine start to his managerial career in the French top-flight.

Sage took over as coach at Lyon at the end of November following the firings in quick succession of two coaches with good reputations, Laurent Blanc and Fabio Grosso. At the time, the seven-time French champion was bottom of the league, with just one win from 12 matches.

A former amateur player, Sage spent most of his coaching career in the shadows. He returned to Lyon last summer as director of the club's academy after a stint as an assistant at second-division club Red Star. Propelled into the limelight after Grosso’s departure, Sage has exceeded expectations and guided Lyon out of the relegation zone.

Ahead of Sunday's trip to Montpellier, Lyon produced a seventh win in nine matches in all competitions against Lille midweek in the French Cup. Sage made several changes and his coaching decisions paid off against the northern side. Rayan Cherki was handed a starting role and responded to the call with a goal and an assist.

That win followed a convincing 1-0 defeat of Marseille last week.

"It's good to string together two good matches in front of our fans, and make them happy," Sage said. "I try to make decisions by being authentic, by being true to values."

Sage has been widely credited by his players for the newfound defensive stability and aggressive style of play the team has developed in less than three months. Lyon rewarded the Sage experiment by taking the "interim" tag off his role.

"The coach deserves to stay with us for the very good atmosphere he has created," defender Duje Caleta-Car said.

"He brings us a fresh air," striker Alexandre Lacazette added. "Tactically, he’s someone who thinks things through a lot. He doesn't give us a lot of information, but it's enough to play good matches."

Sage is also making the most of Lyon's signings during the winter transfer window after its summer recruitment was hampered by restrictions imposed by French football's financial watchdog. Nigerian striker Gift Orban scored his first goal against Lille while new signing Orel Mangala was excellent in midfield.

In other league matches this weekend, leader Paris Saint-Germain hosts fourth-placed Lille on Saturday ahead of the Champions League round-of-16 tie next week against Real Sociedad. PSG has an eight-point lead over Nice, which hosts Riviera rival Monaco.


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