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French rivals LOSC Lille Métropole and AJ Auxerre will be grateful to turn their attentions back to the UEFA Cup as neither side is in the best of form in Ligue 1.
The two sides meet in their Round of 16 first-leg tie at the Lille Métropole stadium on Thursday looking to put losses behind them. Since defeating FC Basel 1893 to qualify, Lille have bowed out of the French Cup at home against second division Grenoble Foot 38 and extended their Ligue 1 winless run to six matches.
Coach Claude Puel will can at least count on a fully-fit squad for the visit of Auxerre, aside from midfield player Jean Makoun who has not made as swift a recovery from a knee injury as first thought and faces a further month on the sidelines. The UEFA Intertoto Cup winners will be playing their 48th match of the season against Auxerre, but defender Grégory Tafforeau denied this was a factor in the recent drop in form, saying: "Tiredness is less physical than mental."
'Auxerre are favourites'
Despite his side's 2-0 win against Auxerre on the opening day of the French season, Puel believes the visitors hold the advantage, saying: "For me Auxerre are clear favourites. I know that Guy Roux makes you believe that it's the opposite but they have more experience than us in Europe."
Auxerre's league form is not much better and they extended their winless streak in Ligue 1 on Saturday to five matches after losing 3-1 at RC Lens. Auxerre have played twice since overcoming AFC Ajax to qualify for the last 16, and prior to losing to Lens, goals from Bonaventure Kalou, Benjani Mwaruwari and Kanga Akalé defeated Paris Saint-Germain FC 3-2 in the last 16 of the French Cup.
Coach Roux admitted, however, that Auxerre's cup excursions may have taken their toll in the league, admitting: "We have paid for a series of strong efforts we have made recently. The Lille tie will be less fun than playing against Ajax, but it will be a high-level encounter and very tight."
Auxerre remain fifth despite not winning in the league since defeating Bastia on 26 January. Roux hopes to have midfield player Benoît Cheyrou back after illness but Yann Lachuer, Johan Radet and Younès Kaboul have knee injuries and are ruled out along with flu victim Teemu Tainio and Stéphane Grichting, who requires surgery on his thumb.
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