PARIS — Alexandre Lacazette looks a shadow of the player who was banging in goals for Lyon last season.
In his defense, the France international has been hampered by back pain as he managed just one goal in six league games so far. But the main reason behind his lack of cutting edge, which is worrying Lyon fans ahead of Tuesday's reception of Valencia in the Champions League, lies somewhere else in the back of his mind.
The 24-year-old striker feels he has been betrayed by the club he has been playing for since he was a 10-year-old boy.
In an interview with L'Equipe newspaper on Monday, Lacazette said he was hurt by Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas's decision to speak publicly about the details of their contract negotiations this summer.
"Maybe things will get better after this interview," said Lacazette, the league's best scorer last season with 27 goals. "It affects you. You want to think about something else but you just can't."
Lacazette was involved in tough negotiations with Aulas, who said last June he had offered a gross salary of four million euros ($4.42 million) a year to keep his star player. Lacazette, who expected more money, finally agreed on a contract extension until 2019 with an annual salary of 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million).
"I would have preferred that he did just like in any negotiations," Lacazette said. "He could have told me 'This is too much.' He should not have used that method that makes me look like someone I'm not."
After Aulas' comments became public, Lacazette said he had to justify himself to his family, because his grandmother struggled to understand how he could "spit on as much money."
Lacazette, whose technical skills prompted interest from big European clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal last season, also rued the lack of public support from coach Hubert Fournier after he missed a penalty against Gent as Lyon settled for a 1-1 draw against the Belgian side in their Champions League opener.
Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Gent in the group's other match, with the Russian side looking for a second straight win.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday's Group H matches:
Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin is a man under pressure.
Respected for his athleticism and acrobatic saves, Lodygin's sometimes dubious decision-making has called his place in the team into question. Against Spartak Moscow on Saturday, he was twice caught badly out of position, allowing Spartak to score and depriving Zenit of a win as the game ended 2-2.
Should coach Andre Villas-Boas decide to risk a replacement for Gent's visit Tuesday, the likely stand-in would be Mikhail Kerzhakov, signed from Anzhi Makhachkala in June. Former Russian national team keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, 36, is also still in Zenit's squad but has played only three times in the last 12 months in all competitions and often appears more focused on his real estate business.
Speculation over the future of Villas-Boas remains a distraction too. He has said he plans to leave at the end of the season, and that he wanted to leave in the summer but was blocked by club management.
Now, with Zenit eight points off the top of the Russian league following a shaky start to the season, the club's chief executive has been forced to deny that Villas-Boas is due to be fired.
NO MORE BUYINGS IN LYON
With Nabil Fekir out for several months with a knee injury, Lyon showed its offensive limitations in a 3-1 loss at Bordeaux over the weekend. A result that highlighted the need for more firepower, although club president Jean-Michel Aulas remains satisfied with his squad.
Lyon invested on new players during the offseason and Aulas does not see the need to pursue another striker as a medical joker for domestic matches, as allowed by French league's rules.
"It would be a strategic mistake," Aulas said. "We've got two experienced players up front (Lacazette and Claudio Beauvue), two other emerging players (Aldo Kalulu and Maxwel Cornet), and Rachid Ghezzal. We just need to have less injured players."
Lyon missed eight injured players against Bordeaux.
GENT ON THE UP
After securing a 1-1 draw against Lyon despite finishing the game two men down, AA Gent started playing with more confidence in the Belgian league too.
It beat Standard Liege 4-1 and last weekend the Belgian champions clinched their first away win, 3-1 at Beveren, to move joint third in the league.
Against the might of Zenit striker Hulk, Gent will be without its Swedish international defender Erik Johansson who is out with a knee injury.
Argentina defender Lucas Orban will use his experience of the French league against Lyon. Orban played for Bordeaux at the Stade de Gerland in a 1-1 draw against Lyon two years ago and knows how gritty the French league defense can be.
He has also been studying video footage of Lyon and was impressed by what "a hard team to beat" they looked.
Valencia has already played two games against French league opposition this season as the Spanish side beat Monaco in the Champions League playoffs this summer.