Leading trio back to business as Ligue 1 resumes
Paris: Ligue 1 action resumes on Friday as Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Lille pursue their quest to become 2014 French champions following the winter break.
Monaco get things started on Friday when they travel to struggling 2012 champions Montpellier looking to erase their three point deficit to PSG, who are in action on Saturday in Corsica at rock bottom Ajaccio.
Lille have somehow managed to stay in touch with their financially stronger rivals, after former Montpellier title-winning coach Rene Girard fashioned a first half of the season that saw them lose just three times in 19 outings.
The northern outfit, who last won the French title in 2011 under current Roma boss Rudi Garcia, come into the weekend four points off top spot as they await eighth-placed Reims in the final match on Sunday evening.
Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri said earlier this week that he wants to slash his extensive squad during the transfer window but admits it is a luxury problem that most managers would love to have.
"I would like to reduce the squad because it is not easy to train with 24 or 25 players," said the much travelled Italian, whose former clubs include Inter Milan, Roma, Juventus, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Napoli.
"It is not always easy to sell players but I am professional and the players are all professional, but to have so many players allows me to have more choice for my selection," he added.
His Colombian striker Radamel Falcao finished the first half of the season with nine league goals, six behind PSG top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his goal last weekend helped the Cote d`Azur club into the next round of the French Cup as they came back to defeat lower division Vannes 3-2.
PSG were forced to spend several days in Brittany as they awaited the necessary conditions to play their twice-postponed cup tie against Brest before finally prevailing 5-2 on Wednesday.
Ibrahimovic was once again their catalyst with a first-half hat-trick to sink the second division side.
Laurent Blanc`s side have lost just one match in all competitions this season, a league defeat at bogey side Evian.
Saint-Etienne sit alone in fourth after defeating Evian 1-0 in a rescheduled midweek fixture as they overtook Bordeaux.
They can keep their run of form going at Guingamp on Saturday, albeit with 90 minutes added football in their legs, after the Evian triumph.
Bordeaux have closed in on the European places despite a dreadful start to the campaign, but a 13-point deficit to PSG may likely be a bridge too far as they get set to tackle Toulouse at home on Saturday.
Marseille, Nantes and Reims are locked in a tie for sixth on 29 points and play Evian away, Lorient at home and Lille away respectively.
Second from bottom Sochaux have been busy in the early days of the window as coach Herve Renard brought in two of his former Zambian African champions Stoppila Sunzu and Nathan Sinkala, as well as Marseille`s Ghanaian striker Jordan Ayew on loan.
Renard, who is in charge of his first Ligue 1 side, has his work cut out to erase the team`s six point ladder to safety.
They return to action with a testing trip to seven-time champions Lyon, while third from bottom Valenciennes are three points behind Montpellier heading into a key home tie against Bastia.
Fixtures (all times 1900 GMT unless noted):
Montpellier v Monaco (1930)
Ajaccio v Paris Saint-Germain (1600), Lyon v Sochaux, Bordeaux v Toulouse, Valenciennes v Bastia, Guingamp v Saint-Etienne, Rennes v Nice
Nantes v Lorient (1300), Evian v Marseille (1600), Lille v Reims (2000)