Marseille, PSG and Lyon in three-way fight in France
Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon head into the final round of games before Christmas this weekend looking to take the symbolic crown of Ligue 1`s `Autumn Champions`.
Paris: Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon head into the final round of games before Christmas this weekend looking to take the symbolic crown of Ligue 1`s `Autumn Champions`.
The significance of being on top of the table at the season`s halfway stage is debatable, although PSG looked down on the rest of Ligue 1 at Christmas in each of the last two years before eventually being crowned champions in May.
The capital club come into this weekend in second place, a point behind leaders Marseille, with Lyon two points off top spot in third place.
OL managed to close the gap on the top two after both suffered defeats last weekend, with Paris losing for the first time in the league this season at Guingamp.
Laurent Blanc`s side host Montpellier at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, and there is pressure on PSG after they followed losses to Barcelona in the Champions League and then Guingamp with an unconvincing 3-1 victory at second-tier AC Ajaccio in the League Cup in midweek.
"We are a team who are going through a bad spell, and at times like that nothing smiles for you," said Blanc, whose biggest problem just now lies in central defence, where Brazilian duo Thiago Silva and David Luiz are struggling to find their best form.
"It is true that our defence has been a recurring problem since the start of the season, and it is something of a paradox that we also have the best defence in the league.
"Our biggest job is there, although there are other things we need to do."
Mid-table Montpellier have scored seven goals in their last two games, but PSG should be too strong for the 2012 champions, with the likes of Silva, Thiago Motta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to return refreshed after being rested in midweek.
Before that game, Blanc had declared that some of his players would "stay behind to recharge a little physically and mentally to be ready for the match against Montpellier".
However, visiting coach Rolland Courbis is relishing the chance to spring a surprise.
"End the year with a win at Paris Saint-Germain? Now there`s a challenge," he said.
"I want my team to get in amongst them and bother them."
Courbis and his side host PSG in their next competitive match too as the two came out of the hat together in the French Cup draw, with the last-64 tie to be played in early January.
A victory for PSG will take them above Marseille, at least before Marcelo Bielsa`s side play on Sunday at home to Lille.
The visitors come into the game fresh from beating Bordeaux on penalties in the League Cup on Wednesday night and must now try to stop OM recording a ninth straight league win at the Stade Velodrome.
Lyon, meanwhile, travel to Bordeaux chasing a fourth successive league win and a return to form after being eliminated from the League Cup on penalties by Monaco.
Forward Yassine Benzia is ruled out of the game for Lyon but they received a boost on Wednesday when playmaker Yoann Gourcuff made his comeback after his latest two-month spell on the sidelines due to injury.
As for Monaco, the principality club are themselves riding the crest of a wave with their League Cup qualification following progression to the Champions League last 16 and last Sunday`s 1-0 win over Marseille which left them sixth in the table.
However, after going all the way to penalties on Wednesday, and with the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Layvin Kurzawa, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Dimitar Berbatov all on the sidelines, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim is less than pleased about having to go to Metz on Saturday.
"It is hard physically to put all these games together. It would have been more logical to play on Sunday," he moaned.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1900GMT unless stated)
Lens v Nice (1930GMT)