Trio bidding to end the year on top of French Ligue 1
PARIS (AFP) –
As the French League heads towards its winter break, the top of the table has a familiar, if somewhat congested, look about it with big names Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and Marseille locked together and separated only by goal difference.
But behind them come a procession of unfashionable names, as Lorient, Nice and Rennes complete the top six and Valenciennes just squeeze into the top 10, nine points behind the joint leaders.
Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, fresh from being drawn against Valencia in the last 16 of the Champions League, have a good chance to open up a temporary lead when they travel to Brest on Friday night to set the weekend fixtures ball rolling.
In Brittany, they will come face-to-face with a club cult hero, full-back Bernard Mendy, who spent seven seasons with PSG in two separate spells between 2000 and 2008.
Mendy, now 31, freely admits he is a little bit slower than in his Paris heyday but promises a welcome for the club he describes as his first love.
“We always hoped Paris Saint-Germain would move up to a higher level,” he said. “Now, they have and people are criticising them for buying foreign players but they have the money to do so.”
On Saturday night, Lyon entertain Nice, one of the surprise packages of the season so far and will be hoping to put last week’s narrow 1-0 defeat to the Parisians behind them.
That game was marked by an ugly incident in which the Paris striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s boot appeared to make contact with the head of Lyon defender Dejan Lovren as they fell to the ground.
But Lyon will be hoping Lovren shows no ill-effects from the collision.
He comes up against another in-form striker in the shape of Nice’s Argentine-Croatian top scorer Dario Cvitanich.
He has bagged 10 already this campaign, as has Lyon’s own Bafetimbi Gomis, so there should be no shortage of goals at the Gerland.
Marseille, though, have to wait until Sunday night for the visit of resurgent Saint Etienne, to keep their title challenge on track.
Lorient are at home to struggling Reims and there could be a Champagne celebration if the club finish the year fourth, just five points off the lead.
Ajaccio, just above the relegation places, this week parted company with coach Alex Dupont, who reportedly “lost the dressing room”, and entertain Rennes.
Meanwhile, Corsican arch-rivals Bastia begin their enforced exile from their stadium, which the league closed down for disciplinary reasons, when they have to travel to Gueugnon for their “home” game with Nancy on Saturday night.
Friday (1945 GMT)
Brest v Paris Saint-Germain
(1600 GMT) Lille v Montpellier, (1900 GMT) Ajaccio v Rennes, Lorient v Reims, Bordeaux v Troyes, Lyon v Nice, Bastia v Nancy (at Gueugnon)
(1300 GMT) Valenciennes v Evian-Thonon, (1600 GMT) Toulouse v Sochaux, (2000 GMT) Marseille v St Etienne