Having inflicted Olympique Lyonnais's first defeat of the season in the French League Cup on Wednesday, high-flying LOSC Lille Métropole face a true test of their championship potential this weekend when they welcome an AS Monaco FC team in need of a victory.
Lille have kept themselves within a point of leaders Lyon with a superb string of results, but Monaco are an altogether different proposition to the eight scalps the northern side have collected in the last nine Ligue 1 games. And the UEFA Champions League contenders will be desperate for their first win since September, following a 30 minute training-ground lecture from club president Michel Pastor. "What I saw tonight has made me angry," he said after Saturday's draw with AC Ajaccio left Monaco eight points off first place.
Forced into extra time by Lyon, Lille had their own strenuous half hour this week, but Claude Puel will rotate his young squad for Sunday's game, having already used 24 players this season. For now, though, Puel continues to downplay Lille's title chances. "We're not quite there yet. This summer we lost Eric Abidal because he was progressing faster than the club. Our more immediate goal is to stop that happening again."
Ironically, Abidal injured a knee against his old team and, together with Hatem Ben Arfa, joined the Lyon absentee list. The French champions are at home to mid-table FC Nantes Atlantique on Saturday with coach Paul Le Guen sounding concerned. "These are big players we keep losing and we're worried," he said.
The sides in third and fourth will look to close in on the leaders as they face the bottom two. Six points behind Lille, AJ Auxerre have a question mark hanging over Bonaventure Kalou's fitness for the visit of AC Ajaccio while, unbeaten in six games, FC Sochaux-Montbéliard face winless FC Istres. The other club in the relegation zone, RC Strasbourg, face a difficult task at an Olympique de Marseille side stung after losing twice to Paris Saint-Germain FC in four days.
For their part, PSG travel to eighth-placed FC Girondins de Bordeaux, having won their way up into the top half for the first time this season. Also on Saturday, SC Bastia play AS Saint-Etienne, FC Metz meet SM Caen, RC Lens journey to OGC Nice and Stade Rennais FC entertain Toulouse FC.
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