UEFA Cup hopefuls RC Lens and AS Monaco FC are looking to overcome a grim start to the new year as they take on France's top two sides this weekend.
Lens travel to second-placed FC Girondins de Bordeaux on Saturday while Monaco play host to runaway leaders Olympique Lyonnais a day later, with both clubs desperate for victory as they chase the Ligue 1 runners-up slot and an all-important UEFA Champions League place. Lens entered 2006 in second position, but have slumped to seventh after taking two points from their last four league games. In the same period, Monaco have dropped from fifth to ninth, drawing 1-1 at Lens last weekend.
That uninspiring encounter was symbolic of the problems facing both sides. Monaco's Italian duo of Christian Vieri and Marco Di Vaio were missing due to a stomach bug, while Lens were without striker Daniel Cousin and midfielder Alou Diarra through suspension. "It's clear that we're at a low point," said Lens coach Francis Gillot. "But there is no major problem in the squad - it is just a question of fine-tuning. I'm worried by the attitude we are showing but a win will get us going again."
Prior to losing 2-0 at home to AS Nancy-Lorraine on 11 January, Les Sang et Or had been unbeaten since the opening day, an even better record than Lyon's, so there is no doubting the quality in Gillot's team. However, after lifting the UEFA Intertoto Cup and reaching the last 32 of the UEFA Cup thanks to Issam Jemaa's last-minute winner against UC Sampdoria, tiredness may be a problem. The arrival of Uruguayan striker Guillermo Rodríguez could help kick-start a misfiring forward line.
Meanwhile, Monaco have banked on Vieri and Di Vaio, and both have found the target since joining from AC Milan and Valencia CF respectively. However, they could not prevent coach Francesco Guidolin suffering his first home defeat since replacing Didier Deschamps, against Bordeaux on 14 January.
With Patrice Evra sold to Manchester United FC and goalkeeper Flavio Roma a long-term casualty, Monaco need to recover their composure for Lyon's visit. "Our target has not changed," said Di Vaio. "We want a UEFA Champions League spot for next season." Monaco fans will remember how a Jérémy Clément equaliser for Lyon deep into added time ruined their title chances in the equivalent fixture last term. They can ill afford to let their illustrious visitors escape with a result on Sunday.