Preview Ligue 1 France round 26

Lorient vs. Sochaux

Christian Gourcuff’s Lorient side have seen their form deteriorate just a little over the last couple of weeks, so they will be especially eager to pick up maximum points against a Sochaux side destroyed 4-0 at home by Lyon last weekend.

Les Merlus have a number of injury concerns prior to the clash on Saturday, with front duo Kevin Gameiro and Marama Vahirua both missing again this weekend. In addition, flying left-back Jeremy Morel is missing, so it will certainly not be the Bretons’ strongest side on show. Laurent Koscielny returns after missing the disappointing 1-0 loss to Nice due to suspension.

Sochaux were boosted last weekend by the return to training over Charlie Davies, though the American will not be involved until towards the end of the campaign. There are a number of visiting players missing, though there are no other first XI causalities. Coach Francis Gillot shrugged off talk of disappointment after last weekend loss but will want his side to swiftly bounce back after a heavy loss.

My Prediction: Lorient

Olympique Lyonnais vs. Nice

Claude Puel’s Lyon are still riding high after their victory over Real Madrid around ten days ago, so they will expect to keep their good run going against a Nice side who destroyed them 4-1 at the Stade du Ray earlier this season.

Les Gones will sweat on the fitness of Cesar Delgado ahead of Saturday’s encounter at the Stade Gerland. Michel Bastos will hungrily grab another opportunity in the first XI after scoring a terrific hat-trick against Sochaux last weekend. Otherwise, Lyon will field their strongest squad before considering the return leg against los Blancos more seriously after this fixture as OL’s match against Boulogne next weekend will go ahead as planned, despite an appeal from les Gones.

Nice, on the other hand, remain dangerously close to the relegation zone, despite a 1-0 victory over Lorient last weekend. They have injury problems of their own to consider, with Alain Cantareil the latest player to be sidelined. Expect Loic Remy and Anthony Mounier to be up for this encounter, as both youngsters arrived from les Gones.

My Prediction: Lyon

Monaco vs. Boulogne

After a terrific start to 2010, Monaco’s form has gone well off the boil and they require a good performance against ailing Boulogne to get their form back on track.

Les Monegasques have suffered three losses in their last four matches, with last weekend’s 3-0 defeat against Lens something of a low point for Guy Lacombe’s side, who have been hopelessly consistent over the course of the season. A number of players remain sidelined, most notably Park Chu-Young, who has arguably been their most effective player aside from Nene this term.

Boulogne are certainly a side who know a great deal about injury problems. Philippe Montanier’s side continue to nurse a tremendous number of problems, though Gregory Thil was at least fit to produce a cameo as a substitute last weekend. Winless in the league since early December, USBCO, second from bottom in the table, are edging closer to the ever more inevitable scenario of relegation.

My Prediction: AS Monaco


Nancy vs. Grenoble Foot38

Though Pablo Correa’s Nancy side have hardly impressed in recent weeks, they will fully expect to accrue maximum points against a Grenoble side who continue to lose with remarkable regularity.

ASNL have suffered a blow this week as it has emerged that Youssouf Hadji is once again sidelined with an adductor problem. Nancy are otherwise able to name virtually their full first choice XI, though there is also concern over the fitness of Abbes Ouaddou. The Lorraine outfit have won only once in their last ten games, so this match is essential for them to regain some forward momentum.

Aside from a totally out of place 5-0 victory over Auxerre, GF38 have been largely hopeless this season. Sixteen points adrift of safety, the Stade des Alpes club require a miracle if they are to avoid the drop. Danijel Ljuboja may once again be sidelined, while there is also concern over Alaixys Romao. Sofiane Feghouli and Sandy Paillot are the other big worries.

My Prediction: Nancy

Toulouse vs. Racing Club de Lens

Defeated 1-0 by PSG at the Parc des Princes last weekend, Toulouse have the awkward task of meeting in-form Lens at the Stadium Municipal on Saturday evening.

Le Tefece were somewhat unfortunate last weekend as they were reduced to ten men early on when Albin Ebondo was dismissed in conceding the vital penalty kick. Not only that, Etienne Capoue twice hit the post in the space of 30 second half seconds. Andre-Pierre Gignac is expected to be sidelined once more, but he should return next weekend.

Lens travel south on a real high, having defeated Monaco 3-0 in rather emphatic style last weekend. Les Sang et Or have won four of their last five encounters, though each of the games they have won have been played at Stade Bollaert. Jean-Guy Wallemme’s side should be close to full strength, with just a couple of bumps worrying the coach ahead of Saturday’s fixture.

My Prediction: Toulouse

Valenciennes vs. Saint-Etienne

Having struggled for a couple of weeks, northern side Valenciennes are getting back towards their best but will be tested by a rejuvenated Saint-Etienne outfit on Saturday evening at Stade Nungesser.

Home coach Philippe Montanier has a number of injury worries. Top scorer Mamadou Samassa continues to be sidelined due to injury, while fellow forward Filip Sebo is also missing. Midfielder Jonathan Lacourt is back in training after suffering a serious leg break last season but there are issues in the defence, where Rafael and Bobo Balde will not be fit to take up a station.

On the opposite side, Saint-Etienne have a worry over livewire winger Dimitri Payet. In addition, Moustapha Bayal Sall, Christophe Landrin and Yoann Andreu are all out. Under the charge of Christophe Galtier, les Verts have gradually pushed away from the relegation zone, with last weekend’s 1-0 victory over second-placed Montpellier arguably the club’s best result of the campaign.

My Prediction: Draw

Montpellier vs. Stade Rennais

If Montpellier are to rekindle their hopes of winning the title, they will surely have to pick up three points against off-form Rennes on Saturday night.

That la Paillade are in such a lofty position is an achievement in itself, though the second placed club, who are just three points behind leaders Bordeaux having played a game more, will want to keep their dream alive for as long as possible. Defeat on Saturday night will surely make the Ligue 1 championship an impossibility, and they approach the game with close to a full strength squad. Of those who would be selected for the first team on a regular basis, only Nenad Dzodic is expected to be sidelined.

Rennes will have a full strength squad to travel to the Stade de la Mosson, but that hasn’t helped them in recent weeks. The Breton side have lost all three of their matches since defeating Bordeaux 4-2 a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, Frederic Antonetti’s side have been distinctly poor over the course of the last 18 days, losing to minnows Quevilly, Auxerre and Lille.

My Prediction: Montpellier/Draw

Le Mans vs. Girondins de Bordeaux

After recording a terrific Champions League result against Olympiacos in Athens, Bordeaux are back in action this Sunday afternoon, playing struggling Le Mans away from home.

MUC have a number of injury worries going into the weekend’s fixtures, with Almen Abdi and Joao Paulo possibilities to miss out on Sunday. Cyriaque Louvion and Frederic Thomas are both already sidelined for the 18th placed side in Le Championnat, who are six points away from safety and face an even more daunting deficit if they fail to win on Sunday.

Bordeaux will be aiming to deepen their opponents’ gloom. They were economical in midweek but the squad goes into this match on a high, particularly Michael Ciani, who was named in the France squad for the first time by Raymond Domenech on Thursday. The former Lorient defender was the man who proved the decisive figure in midweek, though it will be the attackers expected to do the job as les Girondins, who were inactive last weekend, seek to protect their three point advantage.

My Prediction: Bordeaux

Lille vs. Auxerre

A late goal from Adil Rami during Lille’s Europa League second leg encounter against Fenerbahce proved to be the telling moment in that tie, though LOSC will have to come down quickly to play a dangerous Auxerre side on Sunday.

Rudi Garcia’s men are still very much in the hunt for the Ligue 1 title, though their brilliant pre-Christmas form has faded just a little over the course of the last couple of months. Key man Gervinho is out for six weeks, while Tulio de Melo, Nicolas Plestan and Mathieu Debuchy  are also sidelined too.

AJA’s star man, Ireneusz Jelen, is sidelined for this trip, but they are boosted by the return of key defender Adama Coulibaly. The form of Jean Fernandez’s men in recent times has been excellent, with only an embarrassing 5-0 loss against Grenoble blighting what has otherwise been an almost perfect start to 2010. The Burgundy outfit have six games from eight since the beginning of January, conceding only once (excluding the GF38 debacle). They will prove terribly awkward opponents.

My Prediction: Lille

PSG Vs Marseille

On Sunday, Ligue 1’s most anticipated fixture of the season will take place in the Parc des Prince, where Paris Saint-Germain meet Olympique de Marseille in the Derby de France.

It’s not been a pretty season for PSG, who currently reside 15th in Le Championnat, well off the pace of the teams searching for European football next term. After significant summer investment and the decision to appoint Antoine Kombouare as head coach, things haven’t really gone to plan for les Parisiens.

The winter break was supposed to provide the Parc des Princes club with a chance to take stock and emerge rejuvenated in 2010, but PSG have only nosedived since the turn of the year. Four defeats in their first four Ligue 1 games, coupled with an embarrassing loss to Guingamp in the Coupe de la Ligue, have left the capital club under pressure, though Kombouare has largely remained omitted from criticism.

There has been no investment in the side, with rumours in the press that suggested a January move for Jesus Datolo or even Jeremy Menez could be made remaining just whispers, much to the annoyance of the capital club’s fans.

As a result, they’ve not been slow to voice their disapproval with some of their club’s performances, most notably a 3-0 defeat at home against Lorient. However, the home fans watched their side scrape out a 1-0 victory over Toulouse, who were reduced to ten men early on.

Les Parisiens once more risk the wrath of their fans should they struggle against les Phoceens in France’s most fiercely competitive fixture.

It’s Not War

If PSG are a squad largely descending, the opposite can be said of Olympique de Marseille, who have surged back into title contention after a fine start to 2010. OM have lost only twice since the winter break, against Racing Club de Lens in the Coupe de France and versus Montpellier in the league, but otherwise they have been largely flawless.

February was expected to be a really testing month for Didier Deschamps’ men, but they have come through their seven games to date this month with an impressive six victories, the last three of which have all been by a 3-1 scoreline. The latest of these came against Copenhagen in the Europa League on Thursday, a game in which les Phoceens did their best not to totally exert the full squad.

Sunday’s Championnat match certainly takes precedence in the view of the fans, though Gabriel Heinze has been keen to play down the importance of this encounter.

“This is not war. It’s a game that is won, lost or ends in a draw. That’s it!” said the former PSG man, who is pledging a spirit of peace prior to a notoriously fiery encounter, to his club’s official website. “It’s better for football that our fans go there for the game [and not to cause trouble] because it’s a great atmosphere.

“I have no fear; I’ll just play a game of football. Everyone wants to play a Clasico because it is the finest game of the year.”

Though these encounters are always exceptionally important in the eyes of the fans, for OM it is especially so. Les Phoceens are only six points from leaders Girondins de Bordeaux’s pace and need three points to stay in touch at the top.

TEAM NEWS

PSG

Antoine Kombouare has a handful of selection worries going into Sunday’s game, with the suspended duo of Mamadou Sakho and Stephane Sessegnon the two big absentees.

Gregory Coupet is the only other worry, though he should return in the near future.

Probable Starting XI:
Edel; Ceara, Traore, Camara, Armand; Giuly, Clement, Makelele, Chantome; Hoarau, Erding

Marseille

OM don’t have a whole heap of problems going into the weekend’s fixture. Mamadou Niang wasn’t risked in midweek but should feature from the outset on Sunday, while Cyril Rool, Julien Rodriguez and Brandao are the only players carrying knocks.

Stephane Mbia comes back into the squad after midweek suspension.

Probable Starting XI:
Mandanda; Bonnart, Diawara, Heinze, Taiwo; Cheyrou, Mbia; Valbuena, Lucho, Ben Arfa; Niang

PLAYERS TO WATCH

PSG

This will be Claude Makelele’s final Derby de France, having announced his decision to retire earlier this week. The former France international has become synonymous with the holding midfield role and will look to bow out on a high. Sunday’s game will be one of the last great tests of the veteran’s career.

Marseille

OM are a side with several players in form, as the call ups of Hatem Ben Arfa, Benoit Cheyrou and Steve Mandanda to the national team prove. However, Mamadou Niangremains the player on which les Phoceens depend on most. The powerful Senegalese striker struck a hat-trick against Nancy last weekend and is Ligue 1’s top scorer. If PSG are to pick up anything, the 30-year-old must be stopped.

My Prediction: Marseille

(GC/MG/rex)

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